Pop culture was one of the favourite things we studied for our Media and Society classes. And even more fun was the movie we had to analyse and write a review on.

The newly released Coolie No. 1.

Here's what I wrote.

04th March 2021.

Coolie No.1 is a Bollywood movie released digitally in 2020, directed by David Dhawan. Varun Dhawan and Sara Ali Khan star as the lead actors of the film. The main characters are supported by the artists Paresh Rawal, Shikha Talsania, Javed Jaffrey, Rajpal Yadav and Sahil Vaid who portray different roles in the film.

It follows the story of a man (Varun Dhawan) who works as a coolie at a railway station in Mumbai, and falls in love with the daughter of an extremely rich man (Sara Ali Khan). It is a poorly written film, and even poorly executed and produced. Despite fitting into the niche of Mass Culture, Coolie No.1 transcends all boundaries to prove that Mass Culture movies are at least worth the time and effort the filmmakers and filmgoers invest in. Coolie No.1 is not. It is a failed attempt to remake the 1995 original. Not that the first one was something remarkable, but one could still bear to sit through it. Here, I would like to quote a few sentences from the reading of Macdonald (1957), that accurately explains why Mass Culture is the way it is, “There are theoretical reasons why Mass Culture is not and can never be any good. I take it as axiomatic that culture can only be produced by and for human beings. But in so far as people are organized (more strictly disorganized) as masses, they lose their human identity and quality.” This film it has no identity, and it is far from any qualitative content ever produced. It is a showpiece that does not deserve to be kept on display because of the troublesome thought processes it conveys.

As talked about in Ways of Seeing by John Berger, the presence of a man is determined by the power he holds. This concept is hugely demonstrated and used all throughout the film. Raju, the coolie, lacks social and economical power and therefore to compensate for them, he is shown as a physically appealing and fit coolie, even though all his co-workers are shown to be how an average coolie looks like, short, small, and frail. As the movie progresses, we are introduced to two new characters who are critical to the plot. Jeffrey Rozario, father of Sara Ali Khan’s character portrayed by Paresh Rawal and Pandit Jai Kishen played by Javed Jaffrey. These two men have a social power, and Jeffrey Rozario also holds an economic power and judges people on the basis of the same. It is during the introduction of these characters; the lead woman of the film is placed in front of the audience. We are told and ordered to agree to the plight of Jeffrey Rozario’s daughters, and consequentially the presence of these women is normalized. The girls are not introduced as anything but the daughters of a millionaire, who will be married off to ‘billionaires’, so that they may continue to live the life of privilege they are currently living. When Pandit Jai Kishen, a matchmaker fails to get a rich, attractive boy for Rozario’s daughter Sara, Rozario is enraged at the fact that a man with lesser economic and social power would even attempt to match up to his standard. For this, he humiliates Pandit Jai Kishen, which does not sit well with the latter. Jai Kishen sets out to exact the revenge of the humiliation by determining to get boys for Rozario’s daughters who will be poor and below the exaggeratedly high standards held by Rozario. This decision brings together Pandit Jai Kishen and Raju Coolie.

The narrative of the film continues to move forward with the male characters deciding everything for the females in the movie. Starting with Rozario looking for matches for his girls who should live up to his standards of economic and social power. After his humiliation, Pandit Jai Kishen thinks that the correct way to teach Rozario a lesson is to ruin his daughter’s life by introducing them to a fraudulent man. And when Raju Coolie sees Sara’s picture, he decides that she is the one he is going to marry, without feeling the need to get to know her and get her consent. The story gets more problematic when Jai Kishen asks Raju Coolie to pose as a millionaire, build his ‘true love’ relationship with Sara on the basis of lies told consecutively, and Raju Coolie agrees. The women have no say of their own and brains of their own to sniff out the lies or object to the unruly madness that ensues because all three major male characters want to satisfy a certain aspect of their ego. They are portrayed as bimbos who are placed in the frame to look pretty, appeal to the heterosexual male gaze and help the male characters of the film satisfy their egos.

The editing is badly done, as a viewer one only sits and waits impatiently for the film to end. While the plot thickens and worsens with each passing moment. During the climax of the film, Varun Dhawan and Sahil Vaid’s characters dress up female nurses clad in short nurse uniforms and strut around the hospital trying to be sultry and funny. Nowhere throughout the whole sequence does it seem funny or enjoyable. Like with other women, the portrayal of transgenders is insulting. The songs are not hummable, the characters and their thoughts are baffling and the plot is horrendous. The only good thing about the film is that it ends. However, despite all this criticism it sits well with some viewers, because like talked about in Macdonald (1957), “The special aesthetic quality of kitcsh is that it “pre-digests art for the spectators and spares him effort, provides him with a shortcut to the pleasure of art that detours what is necessarily difficult in genuine art.” This movie qualifies as kitsch, because it dumbs down the quality of the film for the spectators. It makes the process of watching the film easy and effortless. The viewers don’t have to be smart or pretend to be intelligent to understand the nuances of the film or filmmaking put into it.

Here the debate about dumbing down comes into question.

Does the media dumb down the content because that is what the people want? Or are the people dumbed down because the media wants them to be? Media plays an important role in the dumbing down process. It makes the average and the mediocre acceptable. Dumbed down media is more focused on revenue and finance, therefore it will be more dumbed down, and focus more on average if it means making more money. This is what the film did. It focused on the glamour, revenue and finances. It raked in money, and in turn presented a low quality, dumbed down movie the society couldn’t help but watch. The glam quotient because of the high-profile star kids and the hype of a remake helped in publicity, but failed in garnering critical appreciation. Kudos to the filmmaking team for the time and effort they put in for this movie, but perhaps Earth would have spun just fine without the perplexing and troubling ideas this film sought to advocate unconsciously. Or consciously.