Shah Rukh Khan produces and stars as an elderly statesman in Happy New Year, which mashes together the heist thriller, the dance contest drama, and the fish-out-of-water comedy. Khan’s character Charlie is a man of many talents – street fighter, mastermind of a diamond theft, object of desire (by the filmmaker as well as the movie’s heroine), figure of admiration (the rest of the cast regularly genuflect before his awesomeness), and potential link between North Korea and the rest of the world. What’s not to love?

For the unmoved, Farah Khan’s fourth movie lines up several other distractions. Happy New Year is packed with enough cut-price bling to illuminate a small country. The screenplay, by Khan and Althea Kaushal, and the dialogue, by Mayur Puri, grab references from just about everywhere ‒ Ocean’s Eleven, The Full Monty, The Ladykillers, Shah Rukh Khan’s back catalogue and memories of cinema from the seventies onwards. It’s packed with mostly silly and occasionally funny humour, dance numbers, a cast that speaks to a variety of audience demographics, a celebration of Dubai as the city Mumbai should have been, a tribute to Indian family values, and a nationalist can-do spirit. Not surprisingly, it clocks in at 179 minutes and 50 seconds.

Forced humour

Family honour, rather than personal gain, guides the actions of Charlie and his gang of thieves. Seeking revenge against Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), who was responsible for ruining Charlie’s father many years ago, Charlie puts together a band of safe-breakers who will steal Charan’s diamonds from under his nose.

In fact, Charlie sews up the whole thing within the first hour itself when he recruits his team. Tammy (Boman Irani) and Jag (Sonu Sood) used to work with Charlie’s father and built the safe they are going to break into; Rohan (Vivaan Shah) is one of the world’s greatest hackers; Nandu is a dead ringer for Charan’s son (Abhishek Bachchan in a double role). By a coincidence, the likes of which are seen only in the movies, a dance contest is being held at the same time as the diamonds are entering the vault. Of course, none of the members of “Team India” knows how to dance, which is why Mohini (Deepika Padukone) must enter the frame.

Just like in Steven Soderbergh’s stylish but contrived Ocean’s Eleven, everything runs according to plan in Happy New Year. Farah Khan tries to deflect attention from the inevitably successful heist by focusing on her characters and the comedic elements. Like her previous films, Happy New Year benefits from the director’s generosity towards her ensemble cast. By kicking Shah Rukh Khan upstairs, she is able to give Abhishek Bachchan his moments of over-the-top humour, and Sonu Sood a chance to prove that he is more than just a sour-faced muscleman. Bachchan is the kind of actor who typifies the belief that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Happy New Year liberates him of the burden of carrying a film on his forever-drooping shoulders, and he hams it up with gratitude and enthusiasm.

Lacking polish

The rest of the cast  also sportingly go along with the often-desperate attempts at keeping the humour-meter ticking. There are digs at cross-dressers and homosexuals, bananas, possessive mothers, and people with East Asian features. The North Korean team of dancers is dismissed as Chinese since “all of them look alike”.

Happy New Year is nowhere near as accomplished as Farah Khan’s debut Main Hoon Na or Om Shanti Om. It lacks the polish and confidence of these films, but it does prove that she isn’t quite finished with her mythologisation of Shah Rukh Khan. She has been building a monument to his charms from her first film, and the Khan on Khan dialogue remains the best thing about her latest project.