Buoy meets girl

Aneela Z. Babar tells you whether 'Dil Dhadakne Do' will sink or swim…

Buoy meets girl
“I’m in love with X. Aur wo dancer hai, aur musalman hai (and she is a dancer. And a Muslim).”

Mughal e Azam, right?

No, no, no. This is from Dil Dhadakne Do (DDD)... but on the same poor-little-rich-boy story track in Hindi cinema since time immemorial. Defying Daddy Dearest, giving Mummy ji palpitations – challenging the family parampara, jolting takht-o-taj (throne and crown). Battle lines drawn.

Now whether Daddy ji is Jalaluddin “Mai Hindustan Hoon” Akbar or Delhi “self-made” business mogul Kamal Mehra, they remain the pater familias to the Great Dysfunctional Indian Family. All families are dysfunctional, some more than others. However, this time around the khadoos pita-ji is our very own Lakhan… yes, Anil Kapoor, all grown up now.
Now, Javed Akhtar is writing dialogues for Pluto Mehra, the family pet bullmastiff

[Sigh! ek time tha (there was a time)…]

Ranveer (Band Baja Baraat’s Bittoo Sharma and Dil Dhadakne’s Kabir Mehra) is in the romance once more with Anushka Sharma (BBB’s Shruti Kakkar and DDD’s Farah Ali). Wohi Band Baja ki masti, energy and smooching… I am sure that, at least one time, the two might have turned towards each other grinning as they looked out towards the gorgeous Bosporus sky Oh Gawd! We Are Not In Janakpuri Any More.

[Sigh! ek time tha (there was a time)…]

And now Javed Akhtar, the man behind gems like “Basanti! In kutto ke saamne mat nachna!” is writing dialogues for Pluto Mehra, the family pet bullmastiff who is introduced as the fifth (and allegedly saner) Mehra.

[Sigh! ek time tha (there was a time)…]

Zoya Akhtar, the powerhouse behind DDD took her time with her debut project Luck by Chance. Journalist and media critic Jai Arjun Singh has admired Akhtar for not choosing the ‘safe’ and time-tested option. Given the line-up of stars at her disposal, how tempting it must have been for Akhtar (and how much more audience-friendly it might have made her film, if the success of Om Shanti Om is anything to go by) to turn this into a hug-fest – a threadbare plot embellished with celebs waving at the viewer, assuring us that all is well in their world.
In spite of its title, Dil Dhadakne Do will make sure your heartbeat flatlines…

But Akhtar didn’t, and audiences were treated to a rich and original tapestry of characters, storyline and voices. Her next offering, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, struck box-office gold but for many like me, the fabric was now fraying – although everything still looked fabulous (“Oh look: Hrithik’s abs...), turning out the female gaze’s (albeit voyeuristic) delight. However, this time around, when the ship DDD sails into port, I fear all has unravelled. Oh look! We are running into an iceberg. Nah, just all that collagen in Ms Chopra and Ms Sharma’s puffed-up pouts.

[Sigh! ek time tha (there was a time)…]

But not all is lost, for there are characters (and the actors playing them) that can still be perfection. What was it that Aamir Khan (coincidentally, also Pluto Mehra’s voice in this film) said in that Farhan Akhtar film, Dil Chahta Hai? (Also, coincidentally, Farhan Akhtar has written the dialogue for all the other Mehras in this film.)

Waise, perfection ko improve karna mushkil hota hai (it is difficult to improve on perfection).”

So wah! The pitch-perfect Shefali Shah and Anil Kapoor. Anil Kapoor is the reliable lifeboat of this doobti hui (sinking) Titanic. (Coincidentally also part of the dialogue in this film.) And Shefali Shah just lives, breathes Neelam Mehra – she is quick witted, she is severe, she seems heartless, she is vulnerable. She is the Delhi Mem Sahib with one claw firmly in position, poised over family in Mumbai. Shefali plays Neelam as if she were Gauri Khan. That is if Gauri Khan were a well-groomed forty-something who once upon a time defied family to marry her penniless lover and they have now grown up to become the kings of all they survey, even if their empire is now under threat and their marriage attracting rumours.

The film's hit item number
The film's hit item number

Oh wait.

Never mind.

So the Mehras were once kings of all they surveyed, even if their empire is now under threat, their marriage attracting rumours. They have a daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), in a stormy marriage of her own (though it is only the audience that is in on her secrets). Somehow, the storyline here (people like us being as politically incorrect and regressive towards women as the barbarians next door) and Priyanka’s performance (where she is ably supported by her on-screen husband Rahul Bose and the passive-aggressive mother-in-law from hell played by Zarina Wahab) manage to make things interesting for a while.

The best scenes in Dil Dhadakne Do happen when the characters are in close confines – and/or surrounded by food: the family dinner in Mumbai, where Ranveer’s character (and the audience) become privy to what a nightmare Ayesha’s marriage is. Later, Shefali/Neelam surrounded by sugary confectionaries as she binge-eats her misery. The Delhi Aunty brigade, elbow-deep in batter mix in a silly group cooking class. Priyanka/Ayesha has just walked off in a huff, having ticked them off for their nosiness and obsession with their children’s lives. GET A JOB! And her aunt looks up: “Paagal hogayi? Kya hamein kaun job dega? (Are you mad? Who would give us a job?)”

Other scenes: Neelam’s final outburst when she confronts her husband in the medical quarters. Ayesha and Sonny (Farhan Akhtar) having it out in a cabin. The family Mehra’s confrontation and, yes, the denouement over the unsuitable girl. Coincidentally, just like that other Unsuitable Girl (“Dancer hai. Musalmaan Hai”). [Just once, I want the shehzadas (princes) of the world to fall for a hijabi Musalman]. Such a storm in a teacup over a family conflict. Anarkali could easily have fitted into that family, Farah amongst the Mehras. She can drink them all under the table and these guys are play-acting Happy Families as well as the best showgirl in town.

So what went wrong with DDD? Zoya Akhtar is, after all, the “popular choice” and the “critics’ sweetheart”. Coincidentally, the answer may lie in the latest release of India’s other sweetheart, the popular fiction writer Anuja Chauhan. Chauhan’s latest offering, The House That BJ Built, has as its protagonist a Hindi film writer/director. At one point, he is lectured by a Hindi film veteran:

“That is how we made cinema in the old days! We kept it strong and simple. Now look at you chaps, dithering and waffling and tying yourselves into knots over nuance and motivation and character graphs! RRRRRubbish! All a film needs is heart.”

Ironically, in spite of its title, Dil Dhadakne Do will make sure your heart beat crawls to a stop.


I am sorry. My fondness for Anil Kapoor be damned. I cannot pretend fake enthusiasm for this movie. I am getting off this ship.

[Coincidentally also a scene from this film.]