David Dhawan’s 45th film Coolie No. 1 starts with a creepy animation of a boy who loses his mother at a railway station who grows up to become a porter. The boy sniffles for ten seconds and the forgets his mother. The people around him do not call the police; they do not ask him which city he is from. They directly induct him into their rank of hard working individuals. And somehow, this is the strongest plot point of the whole film.
For those who laughed seeing that train scene that was widely shared on Twitter, where actor Varun Dhawan defies the laws of physics to save a kid – that is the best sequence to be found. It is also the least problematic scene.
With the animation done, Varun is introduced as the hero. In a film where nobody tries, he tries too hard. Sara Ali Khan is his love interest. It must be difficult to live up to expectations, and it seems that she is out to destroy all kinds of expectations because literally any role she takes up after this film will be lauded.
Over the course of the film, it becomes vastly clear that Paresh Rawal’s character has been written by a person who read one book about Goa and Christians. Javed Jaffrey is the saving grace – he knows the film is terrible and hopes comedic timing will mitigate the lack of a script, direction, and screenplay. The other individuals in the film essentially exist to balance the horror of not one, but two Varun Dhawans trying to act. The grandmother, who is the most sensible character to be found, gets only five minutes of screen time.
The plot remains the same from the original 1995 Govinda starrer: Raju (Varun) is a porter in Mumbai who has many friends. He uses puns, tries to speak in English and strives to be well-liked.
Pandit Jai Kishen (Jaffrey) is a matchmaker who desires revenge as Rozario, a Goan man played by Rawal, embarrassed him in front of a prospective groom. Rozario wants a rich son in law who travels by airplane to purchase groceries, and rejects the gentleman Jai Kishen has brought. Naturally, as all good revenge stories go, Jai Kishen believes the best way to settle scores with his new enemy would be to ensure that Rozario’s daughter is tied up in an institution only a court, or death, can undo. He then embarks on his plan to get her married to the lowest possible form of humanity he can fathom – a coolie.
It is then that he recruits Raju and his best friend Deepak to ambush, fool, and marry an unsuspecting Sara (yes, that’s her name in the film too) because as real men know and do, the best way to ruin another man is to ruin his daughter’s life.
When Rozario discovers Raju is a coolie, the good old “I have a twin” excuse comes to Raju’s rescue. So there is not one, but two Varuns in the film. There are now two different accents, mannerisms, and different methods of disrespecting women. The film collapses under the weight of Varun Dhawan trying to act but his father and director David Dhawan is there to catch him and dress him up in nurse’s attire to remind you that both dynasty and cross dressing as a plot point is here to stay.
Rozario’s favourite line is, “Heaven on the dock, whiskey on the rock”, and he keeps changing the second part to suit each problematic scene. For example, he asks his daughter, “Heaven on the dock, did you pack your tiny frock”, before driving her to the non-existent twin, in the fond paternal hope that both his daughters get married to rich losers. Just your average on screen dad behaviour.
How they manage to pull this off make up the rest of the two-hour film, after which you may ask yourself – did Amazon read the script before entering into a contract, was the contract signed before the film was made, did Amazon see the film before its release, why did I see this film, can I go into work tomorrow like I usually do or am I damaged forever because I saw this?
Heaven on the dock, they must be good at sales talk.
In terms of triggers, this film is casteist, classist, racist, sexist, misogynistic, transphobic, and homophobic. And there is even a scene where Raju realises this double acting is too much for him, and tries to kill one of his two creations.
Should you watch it? No.
Should you watch it drunk? No.
Should you watch it with your friends? Not unless you are ready to make new friends after they rid themselves of your company for making them watch it.
When should I see this? When you are having a bad day, and you have the lowest opinion of yourself that anybody can have – only then.
Then you’ll realise you could have made a better film. You are better than the people who have written these dialogues. There are worse things in the world than your imposter syndrome. And then there will come a point where you cannot bear to watch it any longer. Shut your laptop. Your work is done. If this film could be made, and distributed on a leading OTT platform, and the people involved in this continue working in this field – anything is possible.
Chethana V. is a divorce lawyer during the day and watches exclusively garbage shows and rubbish movies at night. Her friends call her a human dustbin, but she prefers trash connoisseur.
Featured image credit: Pooja Entertainment