Film Review: Don 2

A slickly made, aggressively commercial franchise blockbuster that indicates Bollywood is now thinking globally, not just locally.
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If Hollywood needed any further proof that its days as the world’s premier entertainment manufacturer may be numbered, it need look no further than Don 2, the high-concept, high-octane, high-budgeted blockbuster that just arrived on U.S. shores—in 2D and 3D versions, no less!—direct from Bollywood. And in both its form and content, this ’roided up sequel to the hit 2006 action picture Don is virtually on par with the best mindless entertainments the American film industry can crank out.

Sure, Hollywood still leads the way in special-effects-heavy spectacles like Avatar, Transformers and the endless spate of comic-book movies, from Iron Man to Superman (although Bollywood is steadily making inroads into the latter arena too with films like Krrsh and RA.One, which also stars Don’s leading man—and one of the biggest names in Indian movies—Shah Rukh Khan), but Don 2 is just as glossy and enjoyably preposterous as such recent action-franchise entries as Fast Five and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol.

Like the former, the film is filled with fast cars, muscular men and blindingly gorgeous women and, as in the latter, the action hop-scotches across the globe, from India to Thailand to Germany. Indeed, Don 2 itself feels carefully calculated to appeal to audiences in each of those territories and beyond. Though they primarily speak in Hindi, the film’s characters frequently pepper their sentences with English phrases, and global brand names constantly flash across the screen thanks to the magic of product placement. Most tellingly, the one thing Indian cinema is perhaps best known for—namely, colorful song-and-dance numbers that interrupt the narrative at a whim—has been noticeably dialed back here. Don 2 contains just three musical interludes, only one of which is a conventional Bollywood showstopper. (The second is employed in that all-important element of any American action movie, the montage, while the third and final song is essentially a standalone music-video that’s played during the closing credits.) No question about it: The filmmakers are gunning for a global audience and, leaving aside the financial realities of international film distribution and looking purely at what’s on the screen, there’s no reason why they couldn’t find it.

The rest of the world doesn’t even have to have seen the original Don to understand the plot of the sequel, and not just because the film regularly fills you in on what happened in the previous picture. It’s also due to the fact that writer-director Farhan Akhtar (who also helmed the original) has cannily crafted the movie to fit one of the most easily portable of all film genres: the heist picture. Having already risen to the top of the Asian criminal underworld in the first film, gangster extraordinaire Don (Khan) turns his attention to Europe, where the leading crime bosses have struck an agreement to preemptively take him out before he can muscle in on their territory. Master planner that he is, Don evades their schemes by turning himself over to Interpol, specifically sexy agent Roma (played by former Miss World Priyanka Chopra), and winding up behind bars. There, he plots an escape with former nemesis Vardhaan (Borman Irani) and the duo promptly make their way to Berlin, where they plan to lift some currency plates out of the heavily guarded vault of a Euro printing bank. To pull off this impossible mission, they assemble a team of experts who help concoct a plan that’s Swiss watch-precise in its timing. It goes without saying, of course, that various complications crop up in the form of double-crosses and last-minute twists, which pit Don and his accomplices against the police…and one another.

It’s tempting to compare the possibilities promised by Bollywood super-productions like Don 2 to the wave of Hong Kong action movies that captured the international imagination 20 years ago. Filmmakers like John Woo and Tsui Hark put their own industry on the map and had a profound impact on Hollywood action fare as well. If Bollywood is able to routinely produce blockbusters that can go toe-to-toe (and explosion-to-explosion) with American product, they have a real chance to become the world’s next big cinematic hot spot.

The key difference, though, is that at the time nobody in the U.S. was making movies that looked like Hard Boiled or Once Upon a Time in China. Don 2, on the other hand, looks exactly like a standard Hollywood action programmer. Akhtar effectively mimics the slick, music-video aesthetics popularized by the likes of Michael Bay and Justin Lin, right down to the fetishistic shots of guys with bulging muscles piloting powerful cars. It’s a note-perfect imitation, but it doesn’t offer any artistic innovation. And because Don 2, as fun as it is, is ultimately so interchangeable with a film like Fast Five, there’s no reason why audiences in the U.S. at least would necessarily think to seek it out. To achieve the kind of global recognition (and market share) it so clearly craves, Bollywood needs to find and nurture its own Woos and Harks or Wachowskis and Nolans, filmmakers who seek to create their own distinct brand of spectacle-driven entertainment. Those are the kinds of films that create a lasting impression, rather than just a couple hours’ worth of easy escapism.