Farhan Akhtar is not only an interesting storyteller, he is a technically proficient one too. In each of his directorial ventures, he has brought something new to Hindi cinema. In Dil Chahta Hai, he brought modern sync-sound technology to the medium. In Lakshya, he went to ridiculously high altitudes with a crane to shoot his film. Don, undoubtedly the least of his works, still showcased a slickness in its production that few films at the time, if any, could rival. Now, with Don 2, he returns to the director's chair after a hiatus. Technically, it is unarguably his finest production to date. The photography, the production design, the action are all stunning. But in terms of substantive content, it's good, not great.
After conquering Asian drug market, Don (SRK) has set his eyes on conquering Europe. But he faces stiff competition with the drug cartels already operating there. Joined by his former arch-nemesis (Boman Irani) and a rag tag team including a savvy hacker (Kunnal Kapoor), a bombshell beauty (Lara Dutta) and a bunch of goons, Don plans the ultimate heist, which could not only allow him to get very, very rich but also help him eliminate his competitors.
What sets Don 2 apart is in ways, its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. Everyone is going gaga over how the film is the closest we have come to a slick Hollywood production. Some have lauded Akhtar for that, others have thrown brickbats at him. I choose to applaud him for it, especially for doing a bang up job of integrating Hollywood suavity with 70s Bollywood kitsch. However, I don't think that's what really sets Don 2 apart. What distinguishes it, even from the Oceans and Mission Impossible series(es) which most critics seem hell bent on comparing it too, is its protagonist. Unlike Ocean and his 11, Don isn't an anti-hero. He is a villain, plain and simple. He is a narcissistic, mean spirited, evil bastard out to take over the world. He doesn't have any redeeming qualities. He has no moral compass or anything that remotely resembles a conscience. He isn't Danny Ocean. He's Terry Benedict. It is inordinately more difficult to weave a story around a character like that. Yet, Akhtar does and largely, succeeds thanks to a well plotted, mostly consistent script (a rarity in Bollywood thrillers), some truly epic dialogues and a strong central performance by Shah Rukh Khan. The role is tailor made for SRK and he does it full justice.
However, no matter how hard Akhtar may try, those very qualities also makes it difficult for the audience to root for Don, much less love him. Even all the world's cool cannot compensate for a black heart. After Europe and Asia, Don could take over the world in Don 3, but that won't make him any more endearing (or interesting) to an audience. Because of this, the appeal of Don, as a character and as a series, is limited. Akhtar truncates the appeal also by allowing the film to remain a one man show. One can't help but wonder: for a drug kingpin who controls the Asian market, where is Don's entourage? The lone ranger act is unconvincing. The other characters are mere stick figures brought in for support. Had Akhtar built a true ensemble playing off each others' strengths, the film would have been a lot more fun.
Also, the length doesn't help things . For a film with just one song, Don 2 has no business clocking in at 145 minutes. The film is stretched to an exasperating point, particularly in the last half hour. This, along with the lack of an ensemble, robs the narrative of its energy at several points. The climax is a letdown as a film ends with a thud instead of a bang. The action work, though slick, is very been there seen that. They lack imagination and feel like a Rolex watch perfectly duplicated in a cheap Chinese factory. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy give one of their worst performances ever.
Perhaps I have been too critical of the film. Its virtues are numerous. Its vices are not for lack of trying. I had a genuinely good time for the most part. It is definitely recommended as a one time watch and the only big budget film this year that actually delivered on many of its promises. Also, a cameo by a certain someone (ahem ahem) is rather cleverly used. In many ways, it is indicative of how far we have come. In others, it shows how much farther we can go.