Old Jack here has noticed a few themes that run through Bollywood movies. They can be clunky plotted, with coincidence and about-turns hidden in the sumptuous photography, use of colour, song dance and improbably beautiful people. Okay, the women. Stars like Kajol, Sridevi and Deepika Padukone stir the admiration and – okay, I’m going there – lusts of men the world over. I’m guessing the male stars do much the same, though as a clumsy old straight guy, I’ve never really understood the appeal of men for women. Old Mrs Jack would hug me at the most unexpected of moments. Loved it, but never really understood why. Also – and here’s my point – there’s a nervy acknowledgment of ‘tradition’ in these blockbusters, which feels a lot like the drive to be modern (possibly Hollywood, certainly sexy), but balanced with love of family, respect for elders, and the freedom to marry through love, but only through family permission. And beneath the flamboyance, silliness, clunky plotting and coincidence, these three hours of poncing about between mob families and the genuine love of their kids, doffs a knowing cap to family, its importance, however broken or pained it may be: Dilwale.
It means the big-hearted.
So, weird plot time. Sometime in the past, Shah Rukh Khan (goodly modern Raj, old silent Kaali) of the bad-guy family is tricked into falling in love with Kajol (Meera Malik of the other bad guy family). This happens in flashback from his modern car repair business, shared with a younger brother Veer (Varhun Dhawan giving borderline ingenue), and doesn’t end well. Modern day is stunningly shot: everything has the super-bright filter over it, from cars to plants to clothing. The past is the same. Khan and Kajol meet in Bulgaria which, I daresay, has rarely looked as beautiful on screen. Actually, he hits hers with his car a part of an action sequence. He is all big hair and smiles (backing off from some of the irritating smirks in K3G, so that’s okay). She is…okay, old Jack here has trouble being objective when her face is on screen…beautiful. Which I guess is the point. Khan’s Raj-Kaali falls for her, begs a five-minute date, spending a ton of money on reminding me of the two-minute date in an episode of How I Met Your Mother…whilst being weirdly honest about life in a crime family. Then things get tricksy: for he has to transport some gold the next day, his string of bouncable vehicles getting ambushed and the gold stolen in lingering shots of pain and betrayal: for Meera and henchmen take the stuff in a ton of stylish shots and ice-cold dialogue.
Then improbabilities really pour over the thing. Meera is saved by Kaali. His love becomes her love. And they part company with the flashbacks as their Dads go nuts, the oldsters giving weird beard and triggering a gun battle of bizarrely survivable crossfire and gymnastics. One Dad dies, then the other, and the blame for that moment lasts fifteen years…
Which is all well and good but properly silly and shows the oldsters to be intransigent and cruel. Pfft. No lessons for those aspiring to wisdom in their middle years.
So. The present day. Brother Veer falls for another stunning woman – Kriti Sanon‘s Ishita. She in turn – and unbelievably given how irritating he is, and how fucking irritating his friends are – falls for him and the moment approaches of family talking to family. Guess whose sister Ishita turns out to be?
Okay – that’s it for the clunky plotting. The moment of truth comes as Khan has to do serious, and Kajol has to do manipulative. Marry, certainly, but here’s my condition… That lands.
Unfortunately, the modern-day stuff is spoilt by horrible comedy. Johnny Lever as the exhausting Money seems to have fallen out of a 1950s Jerry Lewis gurning classic. And I can’t stand that stuff. The three friends, Veer and his buddies, give out banter that lands with an ugly thud (everything old Jack hates the Hangover series and its smugness). The David Walliams-esque Boman Irani goes some way to make up for all this, all hat, cane and relatively subtle timing, but the script doesn’t give him the warmth of 3 Idiots (2009). The film even refers to Kajol’s middle-age weight whilst old Jack here was busy being in love, so consider the comedy ball catastrophically well dropped. We do get to see Khan doing the washing, mind, so there’s a touch of image popping going on, I suppose.
The film redeems itself through Kajol and Khan, now in their middle-years and dealing with their old love, old misunderstanding, and the need not to be their fathers. Given that moment of faux-parenting, and the responsibility to make decisions for their siblings, well…all the film really needs at the end is the too-short dance sequence played over the end-credits. Or a repeat of the gorgeous love-song played out across CGIed bits of the world, particularly Iceland’s beaches from Rogue One.
Fun, broad, but nearly sunk by its shoddy comedy, Dilwale is a film for a few seniors, but mostly for the big-hearted.
It’s on Netflix.