Farah Khan knows only one way of making movies. It involves references to 70s cinema, getting together her closest friends from the industry and serenading her stars and the whole crew by involving them in a film that was probably more fun to shoot than to watch. Sometimes it turns out great with some inspired humour and gags that feel more organic. Like Main Hoon Naa. Sometimes the outcome is just about good enough, an interesting premise on paper (if there was a paper) not realized to its complete form that can probably be put down to sophomore slump. Like Om Shanti Om. For sanity purposes, we shall not mention the third one. Happy New Year, reuniting Farah Khan and her muse Shah Rukh Khan, throws up semblance of the form she’s (or they’re?) capable of but it has to be mentioned that she’s still running on fumes. It is a bit of a mess with some throwaway funny set pieces here and there amounting to nothing in the end.
Farah Khan is not dumb. She understands the ridiculousness of it all. Well, she’s planted it. She calls Anupam Kher’s part an “Emotional Appearance” even before the main credits. She just puts it all together and hopes that you get it too and are entertained. That second part of late doesn’t happen enough. You need no more evidence than the team that goes against Charlie’s (Shah Rukh Khan) in the World Dancing Championship (many things about this film are as generic further contributing to its mediocrity). It is Korea. No, not South Korea. It is North Korea. Farah Khan likes to take things to the extreme. Like in a scene during the much better or rather tolerable second half, Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), vertically challenged to complete his part of the heist the team tries to pull off, goes full monty to use the clothes as a step stool to unscrew. Depends on you whether you laugh out loud for this or look away. No one will judge you though.
The film references Farah Khan wants to throw at you come across more forced in Happy New Year. There is Mohini (Deepika Padukone) from Tezaab. Charlie from The Italian Job and that’s not even an inspired reference. There is Shalimar for good measure and even the title track plays at one point. Abhishek Bachchan channels his father from Don and he is more at home playing Vijay than Don. Whatever that tells you. Sonu Sood plays deaf but you wished he played invisible instead. If there is anyone who gets the timing right, it is Boman Irani. He is armed with the best lines in the film, the few of them that exist. Irani also gets the most rancid of the jokes involving seizures. As for Shah Rukh Khan, this is all about being himself with a huge bunch of film references reserved for him. His own. You name it, it is shoehorned into the film.
She’s given two well made films but going in the way of Happy New Year one may be forced to call Farah Khan a one trick pony. There is a theory that this has already happened but Farah Khan thrives on days gone by. A little reinvention and some writing that’s funnier to people outside of her crew will be a good start. Maybe she’s done with the masala genre. Maybe she should try her hand at those serious, arty movies she so vocally despises. And then we might get some unintentional and intentional hilarity.
(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)