ZIYA US SALAM

DON

(At Delite and other Delhi theatres)

Wow! Shah Rukh Khan is no longer a prisoner of his image. No longer timid, no longer shy. He dares now to step beyond his usual Raj-Rahul act and steps into sacrosanct Bachchan territory. For a few fleeting moments he forgets he is Shah Rukh Khan and embraces the heart, soul and body of the Big B's much talked about Don that the super star played with such nonchalant ease in Chandra Barot's film way back in 1978.

Gone here now is Shah Rukh's hamming spree, gone are the languid ways. Instead there is a swagger in his walk, and some purpose in his talk. And such irrepressible energy! Untamed, unbridled, a one-man army that takes Farhan Akhtar's film to safe waters.

For quite a while here Shah Rukh manages to prove the pundits wrong: yes, he is a star, but he is an actor too. His fan following comes as much from his familiar old charisma as his craft. As Don in this technically savvy, visually enthralling film he packs quite a punch. In some of the scenes he manages the Bachchan part incredibly well; in others he falls short. Notably the "Khaike Paan Banaraswala... ." song where he is a pale shadow of what the Big B achieved some 30 years ago. Or some of the dialogue where his facial expressions, his eyes don't quite have the menace one associates with Bachchan.

These are, however, only some of the stray moments in the film. Otherwise "Don" in its all new avatar is not just a dusting off of the original. The director takes the good old script, borrows a couple of songs, retains most of the characters all right, but also gives new twists and turns. Which means that just when you sit back, happy and comfortable in the knowledge of what's going to happen next, there is a surprise. And that gives this film a new zing, a new chutzpah. Despite being a remake, the director manages to infuse an element of ingenuity, startling all of us.

This con game involving a cocaine trader who kills people like one swats flies in the countryside and flees from the scene faster than the cops reach, has its flaws too. Notably, the girls.

Priyanka Chopra with her stiff waist and less-than-elementary acting skills is no Zeenat Aman. Though she tries hard in the action sequences, this is another listless performance from the girl who failed to sparkle in "Krrish" not long ago too. Then there is Kareena, who tries to do a Helen and learns an important lesson: there was, is, and will be, only one Helen. And Isha Koppikar? Didn't notice her doing anything worthwhile in the film. Maybe she signed it to stave off boredom from underemployment.

Keeping the girls company in the negative section is the film's editing and music. The thriller with all its fast cars, faster guys, bullets and baddies needed tighter editing. As for Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy's music, well, suffice it to say that the good old "Khaike Paan... ." is still more delicious than any of the new stuff they have churned out.

Yes, there are negatives but they don't outweigh the positives. Which means you can go ahead, sit back, watch and enjoy Farhan Akhtar's designer "Don" this Diwali weekend. And maybe come back surprised that Shah Rukh's is not such a pale imitation of Bachchan after all.

JAAN-E-MANN

(At Shiela and other Delhi theatres)

Bollywood just slips to newer depths of shallowness. This film by Shirish Kunder, husband of ace choreographer-director Farha Khan, does nothing to suggest that in the near future he will be known as a director in his own right. Obviously inspired by the success of "Main Hoon Naa" where Farah experimented with relish, Shirish forgets that all the trial-and-error is okay only until the first shot is canned.

This much-trumpeted multi-starrer with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar vying for the attention of Preity Zinta is hackneyed in its storyline. Pray, how many films have we seen where A loves B but B loves C? Many more than there are letters in the English alphabet. This one is no different. Where Shirish does try to take it beyond the usual is in the treatment: there is some interplay of light and shadow, a good song, and some nice wacky chemistry between Anupam Kher as a dwarf and Salman Khan as his loved-and-lost nephew. But that is all. The film drags and drags, there are too many interjections in even serious sequences leaving us all wondering if we are watching a poor, poor stage show.

The way things unfold here, Shirish bridges the gap between nautanki, tamasha and cinema. If one is inclined to be charitable, then maybe he was inclined to experiment a wee bit within the commercial cinema format. So he forgot the story, forgot the dialogue, just concentrated on zany sequences. The idea was to make us laugh, gape and wonder. But frankly, characters emerging out of the walls, qawwals in a moment of despair, and a dream in black-and-white are just a shade too much.

Sad, but this attempt goes awry not only with experimentation but also in its stereotypes. On the one side there is that bawdy mixture of cinema and street theatre, on the other he panders to stars and their egos. So he adopts a rotation policy. One close-up of Salman followed by one of Akshay. Two shots of heroes, one of the heroine! And all three of them go through the motions without feigning too much interest, with Preity actually managing to prove that she has finally embraced age!

Forget "Jaan-e-Mann". Life has other joys to offer elsewhere.

OPEN SEASON

(At Spice PVR, Noida; and Delhi theatres)

Festive time, time to pamper the kids at home. And the kid in you. Time for "Open Season", a little groovy peek into the life of a grizzly bear and a deer. With some nice voice-over by Martin Lawrence as the bear and Ashton Kutcher for the deer, it is a gently tickling film. Never will you have a full-throated laugh in this one-and-a-half-hour saga, seldom will a smile fade away from your lips. It is the story of a bear who is at home with all the privileges taken as a right by urban residents. There is a fridge to keep things cool, a couch to laze around, and the pot to attend to other needs. All is well until he meets Elliot's deer. The little fellow befriends him, takes him out for a drink. Then the world changes as the security of the home gives way to the rough and tumble of the jungle. As the open season is almost there, there is that unnerving possibility of a disaster round the corner. How the two join hands to find their way back makes for engrossing viewing for kids and adults alike.

"Open Season" may not break fresh ground in storytelling or special effects but it is an endearing saga that helps relieve boredom.

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