More than just a sip of fizzy fun, this 3-hour comedy is Jeroboam-sized. Farah Khan’s Happy New Year is an ambitious musical, a love story, an Oceans 11-style crime caper and an ensemble comedy destined to reap generous returns for its star Shah Rukh Khan’s production house Red Chillies and distributor Yash Raj Films over this big-ticket Diwali weekend.
The film has broken all opening night records for any Indian film, beating out Hrithik Roshan’s Bang Bang! and even Aamir Khan’s smash Dhoom:3 both in the U.S. and in India.
Farah Khan has long been one of India’s most influential choreographers, and when she turned director with the college love story Main Hoon Na (2004), starring Shah Rukh Khan, she developed a reputation for an action-and-music-packed kitchen sink approach to Bollywood filmmaking marked with striking visuals and a playful aesthetic. Her hit 2007 reincarnation-themed romantic comedy Om Shanti Om, which also starred Shah Rukh Khan and launched Deepika Padukone, was followed by the relatively obscure Tees Maar Khan.
Happy New Year has been promoted over the past months with an unprecedented efforts which included a massive stage show tour in September in which the stars lipsynced and danced to its songs before sold out arenas full of fans who had paid up to $500 per ticket.
Khan’s trademark is madcap, silly humor and big-scale emotion punctuated with truly dazzling dance numbers, and she’s famous for zooming in on her heroes and heroines as their gazes smolder and their hair sweeps back, blown by an unseen fan.
Khan also specializes in the big, flashy intro, and this film is no exception: when we first see Shah Rukh Khan, he’s shirtless, wrestling in a mud-pit in extreme slow motion. When he scrapes the mud from his face to reveal that familiar scowl, the audience responds ecstatically on cue.
Chandramohan “Charlie” Sharma (Shah Rukh Khan) and a team of ragtag diamond thieves travel to Dubai to pull off a high-tech heist designed to ruin an evil criminal (Jackie Shroff) who had victimized Charlie’s father many years ago. The thieves schedule it so that the distractions of the huge World Dance Championship obscure their actions — but Charlie and his team will have to actually compete in the dance contest to gain access to the backstage area that leads to the diamond vault.
Happy New Year relies on a few ubiquitous gimmicks that are dangerously close to their expiration date: there’s the meta Bollywood reference (in this case, entire passages of dialogue are lifted from earlier Shah Rukh Khan films for comic effect), and running gags involving gay characters (ace composer Vishal Dadlani and Gangs of Wasseypur director Anurag Kashyap make a cameo in a cringe-worthy sequence involving a merry-widow corset and a feather boa). One character has not only an incongruous and unnecessary speech impediment but also falls on the ground in epileptic seizures at the worst possible time.
Among the cast, Boman Irani is solidly funny as a pudgy, 50-something safecracker; Sonu Sood pokes fun at his bodybuilding image by managing to have his shirt fly off at the wrong moments; and Vivaan Shah, the son of art-house star Naseeruddin Shah, holds his own as a bright young hacker.
It’s refreshing to see the hammy Shah Rukh Khan in an ensemble piece, bouncing off his costars as they come together to plan the biggest diamond heist of the decade in the world’s blingiest city.
But it’s Deepika Padukone and Abhishek Bachchan who leave the most lasting impression: Padukone plays a slightly ditzy, though deadly serious, dance teacher tasked with bringing these thieves up to competition quality, and she aces her solo dance numbers (most strikingly, the erotic “Lovely”) with a riveting presence.
Bachchan can be uneven in more serious roles (Dhoom:3, Guru) but the son of screen king Amitabh Bachchan is developing a reputation as a gifted comic (Bol Bachchan) and he shines here as a drunk, unfocused loser who has to impersonate the brutish scion to a diamond empire, complete with a pink velvet blazer, a sculpted pencil-thin beard and a vulgar American accent.
Production: Red Chillies Entertainment
Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Abhishek Bachchan, Boman Irani, Sonu Sood, Vivaan Shah and Jackie Shroff
Director: Farah Khan
Screenwriters: Farah Khan, Althea Kaushal, and Mayur Puri
Producer: Gauri Khan
Executive producer: Niraj Pamwani
Director of photography: Manush Nandan
Production designer: Shashank Tere
Editors: Anand Subaya and Tushar Parekh
Composers: Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani
Casting: Aadore Mukherjee, Mehra
Unrated, 180 minutes