Director: David Dhawan
Cast: Varun Dhawan, Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Shikha Talsania, Jaaved Jaaferi, Sahil Vaid
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
The existential coolie in me is happy because I now carry the burden of my past. The innocent Gujarati child in 1995 – who forced his mother to make spicy bhel puri after his cravings were triggered by Govinda and Karishma Kapoor finding amorous metaphors in Mumbai street-food – had absolutely no idea that 25 years later he’d be waking up on Christmas morning of the darkest year in modern history to review Coolie No. 1, lose his appetite and wonder how Santa Claus eats sev-puri without soiling that glorious beard. This is the cruellest form of time-travel: Everything has changed and nothing has changed. While it’s mighty philanthropic of director David Dhawan to make us forget that the year is 2020, it’s also misanthropic to make us forget that the human mind has evolved in the last 25 years. Between Judwaa 2 and this one, it’s hard to imagine a less productive way of making movies.
The latest “update” that nobody asked for opens with Paresh Rawal tarnishing memories of Kader Khan by playing a wealthy Goan man who rejects middle-class suitors for his overexpressive daughter. Because his surname is Rosario, his trademark phrase is “Heaven on the docks man, whiskey on the rocks man”. Moments later, Varun Dhawan, as a Mumbai coolie named Raju, calls an arrogant rich man “mozzarella cheese ki aulaad” before beating him up. More moments later, Rosario fat-shames his other daughter (Shikha Talsania) by scoffing at her when she suggests a diet-plan for him. More moments later, Sara Ali Khan dances to her 135th ‘90s-chartbuster remix with the overwrought gumption of a girl paying ode to her childhood at a nostalgia party. More moments later, Dhawan fakes a double role and starts to mimic Mithun Chakraborty only to never stop. More moments later, an obese bellhop named Mac appears only so that he can be called Mac-donald’s and Happy Meal. More moments later, hero and sidekick enter a hospital dressed as female nurses named Gyna-kareena and Gyna-karishma. More moments later, I belatedly realize that I have an option to walk out of the film without leaving a movie theatre. The internet does the rest.
Coolie No. 1 is somehow worse because it exists on the internet. Euphemistic terms like “paisa-vasool” and “one-time watch” apply to the cultural act of watching a film in cinema halls. The halls are an escape from life, so even terrible movies find meaning because of how they become part of a larger communal experience. The outing defines the entertainment. But when these same movies appear on streaming platforms, they are stripped off all the accessories that protect them from intellectual scrutiny. The finger-tip convenience of bedrooms and living rooms brings with it the luxury of choice and control. We are conditioned to expect differently from the small screen. The audience becomes a viewer. And movies are then viewed through the naked lens of cinema. They are no more an event. Those like Coolie No. 1 and Sadak 2 bring knives to a gunfight and get woefully exposed. They were the ones who wanted us to leave our brains at home. Who knew they’d be at the mercy of those homely brains one day?