Coolie No 1 1995 vs Coolie No 1 2020: Can Things Get Any Worse?

Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan's Coolie No 1 only adds to the despair.

6 min read
Stills from the old and new Coolie No 1.

Just when I thought the year was coming to a close without any more terrible content from Bollywood comes Coolie No 1, starring Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan in the lead. Now, the 1995 blockbuster itself was a remake of the 1993 Tamil production Chinna Mapillai, which in turn borrowed majorly from the iconic Gol Maal. If you are hoping that by a magic turn of the wand David Dhawan has created something ingenious by remaking his own film, despair is an understatement for you.

It's a little bizarre to compare Govinda-Karisma's Coolie No 1 and Varun-Sara's film because I am still reeling from disbelief that somebody thought the world is still stuck in the '90s. Let's place the two films side by side to see what the Hindi film industry is dishing out in 2020:

The Same Stale Tale

Varun Dhawan and Govinda in Coolie No 1 and Coolie No 1 remake.
Varun Dhawan and Govinda in Coolie No 1 and Coolie No 1 remake.

It’s been over two decades since Coolie No 1 released, but it seems David Dhawan hasn’t been able to let go of the film which had opened to whistles and energetic claps. Save for a few lines, the plot of the new Coolie No 1 (streaming on Amazon Prime Video) remains unaltered.

Humiliated by money-hungry hotelier Jeffrey Rozario (Paresh Rawal), marriage broker Jai Kishan (Jaaved Jaaferi) decides to teach him a lesson by passing off a railway coolie Raju (Varun Dhawan) as billionaire Raj Pratap. Raju, who is head-over-heels for Jeffrey’s daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan) the moment he had chanced upon her photo, plays to the tunes of Kishan and gets married to her without a hitch. David Dhawan did pull off an interfaith marriage with nonchalance, but what's with the constant reference to lighting candles and making signs of a cross?

The plot then takes the same hackneyed route. Exactly like Karisma Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan plays a woman who has no mind of her own. Without batting an eyelid, Sarah believes every concocted story Raju tells her. When Raju conjures a twin seeing that his cover is about to be blown, he starts blaming Sarah and Jeffrey for doubting him. And what do they do? Bingo, they fall at Raju’s feet and beg for forgiveness, because how else will ‘poor’ Sarah be able to survive in case the marriage falls apart?

Hearing about the ‘twin’, Jeffrey plans to set him up with his younger daughter Anju (Shikha Talsania), who is actually romancing Raju’s friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid). That begs the question - are we really in 2020?

Despite glaring politically incorrect cliches, there was a certain sincerity with which the original Coolie No 1 was written by Kader Khan, who plays Hoshiarchand (Rawal’s role). That was a time when we bought a story wherein a character merely has to change his clothes to take on a completely different identity and still NOBODY employed their grey cells to figure out who he was. Let me remind you of another film - Khoon Bhari Maang. In that 1998 movie, Rekha undergoes plastic surgery and comes back as….Rekha, but what’s hilarious is that the entire cast, including her husband (Kabir Bedi), just couldn’t recognise her.

Years have passed and times and tastes have changed, but not for David Dhawan. He clothes Jai Kishan in a curly wig and passes him off as Raju’s secretary, hoping that the audience will derive the same amusement as they did earlier.

The only marked deviation in the Coolie’s character is that he is given a backstory, which Govinda’s character didn’t have. Throwing in references about technology and making Varun’s character utter lines in English does not redeem an otherwise stale tale.

Govinda-Karisma vs Varun-Sara: Any Comparison?

Coolie No 1 1995 vs Coolie No 1 2020: Can Things Get Any Worse?

Nobody, and I repeat nobody, can replicate Govinda’s manic energy and his loud expressions. Coolie No 1 saw Govinda ace the role of a guy who is out to con his father-in-law. Govinda dresses in the most garish of costumes, pulls off the funniest expressions and makes us laugh with his silly antics. Be it taking on six goons singlehandedly or pretending to be someone else, Coolie No 1 was a Govinda show all the way.

Varun Dhawan’s forced attempt at imitating Govinda makes it all the more painful to watch the movie. Exaggerated expressions does not sit on him and the jokes feel rehearsed - an embarrassment to a comedy. If one half of the movie is spent apeing Govinda, the other half sees Varun impersonating Mithun Chakraborty, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Nana Patekar. None of the stars are spared, and the caricatures that they are reduced to shows that it’s difficult if not impossible to resurrect jokes from the 1990s.

Another legend who ably supported Govinda was the late Kader Khan. His comic timing was impeccable and he could mouth bizarre lines with an effortless ease. “Dobaara aise besharam log laana nahi jo pachaash gaaliyan sunke bhi yahaan chipak ke baithe hai”, Kader Khan aka Hoshiarchand tells Shadiram Gharjode (Sadashiv Amrapurkar) when the proposal the latter brings for his daughter Malti (Karisma Kapoor) infuriates the haughty businessman. I still remember watching Coolie No 1 the first time and laughing at the way the otherwise offensive line was uttered by Khan. In the remake, Khan’s character is essayed by Paresh Rawal. Though we do see some sparks, they fizzle out as soon as they have appeared.

While Karisma Kapoor did a decent job with the insufferable Malti, Sara Ali Khan is totally out of place as Sarah. The outfits Karisma donned in the movie were terrible and Sara's are equally horrendous.

Be it Rajpal Yadav or Javed Jaferi, none of the members of the supporting cast came close to the ones in the original script.

Humour, What's That?

Coolie No 1 1995 vs Coolie No 1 2020: Can Things Get Any Worse?

Comedy shows and films came as a comfort in a year that was filled with dread and gloom. What David Dhawan is yet to understand is that humour doesn’t mean laughing at someone’s expense. The original Coolie No 1 did have problematic content. Shakti Kapoor’s character, Malti’s lisp uncle who is hard of hearing, was planted in the film just so that he could be ridiculed. Since then, sensibilities and tastes of people have changed and a lot of discussion revolves around approaching content with empathy. There was ample room for redemption in the 2020 film, but instead, we were served two characters who lisp and stammer and who have been sketched for the sole purpose of being mocked at. If that’s not enough, body-shaming has also been included in the platter. Sarah’s sister Anju does not fit into Bollywood's warped definition of ‘beauty’, so when she attempts to put her father on diet food, she is met with a reply “Look who’s talking”.

Coolie No 1 was the characteristic poor-guy rich-girl story that was common to David Dhawan’s films. Varun’s Coolie doesn’t attempt to rise above the cringe level.

There’s still the jarring stereotypes as to how a certain class of people should behave, and I was beyond shocked to see Varun Dhawan and Johnny Lever, who plays a cop, laugh when the former says, "Why don't you kill culprits through encounters?"

Also, attempts to elicit a laugh by speaking in a distorted tongue and trying to pass it off as a foreign language worked well in the past, but it’s time to bid adieu to those ghosts.

The dialogues that seemed funny only because they were delivered by stellar actors, can only receive exaggerated eye rolls now.

Music: Too Much to Expect Some Creativity?

Varun Dhawan romances Sara Ali Khan in '<i>Mirchi Lagi Toh</i>' from <i>Coolie No 1</i>.
Varun Dhawan romances Sara Ali Khan in 'Mirchi Lagi Toh' from Coolie No 1.
(Photo courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

Two minutes of silence for the makers who thought Husn Hai Suhaana and Roop ka Khaazana would be lyrics best suited to the times. Karisma wooed viewers with her steps in Husn and Mirchi Lagi Toh. Added to that were Govinda's pelvic thrusts, which drew people by hundreds to the theatres.

Coolie No 1 had dubious lyrics and questionable steps, but was it a crime to expect decent music from the new one?

It also beats me as to how with each passing day we seem to walk backwards. What, pray, was the logic behind ‘tanning’ Varun’s face?

The original Coolie No 1 makes light of the fact that a man marries a woman by deception, and 25 years later we see the same horror unfold on screen. Delivering a sermon at the end does not alter things, the change should reflect in every scene of a film.

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