David Dhawan wants to convince you that time is parabolic, even circular, for nothing else can explain his latest directorial effort, Judwaa 2. The original, Judwaa, released more than 20 years ago, was a commercial comedic fare, a film that was both silly and forgettable, not deserving of a remake. Dhawan obviously thought otherwise and mounted a reboot, starring his son Varun Dhawan. Remaking a formulaic entertainer – exemplifying vanity and affluence—is one thing, but not changing nearly anything in it, even when the idiom of Hindi masala film has markedly changed over the years, is quite the other. This isn’t just arrogance or self-delusion; it’s an attempt to reverse time by giving the audience the finger. Maybe Dhawan Senior still thinks we are in the ’90s (1997 to be precise): Sachin Tendulkar is still the captain of the Indian cricket team; India is yet to become a nuclear power; Salman Khan, the star of Judwaa, hasn’t yet ventured near a village in Jodhpur; and the black bucks are safe. (I know that escalated quickly, but that’s how time travel functions.)
A filmmaker – anyone in fact – is supposed to evolve with time, but Dhawan Senior clearly can’t care less. He suffocates Judwaa 2 with all the elements that make a bad film shoddy. Like many mediocre entertainers of the ’90s, Judwaa 2 is god-fearing, shallow and sexist (to the point of being misogynist). But unlike its predecessors, Judwaa 2’s sexism isn’t planted, rather results from its very grain. This film, like the original, is centered on conjoined twins, whose body movements are synchronous. If one twin moves, lands a blow, or experiences pain, then so does the other. Dhawan Senior, however, takes it a step forward. Here, if one of the twins – named Prem and Raja – slaps the bum of a woman, so does the other; if one of them forcibly kisses his love interest, so does the other (including the mother-in-law-to-be). But that isn’t the worst part; the worst part is that these sequences are played out for laughs. Haha, so funny, no?
This is mainstream Bollywood in 2017: brain-dead, tone-deaf, stupid, insulting, offensive and swimming in money. Paired opposite Dhawan Junior are Jacqueline Fernandez (Bollywood’s in-house bimbo) and Taapsee Pannu (a fine actress otherwise, acting terribly in a terrible film, who would like to forget this embarrassment). With a runtime of 150 never-ending minutes, Judwaa 2 keeps you both busy and bored. Bored, because the film has nothing – I repeat, nothing – in it. For a film that’s billed as a silly comedy, I chuckled four times in total (I was bored enough to keep track). And busy because you’re constantly finding flaws in it. Early in the film, Raja (the confident macho twin) is dancing during a Ganpati celebration in Mumbai, and the background dancers are foreigners; later, Prem studies in a college in London, where people casually talk in Hindi, as if a cultural apocalypse has erased the differences between London and Lokhandwala. The film’s central conceit is inconsistent. Characters randomly and conveniently find each other in a big city. Even after giving all the leeway to Judwaa 2 – that a film like this, revelling in silliness, shouldn’t care for plot or common sense – it fails to work.
But what’s infuriating and exasperating about the movie is that it shows the worst side of Bollywood. It makes fun of a character who lisps (Nandu, played by Rajpal Yadav, as Raja’s sidekick, elicits nothing but pity). It makes fun of the people of Congo (or well, you know, the blacks). It makes fun of women who, despite their nationalities or roles, are depicted as stupid and submissive, willing to be hit on by men anytime, anywhere (in a pizza parlour, in a supermarket, in a park, in a living room). Besides, there’s much in the film that makes no sense at all (and not in a good way). A restaurant owner (Manoj Pahwa) speaks in alliterative English, as if making fun of those who are, or aspire to be, fluent in the language. Its antagonist (Zakir Hussain), a gangster, frequently uses “air quotes” while talking. (If that was an overall commentary on the state of Indian journalism right now, then I missed it.) Several scenes needlessly slip into the maudlin, underscored by a wailing flute in the background, that make you want to hide somewhere.
A film like Judwaa 2 throws you into existential despair, because you feel, “What’s the point?” Writing or commenting on the film is futile, because the ones who read the reviews won’t watch the film, and the ones who would watch the film won’t care for the reviews. At least that’s what it looked in an Andheri multiplex, whose theatre was more than half occupied, for an 8:20 am show. (Imagine getting up at 7:30 in the morning, brushing your teeth and heading to a multiplex to pay money for this.) But there is a reason films like this are made, and will keep getting made. The first laughs came from the audience when Yadav’s Nandu lisped for the first time. What makes you sad is not the vulgar laughter, but the fact that its timing isn’t surprising. The film ends with a cameo by Salman Khan, accompanied by a caption that reads, “Love you Salman” – not surprising at all.