Dhawan casts his son Varun in the role made famous in 1995 by Govinda, but little effort has been made to acknowledge the quarter-century since
It’s a tale of two Bollywoods this Christmas. Over at Netflix, Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, representing Indian film’s modernising wing, have engineered the sharp and knowing meta-thriller AK vs AK. Here on Amazon Prime Video meanwhile, you can watch veteran comedy director David Dhawan renew his IP rights on Coolie No 1, previously a hit 1995 vehicle for the Sandwell-born funnyman Govinda. Even the latter’s most devout fans would probably concede the original left room for improvements, but that’s something Dhawan appears unfussed about. This Coolie updates a few reference points and replaces Govinda with latter-day hunk Varun Dhawan – the director’s son – then surrounds him with antiquated players and playing, part of a frenetic attempt to pretend the last 30 years never happened.
The plot – lowly railway porter (Dhawan) is hired to woo a society belle (Sara Ali Khan) as part of a conspiracy to disgrace her family – remains familiar and predictable. The most immediate contrast with the original is a result of the casting. Rather too obviously a handsome, cardio-trained leading man schlubbing down for (not many) easy laughs, Dhawan Jr bounds onscreen with boyish enthusiasm, but trails a lingering note of condescension – and Dhawan Sr was evidently too busy remembering how best to smash his supporting actors in the gonads to direct anyone. Khan, sadly, is stranded on balconies looking fetchingly concerned while the men below determine her character’s destiny. In this, Coolie 2020 really does seem so last century.