In Coolie No. 1, the heaviest load carried by Varun Dhawan is the burden of legacy.
Dhawan’s latest project has been directed by his father, the 1990s hitmaker David Dhawan, and is a remake of the 1995 comedy of the same name. That film itself was a remake of the 1993 Tamil production Chinna Mapillai, which in turn borrowed a major plot device from the 1970s classic Gol Maal.
The first Coolie No. 1 was written by Kader Khan, now deceased, and steered by the still-extant and evergreen Govinda. David Dhawan seems to believe that what Govinda did – and only Govinda could do – can be replicated by his son. This fatherly indulgence works very poorly for Varun Dhawan, who never quite comes into his own in a production aimed at resurrecting the ghosts of the past and recycling 1990s chartbusters and jokes.
It’s not enough that Varun Dhawan must mimic Govinda, which he does for nearly half of the 134-minute movie. Dhawan spends much of the other half imitating Mithun Chakraborty. He also impersonates Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Nana Patekar. Even the venerable Dilip Kumar isn’t spared. In the closing moments, Dhawan tries to pass himself off as a female nurse.
Rumi Jaffrey’s screenplay rehashes most of the original plot. Insulted by money-hungry hotelier Jeffrey (Paresh Rawal), marriage broker Jai Kishan (Jaaved Jaaferi) takes revenge by passing off the railway coolie Raju (Dhawan) as the wealthy Raj Pratap. Raju woos and marries Jeffrey’s daughter Sarah (Sara Ali Khan) without a hitch. Avarice apparently overcomes any doubts about an inter-faith union.
So far, so secular. When the deception threatens to be exposed, Raj pretends that Raju is his identical twin. Jeffrey tries to hook up Raju with his other daughter Anju (Shikha Talsania), who is actually romancing Raju’s friend Deepak (Sahil Vaid).
Varun Dhawan and dialogue writer Farhad Samji are no match for Govinda’s manic energy and Kader Khan’s rat-a-tat repartee. The most energetic moments in the tedious and needless retread emanate from Ganesh Acharya’s ants-in-the-pants choreography in the song sequences.
Even most of the tunes are reworked. If this movie can claim anything as its own, it is the creation of a new philosophical theory. “What is... is what?” says Raju in his nurse avatar – an apt description of this endeavour as well as the larger misguided attempt to remake old favourites.