If the perfect symmetry of the first few frames doesn’t have you screaming “SOMEBODY GIFTED ZOYA AKHTAR THE WES ANDERSON DISCOGRAPHY LAST BIRTHDAY!” immediately, Aamir Khan’s rich baritone of a voice-over and the quirk-on-loop background score will.
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I watched Dil Dhadakne Do on a Saturday night at Priya PVR in Vasant Vihar — a single screen theater set in the middle of what I’m told used to be one of Delhi’s hippest market squares, and currently the PVR Group’s designated poor cousin and cinematic respite from the city’s ridiculously over-priced multiplexes to the many middle class families that reside in the area. The usher and the security actually greet you with Namastes, heads bowed and palms pressed together and everything — something they do in all PVRs, but it just feels more heartfelt in Vasant Vihar. I mention this because Zoya Akhtar’s meandering — albeit amusing — tale of a dysfunctional family and their friends on a cruise tells the story of a contrastingly different set of people: “Delhi’s high society,” as the narrator of the film helpfully establishes right at the beginning.
“Watching a movie in a theater in Delhi is a very different experience in itself.”
This is as much a review of the movie as it is of the movie-going experience itself, so allow me the freedom to indulge myself a little — just as I did Zoya — because watching a movie in a theater in Delhi is a very different experience in itself. I’m one of those people who like to be in my seat well in advance so as to be able to watch the poorly made advertisements, and the trailers, and basically just let the environment grow on me before the titles roll.
Unfortunately, the philosophy of the average cinema-goer in Delhi (as was pointed out to me, and not entirely politely) seems to be that the movie hasn’t actually begun till the lights go out. Fair enough. So the first few minutes in the theatre were spent giving myself a well-deserved workout, pulling up my legs and stretching them out hopefully again as a stream of youngish couples and toddlers and middle-aged folk trundled to and fro across my uncompromising gaze at the screen. A gentleman actually paused in front of me to type out an A4-length text. Somebody else conducted a detailed conversation about work with a colleague seated at least five rows in front of him.
“The cruise itself is thankfully not a metaphor here but a suitably expensive backdrop”
Dil Dhadakne Do opens on Kamal Mehra — a gloriously moustached Anil Kapoor — having a swing at that other ideally silent venue where countless films about “high society” have taught us that work conversations happen: a golf course. If the perfect symmetry of the first few frames doesn’t have you screaming “SOMEBODY GIFTED ZOYA AKHTAR THE WES ANDERSON DISCOGRAPHY LAST BIRTHDAY!” immediately, Aamir Khan’s rich baritone of a voice-over and the quirk-on-loop background score will.
The familiar narrative device works admirably well in adding some semblance of depth to a flat storyline and lighting up more than a few occasions with sparkling observational humour, and may just be the Thinking Khan’s best performance to date. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little artistic inspiration or homage; it’s just unfortunate that the quirk doesn’t extend much beyond the score.
For a family so rich they invite twenty-odd friends on a cruise to Turkey to celebrate the parents’ anniversary, the Mehras sure are boringly middle class in their much-touted dysfunction. The elder sibling, Ayesha, a Forbes-profiled entrepreneur who started up her own travel business by selling her jewellery, suffers silently in a loveless marriage and does not even voice her opinion on having children.
Her lingering feelings for her childhood (boy)friend are couched in spectacularly unconvincing drama — he left to study in the States, so she married the first suitor her father presented to her? No one’s judging if you want to get back together with the ex but a guy who just stopped calling after leaving for college dumped you — and dumped you cold — even if it was your father’s intention to fund the guy’s education in order to separate the two of you. That’s no star-crossed romance.
The younger sibling, Kabir, is not so much forced as coaxed and bribed by his parents to marry the daughter of a friend, but he’s unwilling to be straight up with them. Kabir and Ayesha are best buds, but he doesn’t have so much as an inkling that she is unhappy in her marriage.
The two are also the world’s most heartless pair of siblings because neither of them will confront their father about his infamous infidelity, or their mother about her transparently difficult efforts to overlook the same. The cruise itself is thankfully not a metaphor here but a suitably expensive backdrop, much like Kabir’s “interest in flying” (translation: the Mehras were were once rich enough to gift their boy a plane).
“Ranveer Singh…is very much the glue that holds the movie together (somewhat)”
Kabir is played charmingly and naturally by Ranveer Singh, and is very much the glue that holds the movie together (somewhat). He does impressively well to not just play off but also set up the actors cast as the three women in his life in their scenes together — his irrepressible mother (Shefali Shah), his self-contained sister (Priyanka Chopra), and his fiery love interest (Anushka Sharma).
The chemistry between Ranveer and Anushka is raw and tangible, and there’s a Before Sunrise-esque first date sequence (much of it while cycling around Istanbul) that’s as cute as it is believable. The Ranveer-Priyanka dynamic does one better, both actors winning you over with just their eyes and body movement while sharing screen time. Zoya clearly knows her sibling psychology.
In fact, the entire cast props up this ensemble movie like no other in that it’s not sheer star power but marvelously engaging performances from all involved that keeps us interested. Anil Kapoor is majestic as the blinkered patriarch, Rahul Bose is excellent as Priyanka Chopra’s clueless husband (some of the best scenes are depictions of their underlying conflict, exemplified by a tennis match between the two in which Chopra attacks the oblivious Bose with a series of increasingly vicious returns), Farhan Akhtar is eminently watchable as Chopra’s old flame, hell even the family dog (a bull mastiff, voiced by Aamir Khan and the narrator of the story) is as emotive as it is adorable. Not to mention wonderful performances from many of the actors in side roles, and deliciously executed cinematography. All of which almost makes up for what the movie lacks in pith.
“Beautiful rich people delivering one-liners on a cruise”
Farhan’s forced MARD moment aside — a sudden detour into women’s rights territory which does prod the story along but should have been built up much better — Dil Dhadakne Do is curiously short on cringe-worthy moments for a Bollywood movie save for a couple of unnecessary song-and-dance routines. Ranveer and Anushka reportedly self-choreographed the first of these, but why have a song at all in a movie so desperately reaching for realism? And for f*ck’s sake, who breaks away from a first kiss to continue singing? How did this guy ever get laid?
Dil Dhadakne Do has an appreciable comic sensibility, crackling dialogue and an oh-so-pleasing aesthetic quality. What it lacked is a producer who could look at it objectively and say, “listen, this is all well and good but either we flesh out the characters a little and actually develop a storyline, or we call it what it is — beautiful rich people delivering one-liners on a cruise — and cut it short by about an hour and a half.” Also, Priya PVR cuts off the air conditioning about two thirds into the show. How’s that for real people’s problems, high society?
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Tharun James Jimani is a writer, wanderer, and recovering Malayalee. His first novel, Cough Syrup Surrealism, was published in 2013 by Fingerprint!, New Delhi. He lives and blogs at http://renaissancehippy.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter at @icyhighs.