Release date (India):
February 27, 2015
Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhumi Pednekar, Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, Alka Amin, Sheeba Chaddha
I spent most of Yashraj Films’ Dum Laga Ke Haisha (DLKH) – produced by Band Baaja Baaraat director Maneesh Sharma – wanting to hug each character in the film. How often do we see a Hindi film filled with completely believable situations, peopled by flawed humans who feel real, whose flaws are not glorified or used to paint them into “villain” and “hero” corners?
The starting point of DLKH’s uniqueness is its setting: Haridwar, 1995. Both are crucial to the story since Ayushmann Khurrana’s character, Prem Tiwari, runs an audio cassette shop with his father in a gali in the congested city on the banks of the Ganga. Yes, cassettes – remember those thingies? We catch glimpses of the river but it is not an overstated presence; it’s as though DLKH is seeing Haridwar through the eyes of a person who lives there rather than a tourist.
Prem is an under-confident high-school dropout who is bullied by his dad. The focal conflict in this film arises when the family ignores his objections and marries him to a girl he considers overweight. Once hitched to Sandhya Verma (Bhumi Pednekar), he treats her like an emotional punching bag on whom to vent his life’s frustrations. This smart, educated, fun-loving girl is no pushover though. Her potential employability with her B.Ed degree is what drew the cash-strapped Tiwari family’s senior members. Prem, however, cannot get over their refusal to heed his opinion in the matter or his own low self-esteem over his lack of achievements.
Writer-director Sharat Katariya has given time and thought to his script, ensuring that it nowhere takes a lazy route to cheap applause. Can you imagine a mainstream Bollywood or Hollywood film featuring a large-sized heroine that does not have a single fat joke? This is a far cry from the days when actress Tun Tun made an entire film career out of being mocked for her obesity.
For the record, Pednekar is nowhere near Tun Tun’s gargantuan proportions. She is a tubby Everywoman we often encounter. Her girth is handled with sensitivity by a script that refuses to be reductive. Her weight does not define her. Sure she is fat, but she is also spirited, pretty, ambitious, and seems okay with the woman she sees in the mirror. Though hurt by a cruel comment from Prem, her self-esteem is not dependent on his approval or dented by his aversion.
DLKH – which draws its title from a contest that is intended as a metaphor for marriage – takes us through the first few months after Prem and Sandhya’s shaadi. Nothing in this film happens magically or dramatically overnight. Everything is gradual, which is how real life tends to be.
It is interesting that Katariya chose to call his hero Prem, considering that that name has been associated since the late 1980s with Salman Khan playing either a cocky romantic hero or invincible action king walloping gangs of goons single-handedly. Not so our Prem in DLKH who gets routinely walloped by his father. Will he learn to be proud of Sandhya? Will he get past his own inadequacies? Will he have the courage to apologise to her? Will a Hindi film dare to get its hero to say “sorry” to its heroine? Will it have the guts to show her leaving a disinterested husband? With equal parts wit and poignancy, DLKH answers these questions.
Casting director Shanoo Sharma has gathered an excellent team of actors whose flawless timing and affinity for the camera make DLKH such a joy. Sanjay Mishra as Prem’s father is as captivating here as he was in Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dekhi last year. It’s nice to see films now tapping the full range of his talents instead of restricting him to comedy. Alka Amin as his wife and Seema Pahwa as Sandhya’s mother are also scene-stealers, as is Sheeba Chaddha playing Prem’s well-meaning though often unthinkingly acerbic aunt with her own sad back story.
It’s hard to find a film in which every single supporting actor has been hand-picked with care and given a well-written role that breathes life into each one of them. To lead such a strong bunch of character actors and still emerge a winner would be a challenge for even a veteran, but youngster Ayushmann Khurrana and debutant Bhumi Pednekar are more than up to the task.
A far cry from the self-assured, almost-smug, city-bred, all-Punjabi sperm donor he played in Vicky Donor (2012), Khurrana is pitch perfect here as a perennially dissatisfied small-town youth who resents the world for his personal failings. The find of the film of course is Pednekar who was reportedly a member of Yashraj Films’ casting team when she was picked for the part of Sandhya, a role she plays as though she was born to be before the camera.
It’s hard to believe that the person helming Dum Laga Ke Haisha earlier made the forgettable 10 ML Love (2012). Here, Katariya is a master weaver, smoothly bringing together the different threads in the story culminating in a heart-warming climax that is sweet but not manipulative, emotional not over-wrought, and like the rest of the film, utterly real. The songs too are well-matched to the film, the high point being the wonderfully emotive Moh moh ke dhaage (music: Anu Malik, lyrics: Varun Grover). Bravo Team DLKH for this unusual, quietly brave, fun film.
Rating (out of five): ****
Footnote: With a guest appearance by Kumar Sanu and Prem’s love for the singer whose career peaked in the 1990s, this film is designed as a bow to the decade when romance returned to Bollywood in a big way. DLKH seems determined not to be an overt tribute though, the only departure from that intent coming in the end with a song – sung by Sanu and another leading 1990s voice, Sadhana Sargam – that cleverly turns the by-now-cliched song-with-closing-credits concept on its head and had me smiling till the very last word disappeared from the screen. If you want to see a fine example of choreography, costumes and dancing (especially Khurrana’s) steeped in humour and intelligently done nostalgia, then don’t leave the hall early.
CBFC Rating (India):
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dum_Laga_Ke_Haisha