The fact is that when you go in to watch Main Hoon Na, you are not going in with a serious frame of mind. How intelligent can a film be, considering it's helmed by a choreographer and is very clearly playing up to the masses? But in this thought, lies its victory too. Once you have realized that MHN is a spoofy, silly, corny film and you condition yourself to react accordingly, the film is not half bad!
MHN is the ultimate hash of the new Bollywood 'formula' which has come to be defined by Karan Johar and the clique of which Farah Khan, the director, is obviously an integral part. And she has kept her eyes and ears open: MHN's plot is awful. A blatant rehash of K3G (brother in the same house, SRK plays Hrithik and Zayed plays SRK), Masoom (adopted kid), and (SRK goes) Back to School. And while everyone is calling it paying 'tributes' - Farah Khan has spoofed The Matrix, Mission Impossible, Nasir Hussain's films and 'cleverly' referenced Sholay, and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai.
So does it work?
For a while, yes. The first half holds your attention and makes you laugh. Though the opening sequence is hackneyed (salvaged only by Naseeruddin Shah's mere presence) and the setup for SRK to go to college a tad too long; once he is on the campus, the film becomes really funny. There are several humorous moments, especially with Satish Shah as the professor who sprays his class with saliva every time he talks and Boman Irani who times his absent-mindedness to perfection. Amrita Rao, Zayed Khan and the other minor characters add considerable spunk to the proceedings with some good dialogue and energetic performances though the characterization of their co-students is exaggerated and generic. SRK's "adaptation" to college life is cool too (the sequence where he learns to dance is well-executed). The best track however, is the absurd romance between SRK and his chemistry teacher, Sushmita Sen. The popping violinists work every singe time. The action bits set in the college are riotous. SRK doing a 007 sitting in a Tonga named Dhanno is too comic for words. And that's the point, right Farah? It's supposed to be seen this way, isn't it? The special effects surprisingly are not tacky at all. SRK's rendition of the Matrix style bullet (in this case - saliva) dodging is executed with almost the same amount of finesse as it was in the original. Is the SFX scenario in India finally coming of age?
Now, in between all this tomfoolery which is all quite entertaining is an absurd Indo-Pak track. A peace process is to be derailed by an Indian fanatic. Sunil Shetty is him. While one needs to acknowledge that this is the first big commercial pro-Indo-Pak-peace film, it seems to be almost an afterthought as far as the plot goes. This is just one of the points that illustrates how the film is trying to cash in so desperately on popular sentiment. There is hardly any connection and you can hear the groans around you every time Sunil Shetty comes around and poops on the party. The second half of the film (which tries to break away from the irreverence) is a real let down. Full of clichéd dialogue ("Mujhe mere dono bete wapas chahiye" sic) and pure waste of celluloid (the timed-to-the-last-second five minute Mortal Kombat between SRK and Shetty - why didn't he just shoot him??) and time/space gaffes (Zayed taking 10 minutes to reach from the gate to the terrace of the building in a helicopter) and poor performances (no one seems to be able to handle drama besides SRK); the film spirals downhill post the interval.
The songs and choreography are average. Disappointing, considering its Farah Khan. The Qawwali, though an interesting tune, is gaudily art directed. The other songs fail to register, except maybe Chori Chori, which is, well, straight out of Mohabbatein. The end credit titles are refreshing, however.
To sum up, Farah Khan has picked and played the safest cards in Bollywood. When Shah Rukh Khan says okay to a film, its easy to get advice from the Johars and the Chopras and inspiration from everything pop culture and Hollywood, and make a film that makes its money even before its released. I think this film warrants a thought though - suppose you were a director with SRK and all the resources in the bag and with an intent to make good, original cinema that could change the face of Indian films at the risk of failure… What would you choose to do?