Thursday, February 01, 2007

Don and The Departed: A Comparison

Before I begin this comparison, an explanation is needed.

It has happened. It probably happened a few Bollywood movies ago. The way I view Bollywood movies has changed. The initial intrigue and pleasure at finding a new form of filmmaking is wearing off. I have begun to expect more. The same process happened with Hollywood movies many years ago. When I read Bollywood critics lamenting about predictable plots, poor acting, contrived stories, and excessive violence and sexuality, they echo my sentiments about Hollywood movies.

Both Hollywood and Bollywood followed parallel paths in movie making after the Lumiere brothers toured Bombay, London and New York making presentations of moving pictures without sound around 1896 (source:ère). Early moving pictures were in black and white or sepia. Color came later. Technical developments continue to improve the quality of filmmaking. India’s first feature film was Raja Harishchanra, released May 3, 1913 in Mumbai. Then came talkies. Alam Ara was released March 14, 1931. (Source: The Bollywood Saga, 2002).

Since I am not paid to write movies reviews, when I buy a movie ticket, I have a vested interest in the movie. The level of my satisfaction seems linked to my expectations whether the movie will be good or bad. Also, if I am not drawn into the story usually by caring about the outcome through finding sympathy with one or more characters, I am unable to suspend disbelief to accept various ploys in the storyline.

I balk at writing a review for a movie I did not like personally for whatever reason. After seeing Don, a Bollywood gangster movie featuring several top Bollywood stars, I thought a comparison between Don and The Departed, a Hollywood gangster movie featuring several top Hollywood stars, would be interesting.

These movies share many similarities. Both are “gangster” movies. In Hollywood, The Godfather is considered the gold standard for gangster movies. In Bollywood, several movies such as Company, Sarkar, or Satya could compete for that label. In these two movies, each has a plot that revolves around an undercover agent embedded in a major criminal network. Each has a multi-star cast, a well-known director, and excellent technical crews. Both were set in well-known locales, Malaysia and Boston. Neither had a significant female character. Both had large budgets. Both display a preponderance of violence, intimidation, and amoral behavior glorified as entertainment.

Don – the Chase

This review should have been written from the viewpoint of a young male for the audience was full of young males who whooped when Priyanka Chopra was on the screen. There are many ways to enjoy a movie. Maybe it is the actors, or the music, or the choreography, or the story, or the cinematography. Usually, it is some combination of these elements. But, I found no magical combination in Don.

The murder of a drug gang associate initiates a series of deceptions where rival gangs fight to gain control over the Malaysian drug trade while law enforcement officers seek to capture the leader of one rival gang, “Don,” in order to uncover the top drug trafficker. (Image source:

Civilians intervene in the story. The sister of the murdered associate, Kamini, played by Kareena Kapoor, and the associate’s fiancée, Roma, played by Priyanka Chopra, seek revenge. One attempts to seduce “Don,” the other infiltrates the gang to assist in “Don’s” capture.

Sadly, criminals and law enforcement officers take turns being stupid in order to move the story forward. Characters from both camps have access to a wealth of expensive surveillance equipment yet get caught, escape, or ‘lose” evidence easily.

The crux of the story is whether a “Don” look-alike planted into the Don’s organization can uncover the top drug trafficker before the look-a-like is discovered.

Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), who plays dual roles as the “Don” and Vijay, the “Don” look-a-like, gave an uneven performance. Each scene is more of a vignette than a string of scenes that tell a story, so the moods of SRK’s characters are inconsistent from vignette to vignette. Rather than building to episodic mini-climaxes, the scenes fall flat. So, fear of capture or exposure is never fully developed. DCP DeSilva’s character (Boman Irani) is the thread that holds the story together and whose mood sets the tone from vignette to vignette.

The clothing, settings, and dances were stale and there was no chemistry in the various interactions among the maze of characters.

While the males loved Priyanka Chopra, who is a pretty woman and a lovely person, she has a limited range of expressions. I detected two expressions in her repertoire, a little pout when she is sad/angry/stoic and a little smile when she is happy/sexy/joyful. She is stiff in every scene. Remember, this is a movie not a beauty pageant; these are two different visual formats. But, it dawned on me, in simple terms, maybe males enjoy seeing car chases, explosions, fights, undulating half-dressed women over and over again, regardless of whether the acting is good or the story is well told, and females enjoy watching romantic scenes, harmonious familial interaction, stories where good triumphs over evil over and over again, regardless of whether the acting is good or the story is well told.

The most important element in telling a story is to get the moviegoer to care about the characters, then they care about the outcome. But, possibly, from a male’s perspective, what is important is the absence of feelings other than a greed for power and money. While the ending was a bit of surprise, it had no emotional impact.

Director: Farhan Akhtar, Producer: Ritesh Sidhwani. Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra, Arjun Rampal, Kareena Kapoor, Isha Koppikar, Boman Irani and more.
Color, Hindi, 168 minutes, available on DVD at

The Departed

An early scene tells the viewer what the movie is about – Irish Catholic criminal gangs war with Irish Catholic police with lots of graphic murders and violence in Boston.

The multi-star cast features Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan, a former choir boy, who becomes a police officer. Because Colin feels indebted to local gangster, Frank Costello, he also serves as a plant for Costello. Damon’s acting does not vary from his previous Bourne roles. He never convinced me of his mixed loyalties.

Nicholson plays Costello as a sleazy, aging, drooling, hysterical warlock. Portraying the aging gangster in such a sick manner should be a disincentive to future gangster-wannabes.

Leonardo DeCaprio plays William Costigan, a Southie from a hopeless family, who also becomes a police officer but is intimidated by higher ups to become a plant inside the Costello organization. DeCaprio works hard to lose his pretty boy looks and is quite the grim, intense, brooding young man. (Image source:

The story follows William from bars to brawls to back streets to secret warehouse meetings. The story also follows Colin from office to home and back with an unrelenting sameness. The moviegoer knows from the start that William and Colin are plants unknown to each other.

Other co-workers played by Alec Baldwin, David O’Hara, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and a host of others scream at each other all the time exhibiting a host of prejudices and immature behavior. It is a wonder they manage to accomplish anything significant given the lack of cooperation and suspicion.

How many curse words does it take to convince the moviegoer that these are mean bad-ass dudes or should I say duds since the story was laced with concern over penal function?

A mental health professional played by Vera Farmiga serves as a focal point in the lives of Colin and William. The role was meant to add tension but her role is insignificant. When Colin quotes Freud to her saying “The Irish are impervious to psychoanalysis,” he tells her, “and you have a client list full of mic cops,” that sums up the futility of her position in the movie. (Image source:

The dialogue is a string of crude jokes mixed with cursing and screaming where everyone thinks everyone else is the plant. It is almost funny. The actors looked like they enjoyed making the movie. They spent the whole movie cussing, fighting, and killing each other. They must have had great fun with the multitude of bursting blood capsules every time someone was shot. (Image source: dyn/content/photo/2006/10/05/PH2006100501860.jpg)

No character evolved. Again, the cops and the criminals have to be stupid in order to move the story forward and the use of cell phones is central to the story. The ending was contrived.

So was the point of these movies that violence exists and there is nothing anyone can do about it? Sadly, the form, style, length, and storyline of these two movies are so similar that the only difference is that one is in English and one is in Hindi.

In the end, maybe some of the criticisms I have for these “rooster-flicks” are shared by men who can not find anything to like about “chick-flicks.”

Director: Martin Scorsese, Producer: Brad Grey and Michael Aguilar. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga and more.
Color, English, 151 minutes, available in DVD at