Veteran comedy director David Dhawan and producer Vashu Bhagnani’s, latest venture “Coolie No. 1,” a remake of his 1995 hit classic of the same name, with funnyman, ‘Virar ka chokra’ Govinda and the blue-eyed Karisma Kapoor, is bigger but not better, proving, once again, that cinematographic golds are best left alone.
Starring Dhawan’s son, the hunky Varun Dhawan, surrounded by veteran comedians – a cliché spouting Paresh Rawal, Johnny Lever, a sedate Javed Jaffrey(the director should have cashed in on his presence in the film, but fails to), a totla (stuttering) Rajpal Yadav (it’s 2020 and we still poke fun at people’s physical challenges!) and stalwart comedian of the small screen, Bharati Achrekar – still cannot pull this movie out of the train wreck that it is (pun intended).
The plot, which doesn’t deviate much from the original – a lowly railway porter (Dhawan) is hired to court a fair-skinned beauty (Sara Ali Khan), daughter of an arrogant and rich damad (son-in-law) chasing, hotelier (Paresh Rawal) as part of a conspiracy by priest and marriage broker (Javed Jaffrey), who is insulted by Rawal, and wants to bring him down a peg or two, remains all-too familiar, predictable and unaltered.
The proud porter, always attired in a mind-boggling starched, spotless uniform, belies the fact that he lifts luggage for a living. He is an upstanding citizen, and a tough guy, who beats a rude passenger to pulp when the latter humiliates an older porter and earns himself the requisite enemy (Vikas Verma).
But the poor guy’s even poorer attempts to find a wife, yield no results because of his station inlife.In steps a humiliated matchmaker Jaikishan (Jaffrey) and offers Dhawan a hair-brained scheme to win his lady-love and sin turn, get revenge for Jaffrey. The coolie, who still poses as yuvraj (prince), scion of the ‘king of Singapore’(wasn’t aware Singapore had a monarchy!!!) in the 2020 remake, to worm his way into the Rozario home and into the heart of Sarah, does not pose as a mere millionaire this time around. He dons the hat of a billionaire, friend of Ambani-Donald Trump and the Big B, who is in Goa to build a new port on behalf of his father’s company.
In a plot twist, Raju coolie’s car mechanic-friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid) takes a shine to Jeffrey Rozario’s other daughter Anjali (Shikha Talsania, of “Veere De Wedding”fame, and is daughter of comedian Tiku Talsania) and, like the character did in1995, aggravates matters for everyone concerned.
And like in the original, the climax plays out in a hospital, with Dhawan and Vaid dressing up as cross-dressing nurses Karisma and Kareena (has to be seen to be believed), and ends up with Raju being forgiven for his indiscretions, and earning him the love, respect and large bungalow of the rich dude, whose son, and Dhawan’s arch enemy tried to kill, only to be saved by Dhawan. But since we have seen it all before, the replay of the rigmarole does not have the intended comic impact.
The most immediate contrast with the original is the casting. Cardio-buffed Dhawan as the “for the train, by the train and of the train” coolie, who fights for the rights of coolies everywhere, while jumping onto platforms to save a child from an oncoming train, lacks the comedic timing and chutzpah of his predecessor. Although, Dhawan Jr. abounds on screen with boyish enthusiasm and charm, but fails to hold a candle to the original king on comedy – Govinda. Khan, (whose eyebrows desperately needed a tweezer) sadly, is stranded on balconies looking concerned while the men below determine her character’s destiny.
In this aspect, Coolie 2020 really does seem so last century. Khan’s stilted dialogue delivery, robotic, mechanical dance steps and cringe-worthy emotional scenes, makes one wish we were watching the original – Karisma Kapoor. The song and dance routines – which retain more life and color than the jokes–reveal that this, although a bigger film than its predecessor, is not necessarily of the same caliber as the original.
Dhawan, who slips into the role of colorful-shirt wearing Govinda, is more swag than substance as he winds his way through “Coolie No 1.” When he is joined by Khan to sway to “main toh raste se jaa raha thha (the song begins with the line; ‘Back to the 90s’; as if we needed a reminder) and “goriya chura naa mera jiya,” the original musical choreographies are never in danger of being obliterated from Bollywood movie lore.
Everything is bigger and not necessarily better in the new “Coolie No 1.” The coolie now works in a Mumbai railway station, not in a nondescript bus terminus. The heroine’s father isn’t Hoshiarchand from a village but moneybags, Jeffrey Rozariofrom Goa. Of course, he still has a lisping brother-in-law (with Rajpal Yadav ably stepping into Shakti Kapoor’ shoes).
Dhawan attempts to showcase his acting prowess by mimicking many aBollywood star – Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Nana Patekar and even ‘tragedy king’ Dilip Kumar – but falls short in delivering the much-required laughs.
When Raju coolie’s ruse is about to fall apart, and the cat is about to be sprung from the proverbial bag, he adopts Disco Dancer Mithun da’s dialogue delivery ishtyle to distinguish the porter (Dhawan) from the young tycoon (also Dhawan),who is wedded to Sarah Rozario (Sara Ali Khan).
But these plot twists and turns come across as wayward because there is no clear context created for them in the script, leaving the audience with visual whiplash.
Twenty-five years have elapsed since the producer and director duo delivered one of the super hits that defined Govinda’s career as a comic hero. With the yesteryear star not on hand to carry the weight of the remake on his shoulders nor a Kader Khan available to liven up Rumi Jaffery’s screenplay with his dialogues, their absence isn’t the only reason why this “Coolie No 1” is a pale shadow of the original.
Dhawan and Khan fail to channel the brilliant on-screen pairing of Govinda and Karisma Kapoor. Paresh Rawal, as the father of the bride, also fails to take a leaf out of Kader Khan’s comedy playbook. Even with a star-studded ensemble, the actors are unable to impart any freshness to the reworking and the script reeks of absolute obsolescence.
“Coolie No 1” does not take into account that this is 2020 and the world has changed since the David Dhawan-Govinda combo churned out hit after hit with their mad capers. The formula that yielded dividends all those years ago no longer does.
The workload on dialogue writer Farhad Samji (who has a cameo as a plumber called in to fix a leaking shower) is immense. His bid to inject hilarity into the proceedings seem forced and misplaced.
The lines that the characters spout hinge too heavily on puns and malapropisms, devices that Kader Khan used with great effect, but have outlived their utility to be funny.
This new version definitely is flashier and louder, but all that glitters is not gold.And even with modern-day references to the coronavirus, the hope clearly is to drown out – the sheer pointlessness of this exercise.
And no matter what the director and his son try and do, the 2020 “Coolie No 1,” released on Amazon Prime on Christmas Day, is no patch on the 1995 film. An infantile rehash that scrapes the bottom of the barrel, “Coolie No. 1,” 2020 had me running for the aspirin. As a film positioned to be a laugh-riot, it fails to elicit any laughter. As Rawal’s character Rozario is fond of saying, “Heaven on the docks, wish I could turn back the clock!”
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.