Where else, but in the movies, do you set out on a 10-day luxury cruise in the Mediterranean and find your problems magically dissolving along the way? Director Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do coasts along on the premise of a dysfunctional wealthy family finding their lost mojo, as they finally accept and love each other for what they are. This is a rich chocolate truffle of a movie – extravagant with its emotions, and ending on a sweet note. It’s that term we bandy about so often – feel-good cinema.
And yet, there are choppy waters in this journey. As the film heads towards the three-hour mark, you feel yourself getting restless. Despite all the injured feelings flying about on this ship, these are the problems of rich people. Not to say that rich people don’t have real problems – just that in Dil Dhadakne Do, it all seems to revolve around marriage, bankruptcy, marriage, mismatched love, how society will view you and…did I mention marriage?
The film welcomes you to the world of the messed-up Mehras – patriarch Kamal (Anil Kapoor) and his wife Neelam (Shefali Shah), and their children Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and Kabir (Ranveer Singh). Each of them is unhappy, but have no clue how to go about fixing their lives. We’re introduced to these four and their problems by the perceptive Pluto, a bull-mastiff who considers himself the sanest member of the Mehra family. Voiced by Aamir Khan, his lines written by Javed Akhtar, the whole idea of the reflective dog feels like a gimmick, and one that loses its novelty quickly. ((pause))
What keeps you invested in the film throughout are these high-strung, often hilarious characters and their idiosyncrasies. The script is loaded with humor, and the dialogues, written by Farhan Akhtar, are smart and consistently witty. Take Kamal Mehra, a “self-made” millionaire, who never hesitates to repeat his rags-to-riches story. Behind the scenes, he’s popping anxiety pills because his company is on the verge of bankruptcy, and his son Kabir clearly isn’t ready to take over. All Kabir longs for is his plane, soon to be sold off to reduce business debts.
Kamal’s wife Neelam is that perfectly-outfitted socialite you instantly recognize – she who turns a blind eye to her husband’s philandering, she who pastes a false smile, she who schemes with her husband to push their son to marry a rival businessman’s daughter in order to save the business. The one that’s left out is Ayesha – a pariah now that she’s married. All everyone expects of her is to produce a baby; never mind that she’s a successful career woman, who is miserable with her obnoxious mama’s boy husband (Rahul Bose) and his hypochondriac mother (Zarina Wahab, a complete hoot).
This motley crew boards the cruise to celebrate the Senior Mehras’ 30th wedding anniversary, with assorted relatives and close friends along for company. Complications abound – Ayesha wants a divorce, Kabir falls in love with a dancer on the cruise (Anushka Sharma), and Ayesha’s ex (Farhan) hops on aboard too. The parents watch their plans turn to dust as their children rebel against what’s expected of them.
With Dil Dhadakne Do, Zoya turns her gaze once again on the inner lives of the rich and the privileged. Where her 2011 hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara explored friendship and bromance over the course of a road-trip through Spain, this new film dissects the hypocrisies within an affluent Indian family as they (literally) float through Turkey and parts of Europe. She captures the carefully coiffed universe of high society astutely. It’s perfectly illustrated in a scene where the wives of two business rivals frostily nod at each other, only to realize that cardinal fashion sin – both of them are carrying the exact same handbag.
The film, in fact, is buoyed by these light moments and by the breezy performances of its ensemble cast, right down to the actors in the smallest roles. The heavy lifting naturally is left to the central players, and all four actors are arresting; they work off each other’s energies and feel like a real unit.
Priyanka Chopra’s Ayesha is a curious paradox; the kind of character I have trouble believing actually exists. She’s a successful entrepreneur, a woman of the world, but also strangely submissive when her husband or her father unfairly bears down on her. Priyanka nonetheless makes the character warm and likeable, the stray voice of reason in a cuckoo family.
Ranveer Singh is effortlessly charming as the rich slacker, always ready with a clever quip. There’s an innocent, boyish quality to his humor and even his dancing. He’s terrific in one of the film’s best scenes, throwing caution to the wind, exposing his parents’ double standards with fiery intensity.
Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah are absolutely riveting as the Senior Mehras. Anil brings a natural pomposity to Kamal, and walks away with the film’s funniest moments. Watch how he reacts with utter surprise when a business rival gingerly makes a proposition that he’d all along orchestrated himself. Shefali, for her part, brings emotional heft. It’s hard not to connect with her character when, in a heartbreaking act of rebellion, she practically chokes herself on desserts. It’s a deeply affecting moment and one that you’ll wish the camera had stayed longer on, allowing us to take in the full extent of her misery.
Moments like these – of unmistakable and genuine feeling – are in short supply here. For the most part, Zoya uses humor to blunt the edges while making uncomfortable observations about the affluent set, whose ‘struggles’ she was accused of romanticizing in her previous film. It’s clear this is a world she knows and recognizes intimately, but she turns a critical eye, exposing their biases, their prejudices, their regressive attitude towards women, and their single-minded pursuit of profit. This approach yields several scenes of laugh-out-loud humor that keep you engaged in the film despite its 2 hours 42 minutes running time and frankly silly climax.
I’m going with three out of five for Dil Dhadakne Do. It’s easy and breezy, and packed with terrific actors who appear to be enjoying themselves.