Director: Zoya Akhtar | Year: 2015
Two decades back, writing on Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun…?, I argued why it was the quintessential Indian film. The American film mirrored the American society’s reverence for individualism and had a lone hero, a cowboy or an explorer engaged in an act of heroism at its core. For the French and the European cinema it was man-woman relationship at the core. But for Indians it was the family, and no other film before HAHK placed its narrative solely within the ideal of the Indian family. Now we have Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do, not so much celebrating the Indian family as raising some tough questions about it.
Once again I must thank the Indian film reviewers for giving me a great time at a film. It is impossible to miss all the reviews coming out on the very day of its release or even a day before, an almost all of them had given the impression that it was a lightweight and light-hearted romp. Well, the film was anything but. If anything, it was a much heavier film than Zindagi Na Milega Dobara.
I got hooked to the theme of the film within the first few minutes when Kabir tells his mother that he has no interest in running the business and at the same time the only wish, if he was granted one, was that the plane his father owns should not be sold. I knew at that instant that Zoya was an honest director who was letting her characters be who they are and not sugarcoat or airbrush them in any way to fit a preconceived template.
The questions she raises about the Indian family are not new, and they will be asked as long as the Indian family continues in its present format. This is epitomized well my Kabir in his taunt to his father in reply to Senior Mehra’s talk of niti and sanskriti of the older generation. Kabir talks of his father’s philandering ways and his mother’s marital loyalty being nothing but a direct consequence of her not having any place to go. It was brave of Zoya to make a son say this about his parents. But I have often wondered about this while bringing up teen-aged children. Why do Indian parents appropriate the rights of telling their children what to study, how to lead their life and whom to marry? Are they leading such exemplary lives themselves? And just because they are older, they know better? And with our system of kanyadan, will a daughter be given the same status as the son? How is that possible if a marriage is considered a as a ritual of a daughter leaving one’s family and becoming a part of another.
The crisis that the Mehra family is facing is a good construct to frame these questions in the right perspective.
Zoya takes her time in building up the drama, but once the drama gathers traction it is an engaging presentation. The ensemble cast is in top form. I read somewhere that while making ‘ Neerja’ on the PanAm hijacking, director Ram Madhavan auditioned people for the role of all the 223 passengers because each of them was going to be a significant member of the cast. I think Zoya applied the same criteria while choosing the passengers on the cruise. But the main characters played by Anil Kapoor, Shefali Chhaya, Ranveer Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Anushka Sharma are all in superb form and the film’s chief pleasure is in watching these actors essay their well-etched roles. Even Rahul Bose manages to come through as an alpha male Punjabi quite convincingly and Zarina Wahab as his mother is chilling. I was touched by the actor playing Farhan’s father, the manager. Such an epitome of a decent human being.
Farhan’s entry makes a big impact in the film. His confrontation scene with Rahul Bose was the kind of scene that gave the film its mojo.
But the film has its shortcomings. Films like Piku ,TWMR, NH 10, Dum Laga Ke Haisa and Badalpur had shortcomings , but those got submerged under their chutzpah. And chutzpah is what DDD lacks to an extent. It is a little calculated, the script structure planned and the pencil lines of the plan are there to see. Except for the last lifeboat scene which can be accepted as cinematic license, DDD is more real, closer to life and more sincere to its theme. But for me that’s not always a winning deal. Reality for me is not good cinema. Craziness is, Energy is. A compulsive sucking in of the audience to the films own world is. An elegant aesthetic pattern is. DDD lacks all of these. There are two scenes which ramp up the craziness quotient well. The one where Divya vomit’s on Rana’s shoes and Kabir makes those quips – ‘ Epic or e puke’ ‘ Vomitonno’ – and the other when Senior Mehra chances upon Rana and Noorie making out, and instead of the couple getting embarrassed, it is he who wants to hide and slink away. There are many witty lines and funny sequences throughout the film, but they don’t have the zing and crazy energy of the two sequences that really fly. (In contrast, almost every gag in TWMR has that kind of zing.) The dramatic sequences on the other hand work better and I wish Zoya had written it as a serious Ibsenian drama of human failings and parent-children tension rather than a social comedy turned serious. And I wish they had thought of a more ‘realistic’ climax than the airport rom-com kind of climax they have chosen, in light of the turn the film had already taken into the domain of serious drama.
Then there is the length of the film, which seems a little desultory because of its sitcom-style narration. If I was the script doctor I would have moved the story out of the ship a couple of times or more and flashed back to earlier lives of the characters and would have come back to the cruise for the climax. That kind of structuring has helped films like Rang De Basanti and Bhag Mikha Bhag appear more colorful and lively that they would have been with a straight-linear narrative. Under the constraints, Pluto’s commentary was a good idea and a film like Bombay Velvet would have benefitted from a similar commentary.
I was very disappointed with the two set-piece songs: Girls Like To Swing and Galiyan Goodiyan. In today’s times you stop the film’s narration to stage a song only if you are going to give the audience a rollicking good time. ‘ Banno’ and ‘Ghani Bawri’ in TWMR did that. But not these two. I appreciate the challenge of the Anushka’s dance number. It had to be a number learnt in London’s dance schools and classy enough to be performed for the guests of a cruise. It is not easy to make such a sing authentic and entertaining. But ‘ Kaisi Yeh Paheli’ with Rekha in ‘Parineeta’ managed to do that and wish Zoya had worked harder to get something as good. The Galiyan Goodiyan song is perfect in thought and so flat in execution. ‘Sajni Vari vari’ in Reema’s own Honeymon Travels had more free-flowing energy. If it was meant to be a string of couplets that the people improvised, it lacked that half-cooked feel. It sounded like just another Javed Akhtar lyrics. The ‘ Wah wah Ramji’ or ‘ Sambadhan’ or ‘ Dhikk tana’ songs in HAH are better examples of how it should be done, where the characters’ own stories and feelings are built into what they sing. I wish someone like Amitabh Bhattacharya had written it. The ‘ Pehli Baar’ song is nicely written and staged. But here too I was thinking how a bit of Mani magic (like in the song ‘Paranthu Sella va’ in ‘OK Kanmani’) would have made the song impossible to forget.
But the shortcoming at a more basic level was the inconsistency of tone. ‘Badalpur’, ‘NH 10’, DLKHS’, ‘Piku’ and ‘ TWMR’ are films which appeared to be consistent whole, each cut from a single specific cloth. But this one doesn’t seem to have made up its mind. And that dilutes one’s enjoyment of the film.
But as I said, there is much good writing and brilliant performances, some well-written funny lines and some well-staged dramatic scenes; and most importantly a strong theme that makes you think. That’s quite enough take-home for the price of a ticket. In fact I am willing to watch the film again for the performances alone.
- OK Kanmani
- Raw-boned Allegory