At some point in the first half of Dil Dhadakne Do, you might find yourself wondering whether director Zoya Akhtar is pulling an elaborate con on the audience. When it begins, we’re informed that our narrator is a dog named Pluto Mehra. This is not a slight upon Pluto’s character. Pluto is literally a dog; an adorable bull mastiff to be precise, whose voice sounds distinctly like Aamir Khan’s.
Pluto is the not-so-silent witness to the Mehra family’s antics. This is why he is the one providing us running commentary while Kamal (Anil Kapoor), Neelu (Shefali Shah), Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and Kabir (Ranveer Singh) go about making a mess of their thoroughly charmed lives.
However, you’ll realise soon enough that you’re seeing things that Pluto can’t have witnessed. There are episodes unfolding at a kitty party in a restaurant, at a bar, by the pool on a cruise ship…and there is no Pluto in sight. Yet we see what’s happening from a fly-on-the-wall perspective and invariably get a little voiceover from Pluto that explains the subtext of each scene.
That’s when it struck this reviewer that Dil Dhadakne Do isn’t a family drama as its trailer suggested, but a horror film. This is a movie about a talking dog whose spirit either possesses bartenders or wanders invisible as a ghost through the human world, and who plays the Mehra family like an expert puppeteer. Move over Chucky.
The reason Pluto’s occult possibilities are thrilling as an idea is that outlandish as that plot might be, it’s a darn sight more interesting than what actually transpires in Dil Dhadakne Do. Particularly pre-intermission, this 170-minute long film set on a cruise ship moves as slowly as a rowboat in the Pacific Ocean. The pace picks up in the second half, but by then you may already be wondering why you should care about any of the beautiful people holidaying in Turkey.
Akhtar has often drawn criticism for focusing her attention upon the privileged. However, that’s not necessarily a failing. Being rich doesn’t mean one is immune to sadness or pain and with good storytelling, shallow characters can be used to make insightful observations about how people think and behave. Akhtar has the talent to do this — we’ve seen her manage it in Luck By Chance and there were flashes of the same in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
For better or for worse, Dil Dhadakne Do quickly reveals itself to be a hipster version of a Sooraj Barjatya film. It’s pretty but artificial, with a tissue-thin story told through flat characters played by gorgeous actors. Instead of Tuffy and his animal tribe with their ability to receive messages from from idols of Ram and Sita, we have the all-knowing Pluto. There is a token tomboy, some secret love, a couple of arranged marriages and many song-and-dance situations. All this culminates in a ludicrous climax that might make cruise companies unwilling to ever let an Indian family on board if they see this movie. The only difference is that Dil Dhadakne Do is set in Turkey and on a luxury cruise vessel while Rajshri Productions prefers kitschy, desi settings.
And because Dil Dhadakne Do has Farhan ‘MARD’ Akhtar in it, there’s a pointed little lecture on how no woman is a man’s possession. Journalists, rejoice. For his cameo, Akhtar plays one of us in Dil Dhadakne Do — he’s a reporter who writes “depressing” stories, according to one of the characters — and while doing his bit for promoting feminism, he also defends journalists. Yay!
Brief applause-worthy moments aside, Dil Dhadakne Do is a frustrating film because there are a lot of interesting but unexplored ideas nested in its 170 minutes. Can a philandering control freak be a good husband after all? How toxic can gossip be? Is social standing a blindfold that keeps you from seeing the truth? Should you follow your dreams even if they’re not sensible? If a marriage isn’t working, does it mean that either the husband or wife has to be “bad” or can a marriage fall apart because two people simply aren’t in love with each other? When all that matters to you is wealth, what happens when you’re facing bankruptcy? How far will you go to protect your reputation in a tittering, hypocritical society?
Akhtar and Kagti have shown in their previous work that they’re capable of delving sensitively into emotional situations. Unfortunately, in Dil Dhadakne Do, they stop frustratingly short of nuance and insight in both their plot and their characters.
What Dil Dhadakne Do lacks by way of storytelling, it tries to make up with star power. With all the A-listers in its cast, the film is like a celebrity pyjama party. Of them, Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh are the two that really hold their own. Singh’s Kabir, the lovable brat of the Mehra family, isn’t the most complex character on paper, but the actor lends much-needed charm to a flimsy role with his performance. He’s also got some cracking punch lines, which he delivers with superb dryness. Some of Dil Dhadakne Do’s best scenes rely upon Singh’s comedic talent to point out the shallowness of the privileged and the absurd humour that trickles through explosive confrontations.
Chopra plays Ayesha, the elder daughter who has quietly tried to make peace with an unsatisfying marriage and her parents paying more attention to her brother. Her need to keep a façade of happiness intact and the loneliness she feels as a daughter who is no longer considered family because she’s married is something that many will relate to easily.
Much of the film is pivoted around Kamal Mehra’s histrionics and Dil Dhadakne Do confirms that Kapoor has lost none of his talent for melodrama. He snarls, smooth-talks, and roars – and wears rather fetching checked, blue pants on the golf course. Shah as his wife is precisely what you expect a Delhi socialite to be – screechy, scheming and tremendously insecure. One of the biggest disappointments in the film is the careless way her story is wrapped up in Dil Dhadakne Do . Some of the minor characters, like Ayesha Raza as Ayesha and Kabir’s gossipy aunt, are delightful.
For those who like the glossy world of fiction that was Akhtar’s terrain in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne Do may be just the lavish fix you want. If you’re a fan of Luck By Chance, however, you may find yourself shedding a tear as you long for the director who so skilfully blended wickedness, style and insight into a heady, charming mix.
2015 Kashmir Despatch