Coolie No. 1 Is A Regressive Film That Insults Our Intelligence. The Women Are Dumb, Body Shaming Is Rampant.
Over the Christmas weekend that I saw, nay, endured Coolie No. 1, I watched a lot of quality content. Fresh off AK vs AK, I dove headfirst into Bridgerton, a delicious Pride & Prejudice-meets-Gossip Girl series from the queen Shonda Rhimes. I even braved cinema halls to watch Wonder Woman 1984 because women support women! And I ended the weekend with the pitch perfect comedy Death To 2020, which is like a bunch of your favourite gags about the United States this year, combined into one 1.5-hour feature film. *chef’s kiss* So you can imagine the sheer strength of will it took to press play on Coolie No. 1, a remake of the David Dhawan original, starring his son, Varun Dhawan, alongside Sara Ali Khan, Paresh Rawal, Javed Jaffery, Rajpal Yadav, Johnny Lever and Shikha Talsania.
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But I undertook this torturous task, so I could write about it. Not a scathing critique of this regressive mess of a film. Others have already done that. No, this is a rant calling out the people who let this film happen. Apart from the above mentioned cast and director, that list includes writers Rumi Jaffery and Farhad Samji. The latter, especially, is a serial offender when it comes to badly written Bollywood films (Laxmii, Baaghi 3, Street Dancer 3D, Housefull 3 and 4, and on). As a creator myself, I’ve often believed that trashing someone’s work is cruel because creators pour their hard work into it. But a movie as bad as Coolie No. 1 does not deserve that leniency.
Why? Because the film doesn’t just ignore the expectations of the audiences of today from Bollywood for better storytelling, nuanced performance, and comedy that isn’t regressive. It pours petrol on those expectations, sets them on fire, and then dances on their funeral pyre, singing, “Tujhko movie achhi nahi lagi toh main kya karun?”
Plot: Coolie No. 1 is a film about bad parenting and body shaming
Yeah, it’s not a love story mired in class struggle. Or a comedy of errors. Coolie No. 1 is, and come to think of it always has been, a film about bad parenting. But while the 90s film at least made it funny so we could laugh about it, like most 90s kids do about how their parents might’ve ruined them, this one does not even accord us that respite.
Jeffrey Rozario is a bad father. Despite having enough money to sponsor sons-in-law for an entire cricket team’s worth of daughters, he still chooses to be a snob. He harbours more dreams about who his daughter will marry than his daughter does. He’s also rather biased towards the thin, fair daughter, clearly. Rozario is such a greedy father that he does not even care to do decent background check about the guy his daughter is marrying, and forces his other daughter to go on a vacay with a man he is told would visit brothels and is a drunk. Why? Because he rich (only in theory).
But his biggest mistake as a father is not raising daughters who are strong, independent, free-thinking and able to harness this organ in their body called ‘brain’. Both his daughters apparently run his seven-star resort in Goa and dress in the most fashionable clothes. But God forbid if either of them can use their phones to cross verify the identities of the men they’re marrying, are so sheltered that they’ve probably never known what contraception is, and gullible enough to believe anything a man tells them, just because he looks like Varun Dhawan.
A parallel to Jeffrey Rozario as a father is Pandit Jai Kishen aka Jackson, who arrives in the orphan Raju Coolie’s life almost like a father figure, guiding him to a path paved with lies and deceit. When Jeffrey Rozario insults Jai Kishen, he makes this big-ass speech about being a man with dignity and doing God’s work and what not. But it takes mere seconds for all that to go away because he is blinded by revenge. So blinded that he is willing to destroy the lives of not one but two young, innocent girls by getting them married to a man he barely knows. All to nurse his hurt ego. Let’s also not forget the rich father of the villain, who Raju pretends to be the son of, for raising a douchebag.
You know who also sucks? Rozario’s mother, who sees all the warning signs but doesn’t do much to stop her son from ‘selling’ his daughters off. And last, but not the least, this film tried to give us this tragic backstory for how Raju came to be a porter on the railway station. But it just made me pissed that his mother couldn’t just look after her son or even come back for him once she realised he was on the platform and the train began moving.
Wait, am I forgetting someone? Oh, of course, there’s one more bad parent, a mother with a deaf kid who she ignores because she is on the phone. And then the kid ends up chasing Captain America figurines on train tracks, so Raju Coolie can run faster than a train à la Barry Allen and save him in a Flash. So yeah, like I said, bad parenting.
As for the body shaming bit, well, they’ve paired the heavy-bodied girl with the hero’s sidekick, who is close to her body type. And clearly, the when Raju and Sarah meet for the first time, Raju’s brown face gets washed away under the shower, and she instantly falls for the handsome coolie, like a no-brainer. So yeah.
Also Read: 5 Thoughts We Had About ‘Mirchi Lagi Toh’ From Coolie No. 1. Mainly Ki, Why Isn’t There Any Originality Left?
Coolie No. 1 doesn’t just reject common sense and logic, it REPELS technology and current affairs too.
So nobody wonders how there is a king of Singapore, which is a sovereign republic, FYI. Sara, a millennial in every way who is smart enough to run a hotel but daft enough to not wonder why someone as rich and famous as the Kunwar would not be present on social media.
In Coolie-verse, nobody knows how to use phones, which makes me thinks this film was written by interns who were given a client brief to rehash a 90s film and they just took the damn thing literally. Rajpal Yadav gets stranded at a roadside dhaba with no money to pay for food, which is yet another unrealistic travesty in the time of e-wallets. But he continues to work there, washing dishes, and giving out free labour. Does he not have a phone to call anyone up? It was clearly a roadside thela, not the Taj. How many days worth of labour does it take to pay for that much food?
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It gets worse. Sara is talking to her father on a video call, and before she can tell him there’s some problem, the phone gets disconnected. And guess what? NOBODY CALLS EACH OTHER BACK! I mean, maybe they were on Vodafone and the network was shit, but it’s not so bad that you cannot step out of the house and get a decent enough signal to call back! As a result, her father lands up in Mumbai to check if everything’s okay. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?
Actually, that’s not all. The whole confusion about whether Raju Coolie and Kunwar Raj could’ve been avoided by someone simply calling the Kunwar’s phone while Raju was around. His phone would ring, and he’d be exposed. DUMB AF.
You can take Coolie No. 1 out of the 90s, but you can’t take dated 90s logic and humour out of Coolie No.1
It is offensive that Coolie No. 1 is a steaming pile of regressive garbage that treats women like dumb pieces of property. Sarah does everything her father tells her, without questioning him. She stays all day in her husband’s house, à la Karisma Kapoor’s Malati did in the original film. But the latter was a 90s heroine, who had no job, was probably not even educated enough. Sarah, we are shown, runs her father’s hotel. So what gives? And can we all agree that the only reason she falls for Raju Coolie is because he is good-looking?
The film gives us Raju Coolie as a hero, a man who teaches lessons to drug-dealing rich brats and saves kids from train tracks just so we can forgive and turn a blind eye to his misleading a woman and cheating her into marrying him. Not even once does Raju ever express reluctance or doubt over his actions, and there’s zero regret. IRL, they’d put him in jail for this
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But what’s even more offensive is that Coolie No. 1 insults our intelligence by assuming we’ll buy it all. In this time and age.
We’ll buy that a father sends his daughters to romantic getaway (Was it abroad? How did Raju fly? Did he have two passports? Did he take the flight twice?and then like a sick Peeping Tom, derives some bizarre voyeuristic pleasure from climbing their bedroom windows and watching them romance? The writers think we’ll buy those rhyming dialogues as funny, when they’re light years away from eliciting even a snort, and look like a lame Rupi Kaur copycat penned them? WTF is that “Heaven on the docks man” line even? The humour is so forced, so forced, that I wanted to projectile vomit at every attempt at a joke. You get now why I call Farhad Samji a serial offender when it comes to bad writing? My Instagram stories have funnier captions, you can check.
There’s this dialogue in the film that I would I like to quote back. “Hum kya tumhein shakal se chu lagte hain ki tum humko ye lollipop doge and hum choos lenge?”
Why was I so generous to give it half a star in rating?
This is only and only for the genius who decided that the songs taken from the original should not be tampered with. They even left the hook step of ‘Husn Hai Suhana’ intact. This half star’s for you.
Verdict: Coolie No. 1 is why filmmakers need to read reviews.
I’m going to digress here a bit and tell you about my most favourite show, Supernatural, that ended after 15 seasons in November this year. The beloved show fucked up majorly in its final few episodes when it came to queer representation. And one of its three leads, whose character has been an LGBTQ+ beacon for quite some time now, took the time out to individually reply to fan tweets, asking them to make him understand what they could’ve done better. He said he was there to listen, and he did.
Bollywood movie critics, not the paid ones, but genuine ones, from independent, hardworking publications, who love the art, are out here screaming hoarse about the kind of movies they want to see. The kind of character development that could make a film better. The course on How Not To Be Regressive 101 can easily be found on Instagram posts or film recaps like The Vigil Idiot or Imaan Sheikh’s. And believe me when I say this, we’re not asking you to shun massy, commercial stories and make boring, art-house cinema that is all substance and no entertainment. These are not pretentiously woke reviews we’re writing. We know to temper our expectations; we won’t expect a David Dhawan comedy to have profound layers like a Sriram Raghavan film.
But is it too much to ask for even slapstick comedy to have a little bit of common sense and be devoid of regressive sexist tropes? Can they try to not insult our brains? A little hard work that shows some genuine thought was put into the film would make us feel great.
I came across this meme here, and it perfectly sums up how I feel about the genuine talent that got wasted on Coolie No. 1. Varun Dhawan and Ranveer Singh are two actors I believe can attempt to match up to Govinda’s energy and fervour. Varun is a capable actor given the right script and character. I’ve actually enjoyed watching his comedy chops in films like Main Tera Hero. But to reduce him to this hollow imitation of a dead sub-genre is downright a hate crime.
what the kids are capable of doing vs what Indian dads make them do. pic.twitter.com/eeIZkq6JKI
— Savage (@CutestFunniest) December 26, 2020
TBH, let this film serve as a reminder that there is no need to resurrect dead franchises and regressive 90s ideas. There’s a lot of blame to go around for how bad a film Coolie No. 1 is. But who’s going to carry the weight of that blame? Ain’t no porter for this one. It is all on you.
Coolie No. 1 is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.