Movie Review: Happy New Year (2014)

Happy_New_Year_Poster_(2014_film)3 Stars (out of 4)

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Director Farah Khan knows how to give the people what they want. Happy New Year is exactly what it’s supposed to be: loud, flashy, sexy, and tons of fun.

Everything you need to know about the film’s tone is conveyed in the first five minutes, during which a muddy, shirtless Shahrukh Khan is sprayed clean with a hose. It’s so overt that one can’t help but laugh, while simultaneously being wowed by Khan’s ripped abs.

Khan plays Charlie, a guy who’s been down on his luck ever since his father (played by Anupam Kher) was framed for robbery by Charan Grover (Jackie Shroff), a diamond merchant. Charlie’s chance for revenge comes when Grover publicly announces his plans to transfer some diamonds through Dubai, holding them in a safe at the Atlantis, The Palm hotel.

First Charlie recruits his dad’s old buddies: explosives expert Jag (Sonu Sood) and safe cracker Tammy (Boman Irani). He rounds out the team with Jag’s hacker nephew, Rohan (Vivaan Shah), and Nandu (Abhishek Bachchan), a drunk who’s a dead ringer for Grover’s son, Vicky (also Bachchan). The crew agrees to the job before Charlie tells them the kicker: they have to enter the World Dance Championship in order to get into the hotel.

Even though the plan is for Rohan to get the team to Dubai by rigging the vote, they have to at least appear like a real — if somewhat inept — dance troupe. Nandu recruits Mohini (Deepika Padukone), an exotic dancer, to help them, though she’s kept out of the loop regarding the team’s true mission.

Mohini is the film’s best comic relief. She’s enamored of men who can speak English, so she falls instantly in love with Charlie. Her eyes glaze over when he says something as simple as, “Excuse me,” and a breeze magically appears to blow her hair. During one song-and-dance number, things catch on fire or explode every time she touches him.

Padukone deserves as much credit for her fit body as Khan does for his. She’s in amazing shape, as evidenced by her athletic dance moves in the song “Lovely.”

Director Khan — who also co-wrote the film — goes out of her way to treat Mohini’s bar dancer character with respect, reminding the audience that women choose such professions for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with a lack of morals. Padukone does a wonderful job depicting Mohini’s resolve and self-respect.

The director’s progressive gender politics come through in the amount of skin she chooses to show as well. In a reversal of Bollywood norms, there are far more shots of Sood’s and Khan’s naked torsos than Padukone’s bare abdomen.

There’s also a nice example in Happy New Year of the difference between a racist character and a racist movie. The WDC’s defending champs hail from North Korea. When uneducated Nandu refers to the champs as Chinese, claiming that “they all look alike,” Charlie immediately rebukes him for it and greets the team in Korean.

On the other hand, the movie uses gay jokes as punchlines far too casually. Explicitly gay characters are costumed outrageously, and romantic overtures from one man to another are always shown as laughable or scary.

There’s also a brief shot in the film that will at the very least be jarring to Western audiences. The hotel vault holding the diamonds is lined by dozens of bodyguards of different ethnicities. The guard next to the door appears to be a white man, and he has a tattoo of a swastika on his right arm. I know that the swastika is a positive symbol in Hinduism, and perhaps the man is Indian. But in the West, the only white men with swastika tattoos are Neo-Nazis. Either way, in deference to international sensitivities, the filmmakers likely should’ve covered the tattoo.

Those issues aside, Happy New Year is exactly the lighthearted fare audiences want from a Bollywood spectacle. The characters are motivated by love for their family and country. Dance numbers feature colorful costumes and pyrotechnics. The talented cast supplies plenty of laughs. Kudos to Director Khan for giving her audience their money’s worth.

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38 thoughts on “Movie Review: Happy New Year (2014)

  1. Charlie

    Well this review has convinced me to give the film a try (OK, this review and my crush on Deepika Padukone), so will probably see it this weekend!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Are you implying that I rated it too high or too low, Nav? Some people will find it a four-star film, others will find it a one-star film. I found it a three-star film.

      Reply
      1. Nav

        3 is too high… this is a brainless movie where plot goes for a toss… Please check anupama chopra’s HNY review…

        Reply
          1. Anish

            Hi Kathy! I noticed you originally rated it at 3.5, which I felt was a bit too high, considering it contained way too many offensive scenes, but I see now that you discussed those scenes and adjusted accordingly. I feel commercial cinema in India will start to gain respect once filmmakers realize you can make scenes with comic relief without hurting the sentiments of another group or gender.

            Reply
            1. Kathy Post author

              That rating was only up for 15 minutes! You weren’t supposed to catch that, Anish! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Joking aside, I posted my review and almost immediately realized I’d failed to mention the excess of gay jokes in HNY. I couldn’t give a film that’s needlessly hurtful 3.5/4 stars. I agree with you that these kinds of regressive jokes are holding back Indian commercial cinema.

              Reply
  2. Charlie

    That was a lot of fun, despite the aforementioned Gay Panic moments and the occasional feeling that all the excess was going to give me a headache. The core cast are very good together, the whole finding speaking English sexy and stuff catching fire spontaneously was especially funny, and I’m a sucker for a heist in a film. As for Deepika, *swoons*

    Reply
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    1. Kathy Post author

      Nicky, that review is hysterical. According to it, the answer to any question regarding logic in Happy New Year is “Because abs.” Hilarious!

      Reply
  4. Rishab

    Hey Kathy,
    Interesting review. I watched it today and enjoyed it thoroughly, maybe because I wasn’t expecting much out of the film. I’m just curious to know if you would’ve understood a recurring joke in the film which was intended to sound similar to a Hindi cuss word. Also, I think the movie was successful in engaging the audience emotionally. People did applause some scenes, which is kinda rare to see these days.

    P.S. Keep writing.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Rishab! Yes, I got the running joke. After watching hundreds of Bollywood movies, I have become fairly proficient at Hindi cuss words! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  5. Shah Shahid

    Wow. I’m surprised at this. I really expected this to suck. But entertaining you say? Well I was going to watch this anyways, but just now I’m intrigued to watch it!

    Reply
  6. Ehinome Okojie

    Really do not know if this is a happy new year for Shahrukh, i guess it would be better termed
    Happy Retirement Year, it is having a bad trend @ domestic box office. Congrats to Abhishek for a rejuvenated career. Thinking of YRF distributing a Red Chilles Entertainment production, this is more or less a downer; this was made to break Dhoom 3’s record.

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      You bring up a great point, Ehinome: Abhishek Bachchan has starred in two Bollywood blockbusters in the last year! Who would’ve predicted that? Good for him. I’m an Abhishek fan.

      Reply
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  8. Deepak C.

    Saw this on Saturday and was pleasantly surprised by it. Not great by any means, but more enjoyable than I was expecting and easily SRK’s most enjoyable movie in a long time (RNBDJ, maybe?). Maybe my expectations were so low that there was nowhere to go but up. Good review, Kathy, glad to see you enjoyed it, too!

    Reply
    1. Kathy Post author

      I’m glad you had fun, Deepak! I’m happy whenever a movie does what it needs to do: a thriller should be tense, a horror movie should be scary, etc. HNY was billed as a big, colorful spectacle, and it lived up to its billing.

      Reply
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  10. ashokbhatia

    I just got around to watching this one. Great light hearted stuff. But the plot was rather thin and reminded one of Dhoom-3 and other thrillers of yore.
    It is heartening to see fathers getting their due these days. Dhoom-3 and HNY are both based on a revenge theme, the starting point being a father who has been let down in life.

    Reply
      1. ashokbhatia

        Great inputs. Perhaps this calls for a blog post – the trend of fading mothers and the resurgence of fathers in Bollywood. However, to call it a trend might not be correct. Right from Mughal-e-Azam to 3 Idiots, we have had enough of dominating fathers. The son could chose a girl friend and a career only with the dad’s consent!

        Reply
        1. Kathy Post author

          With so many talented older actors available, filmmakers are eager to work them into their movies (especially Jackie Shroff, who plays the wronged father in Dhoom 3 and the villain in Happy New Year!).

          Reply
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  16. playboypriyank

    Biggest Question!!
    A horrible film like Happy New Year which got mixed to negative reviews from critics and audience worldwide gets 3 stars from you
    And Kick which mostly received positive reviews from critics and audience worldwide gets 0 stars from you
    Will u explain?

    Reply
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