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Happy New Year (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Indian Ocean's Six."
3 stars

If you've read my reviews of Bollywood movies over the past couple of years, you'll find a couple of patterns: Just because I enjoy them as a change of pace from the usual Hollywood fare doesn't necessarily mean that I don't get extremely frustrated with their shortcomings, and I really like Deepika Padukone. "Happy New Year" does not exactly deviate from that - she's the best part of a heist movie that gets fairly seriously lost over the course of its three hours.

The mastermind is Chandramohan "Charlie" Sharma (Shah Rukh Khan), who has his eyes on a Christmas Eve caper in Dubai that will get him revenge on Charan Grover (Jacki Shroff), the man who framed Charlie's father Manohar for theft and built a lucrative security business on Sharma Senior's inventions. He puts together a team of well-motivated accomplices: Temhton "Tammy" Irani (Boman Irani), a safecracker with a tendency for fits; Jagmohan "Jag" Prakash (Sonu Sood), a demolitions expert deaf in one ear; Rohan Singh (Vivaan Shah), Jag's hacker nephew; and Nandu Bhide (Abishek Bachchan), a dead ringer for Charan's son Vikky. There's just one catch: The plan involves posing as Team India in the World Dance Championships, and Rohan's hacking the audience vote will only get them so far. Thus, they bring in Mohini Joshi (Deepika Padukone), a bar dancer, to lead their "troupe" without knowing what's really going on.

There are some fairly improbable bits in Charlie's plan, but that's not really the half of the movie that makes Happy New Year feel kind of off. The dance competition portion of the movie is relatively slow to develop in the first half, enough so that the audience can't quite invest in it as "real", but it winds up enough in the foreground that the guys' lack of ability makes for some eye-rolling. Writer/director Farah Khan gets a couple of good laughs out of "Team Diamond" cheating their way into the world championships, but once you do that, it's more than a bit disingenuous to try and stir patriotic feelings in the audience by having them root for Team India, no matter how catching "Indiawaale" may be as a song.

The dance contest taking a while to show up means that it might actually be forty-five minutes or so into the movie before Deepika Padukone's Mohini shows up, which is a shame, because Padukone is one of the best things an Indian movie can have going for it. She's very funny without having to mug for the camera the way her co-stars often do, even when she plays into her character's designated wacky tic (in her case, it's getting weak in the knees at a man who speaks English even if she doesn't understand it much at all), with enough nuance that her dancing or getting glammed up can have a little bit of a downscale quality to it so she can be impressive and the joke at the same time. She also gives Mohini a very charming sincerity when the movie needs it. It's a bit of a shame that the chemistry between her and Shah Rukh Khan's Charlie is kind of perfunctory; the couple of scenes she has with Sonu sood and Vivaan Shah seem to have more potential.

The rest of the ensemble is good, too. Shah Rukh Khan is the star and the movie rests fairly easily on his shoulders, he's got a gravity that works both to serve as a straight man or be the joke when he's playing things unusually straight, as well as moving things forward. His introduction is over the top, and he's got some other weirdly broad bits, but he serves as a good center. The rest of the cast mostly has bits of shtick - Sonu Sood plays Jag as kind of lunkheaded along with his half-deafness, while Boman Irani is a good pessimistic foil, and Abishek Bachchan does distinct doofuses.

There's certainly enough room in the movie for all of them. More than enough, really, as there are definitely periods when Happy New Year seems to be dawdling; despite the fairly long running time, none of the characters have much of an arc. The movie is all over the place, with cartoonish gags toward the beginning and a section in the second half where things certainly get dark in a hurry. Unusually, the song and dance bits are kind of backloaded, with many more in the Dubai-set second half than the first (which mostly takes place in Mumbai). There are plenty of good jokes and entertaining bits - the North Korean team mostly lives up to how funny it sounds in principle, for instance - but also a fair amount of padding, like a martial arts scene that has little purpose but to chew up time. The snappy "here's how we're going to do it" segment is in many ways more entertaining than the actual heist.

It's kind of a mess, really, with just enough good bits scattered throughout to bring a laugh when the viewer might be starting to get restless. The end credits, when what seems like everyone who worked on the movie shows up for a dance-off, kind of sums things up well: A funny idea done with enthusiasm that is punctuated by groaners and repetition as it just keeps going. It's entertaining, but really quite stretched.

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originally posted: 10/26/14 16:24:11
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1/02/16 ye yint naing I like this movie 5 stars
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