Netflixable? A filmmaker recalls his days as an undergrad college “Don” in this tedious Bollywood rom-com

“Don” is one of those Bollywood musicals that reminds us that too much Indian cinema puts the “in” in “inane.”

A self-congratulatory story of a writer-director — Cibi Chakravarthi — bullied into attending engineering school instead of “art school” (film school) as he wanted, it stars Sivakarthikeyan as his singing, dancing, romancing and pranking alter ego.

S.J. Suryah plays the Best Engineering University “discipline” counselor, Boominathan, a martinet who keeps the sea of kids cowed and intimidated, until Chakravarthi and his pals scheme of a way to get rid of him — applying for a bigger, better job for him, online, behind his back.

“Chaka” gets nicknamed “Don” of the school for this stunt. And while he’s not having much luck impressing the beautiful and full of herself Angaiyarkanni (Priyanka Arulmoha) for this, and can only fool his stern, slap-him-silly dad (Samuthirakani) for so long with an elaborate prank that involves hiring somebody to play him for a meeting with school officials, and getting another chap to play his dad for the real meeting, he expects to get by.

Of course, he’s not done with Boominathan, not done dreaming of film school and he’s remembering all this as he drives his “I’m a big success” Range Rover to the college through a pouring rain, dodging elephants because the entire film’s a flashback.

I’ve seen a lot more Indian cinema in recent years, thanks to the rise of Netflix and its eagerness to share Bollywood (and non-Bollywood) films and take us “Around the World with Netflix.” The movies are often patience-testing, but most are perfectly watchable thanks to the camp value of the dancing, that turns up even in some action films. But the 2:45 of “Don” takes the biscuit.

Strip away the production numbers, which are always fun — although often more fun than the tunes performed here — and a cute courtship musical montage that has our prospective lovers dancing/flirting around the Taj Mahal — and there is nothing worth giving a minute’s attention to here.

Those kid-boxed-about-the-ears scenes showing us how his father abused, put down and generally held-back Chakravarthi set us up for a better movie.

But once the film hits college, its “School Daze” plot struggles to get on its feet even if the production numbers passed muster. Our “hero” isn’t interesting, in even a smug pranking jerk sort of way. There’s little chemistry with his leading lady, and scene after scene has this insufferable and unfunny disciplinarian scheming, being foiled and never one drawing a laugh for any of it.

And on and on and on and on this drivel goes. Looking at his credits, I can see that I have not seen Sivakarthikeyan’s other films, although his music has turned up in titles I recognize. He seems a better singer/dancer than actor, a reminder that not every handsome swain can seduce the camera and make a character relatable, likable or even tolerable.

Some of this, of course, is a cultural difference in cinematic priorities. Indian cinema, as a rule, is long and repetitive, as if they expect the audience to half pay attention, maybe leave the theater or walk away from the TV for long stretches. So nothing much of interest happens a very substantial portion of the time.

My Florida film-fanatic patience was utterly out the door by the one hour mark and nothing that followed improved my mood.

This is awful. I didn’t hate every minute of it, but those tolerable stretches were few and far between.

Rating: TV-14, violence,

Cast: Sivakarthikeyan, S.J. Suryah,
Priyanka Arulmohan and Samuthirakani

Written and directed by Cibi Chakravarthi. A Netflix release.

Running time: 2:45

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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