Friday, March 6, 2015

Dum Laga Ke Haisha [dir. Sharat Katariya]

Oh for the 90's, those wonderful years of cassette tapes and Kumar Sanu right, some things have definitely changed for the better. But that doesn't deny this nostalgia tinged rom-com its charm. And Dum Laga ke Haisha (DLKH) has attractions other than its period setting. In the bad old days, the only alternative you had to the hero-oriented chauvinistic sagas were the equally screechy heroine sagas (cue Rekha in bizarre costumes), or worse, the hyper-maudlin “family drama”. But in the recent years, Hindi cinema has seen movies scripted around women protagonists that attempt to skirt these stereotypes. Whatever their individual flaws, films like Kahaani, English Vinglish, Bobby Jasoos, Queen at least showed a heartening trend of interesting roles for women. DLKH is the next step in this evolution of the Bollywood product, because unlike the previously mentioned films that relied on the presence of established stars, it dares to totally stake its bets on the script – the lead actress Bhumi Pednekar is a complete newcomer and, with her plump homely appearance, as far from the archetypal film-star mold as possible.

At the start, Ayushmann Khurana, who plays the school dropout son of small-town tape shop owner Sanjay Mishra, is bullied into marriage with the portly Pednekar, who is a graduate with a B.Ed. Between his disgust with his wife's physical form and inferiority complex at her education, Khurana feels rather cut up about the railroading and after a round of awkward adjusting, has a showdown in which he openly insults the woman. The rest of the film deals with how he learns to respect and love her. Traditionally, this would have involved showing the woman dropping her pounds and glamming up, thereby becoming “deserving” of her spouse's attraction. Thankfully that's not the case here. Right from the start, Pednekar is shown to be a woman that is comfortable with herself (catch her unselfconsciously executing the wedding jhatkas) and while she does her best to please her husband (including arranging for a satin nightie and a private TV-VCR to watch “English” films to inspire her spouse in bed), she refuses to take any bullshit from him. After the aforementioned showdown, she packs off and files a case for divorce, and it is the eventual change of heart in the husband that saves the relationship.

It is to the script's credit that it manages most of this without getting preachy and dogmatic about female equality and liberty. This is not to say DLKH is an unqualified classic. While the initial awkwardness and the rift between the couple is well-depicted, the scene which signals the first stirrings of change in the husband hits the right notes in terms of being low-key, but is rather pat considering what has passed till that moment. There is also a Macguffin competition that makes little sense other than having a contrived “win” moment in the end. That's the weaknesses, now about the strengths. The chemistry between Pednekar and Khurana on account of their investment in their respective characters is excellent, and the main reason why you would sit through the film. The supporting characters are also well-etched and acted. The production design does a great job of recreating the 90's in a small-town scenario without going overboard with the references. Surprise, surprise, even Anu Malik's score has some very interesting stuff (and not just in terms of recreating his 90's sound).

All things considered DLKH is a very decent film to take a partner or a mum to.

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