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Coolie No. 1 Review: David Dhawan Remakes a Popular 90s Comedy Sans All the Humour

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Director: David Dhawan

Cast: Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Javed Jaffrey, Johnny Lever, Rajpal Yadav

Not every day does one get to begin a movie review with a mention of Mattupetti Machaan (1998), a Malayalam comedy directed by Jose Thomas, a favourite guilty pleasure of the generation of Malayalis that grew up in the 90s. In the film, Baiju Santhosh plays a porter who pretends to be a millionaire businessman to fool a nouveau riche man and marry his daughter. Asked about work, Baiju dramatically removes his sunglasses, throws his eyes at the sky and replies, “I have been travelling far and wide.. Countries like American, Japan, India..” and then he switches to his real self and starts reciting names closer home. “..Palayam, Thampanoor, Poojappura..” Without a loud background score and over-the-top facial expressions, the scene manages to be hilarious, all thanks to its groundedness. The film is loosely inspired by Santhana Bharathi’s Chinna Mappilai (1993), the same film that was remade into Hindi by David Dhawan as Coolie No. 1 in 1995, starring Govinda and Karisma Kapoor. Mattupetti Machaan, like Chinna Mappilai, is no classic or a cultural milestone, but a mild and harmless comedy that hit the right spots.

Dhawan’s 1995 film was shouldered by Govinda, a star whose appeal defies all logical explanations. His expressions and Bhagwan Dada-inspired dance moves are rustic but at the peak of his career, they could redeem the silliest of movie plots. In the reboot version, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan, you see inanity in its ugly, entirety because the film lacks a star who could do anything yet be an audience’s favourite. Varun Dhawan makes a sincere attempt at cracking the Govinda code and emulating the madness of the 90s. He tries all the tricks in his book ﹣he impersonates the 90s’ superstars, does heroic stunts like jumping from 20ft to save a kid from a railway track, and at one point, he dresses up as a woman and flirts with Paresh Rawal ﹣but he cannot save the film from being an insufferable disaster.

Also, bringing back the 90s isn’t a job the music and production departments can do on their own. Rumi Jaffrey’s screenplay has an inconsistent relationship with the time the film is set in. At one point, the hero, Raju (Varun Dhawan) makes a reference to Covid-19 virus. But nowhere in the film do the characters use mobile phones or the internet like ordinary people living in 2020. Raju, a railway porter, and Jai Kishen (Javed Jaffrey), a marriage broker, create an elaborate plot to get Sara (Sara Ali Khan), a rich girl, married to the former. They don’t get caught for a long time because the film tweaks logic to an unreasonable extent.

There are one-liners, comic setpieces and repartees aplenty. Johnny Lever’s police inspector breaks into a dance at the oddest situations. Rawal’s rich Goan hotelier likes to speak in rhymes (“heaven on the docks, packs all your frocks!”). Humour, one must agree, is a subjective thing. But the audience would agree in unison that the jokes in Coolie No. 1 are brutally unfunny and the one-liners, barely memorable. Khan is torn between using her instincts and blindly giving in to the film’s goofy style. Her performance as the sweet and gullible rich girl isn’t remotely believable.

The same could be said about the film’s portrayal of the coolie community it pretends to pay homage to. Raju, the film says in its title sequence, is an “accidental porter” who, as a little boy, was separated from his mother when he wandered into a railway platform from a parked train. Thus, the film carefully removes him from the rest of the members of his class. After mocking the porter profession, mostly by bad imitation, for 145 minutes, the film uses a truck full of porters in the final sequence to fake-salute them.

While Bollywood’s endeavour to reboot the 90s is not a bad idea, trying to scale the legacies built on talent and time by stars, like Govinda and late Kader Khan, using the devices they had an expertise in, is a fatal mistake the industry can’t afford to make in this OTT world.

****

The Coolie No. 1 review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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