Dil Dhadakne Do: Why this Indian Critic’s ‘Heart Can’t Go On’!

Okay Spoiler alert: This is not exactly a ‘review’. In fact, it isn’t a review at all. Let’s just say it’s a perspective debate with one national review and an international one as the quantifying factors.

So Zoya Akhtar’s latest offering is characteristically set among the uber rich, picking up the thread from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. But this time around she chooses to concentrate more on the foibles of her characters instead of their luxuries and exotic escapades (okay well, that too is there but the focus is entirely different). The film is not without its flaws and Bollywood kitsch but it deftly deals with problems that are very much a part of the ‘upwardly mobile’ and ‘modern’ Indian’s life. I would rather concentrate on the latter than the former.

The ‘issues/problems’ in DDD are typically associated with ‘middle-class’ individuals in India.

Pre-defined expectations and life goals of a woman irrespective of her feelings, priorities, capabilities and opinion; career choice that one wants to make but is dissuaded from or worse still  blackmailed/coaxed to not pursue, simply because the parents don’t deem it fit for the child; latent patriarchy in a seemingly polished and well-educated man (well this one’s probably not as ‘class-contained’ as the others); and lastly marrying for status, stability and convenience rather than for love and compatibility.

Bollywood has made several films revolving around similar themes. The first film that would come to anyone’s mind is 3 Idiots in this respect. So what makes DDD different? The film makes it amply clear that the issues are not ‘class-problems’ as we would like to believe but rather they are a problem of the country as a whole. Simply put, eons of preconceived notions and conditioning are largely present in all of us notwithstanding the social strata we belong to. The film is utopian for the setting it chooses to drive home the point. The Bosphorous Cruise! I mean like seriously, imagine going for a cruise even on our very own Mandovi and out of the blue you are faced with self-realisation and eventually redemption. But nevermind.

Akhtar makes the characters who from a distance are our ‘ideals’, every bit as vulnerable, common, pitiable and forlorn as any one of us trying to eke out a ‘respectable existence’’. Not so surprisingly, the ironical setup is not going down well with certain critics or even the average cinema goer in this part of the world. How can a picture perfect family with all the glitz and glamour go through the same motions as the average Indian?

Consider this snippet from a HT review:

“The duo of Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti has come up with a story that deals with frivolous and almost non-existent issues. It’s hard to believe that the rich and mighty of the Delhi society are so not connected to the ground realities. And even if they are pretentious and pompous, it’s highly improbable for them to be like this confused lot.”

Please note that once you are ‘rich and mighty’ you can’t be confused. As far as ‘ground realities’ are concerned, the Mehra clan is as much grounded as a family used to every conceivable comfort and luxury could possibly be. But the senior Mehras have very low EQ to understand the painpoint and priorities of their children. Unfortunately, that’s how most families in India still are, irrespective of their bank balance. Overbearing parents and confused children wanting to follow their hearts (as the title suggests) but afraid to face the consequences and/or fall outs that such decisions entail. That’s the ‘ground reality’.

The rather high-strung HT critic, who seems to have a very personal vendetta against the film further writes…

“Interestingly, a sequence in the film shows Farhan Akhtar indulging in a verbal battle with Rahul Bose over ‘women’s liberation’. It’s weird, to say least, to see two men debating over giving more power to women, with the woman in their life, Priyanka Chopra, sobbing all through. Woman, wake up, you run a business conglomerate and have just featured in a Forbes’ list. This wasn’t expected of you.”

Isn’t that the whole point? When you manage to break free and prove your worth -especially if you are woman- you are still begging for recognition and acceptance from the ones who are your closest relations even though the rest of the world is going gaga over you. In the real world, you really can’t deal with your parents and the guy you have been married off to, the way you would deal with the world at large. That is why it hurts all the more, at least if you are someone who values family bonds, in spite of its inherent flaws. And much like Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) you give up only when you can’t take it no more.

Interestingly enough, DDD has found admirers in the Western world (a favourable Guardian review is something considering the UK paper’s critics are usually more scathing than sugary, more so when it comes to ‘commercial’ fare). Rings a bell? Slumdog Millionaire was a big hit with the Western audience and critic alike. Opinions in India were divided, at best. Popular opinion was ‘Feeding a Western audience with the grim realities of India doesn’t make a great film’. After reading the Guardian review, I can well see a skewed similarity between how the two films are being viewed by two sets of audiences. Both the films show ‘the not so rosy India and Indians’, slicing through the veneer of ‘India Shining’ and ‘Contemporary India’.

To quote the critic who reviewed DDD in The Guardian:

“The question is whether this ship functions as a complex, multi-levelled metaphor for contemporary India or merely a big block of soap, trailing suds in its wake. For much of the first half, it seesaws uneasily: the drama sends you reaching for the Dramamine. Co-writing with her brother Farhan (who cameos as Ayesha’s ex), Akhtar evidently has certain hypocrisies on her radar. She regrets how, when boy meets girl, it often bestows honour on one family and shame on the other; through Kamal, she’s spoofing parents who retain altogether inflexible ideas of what a 21st-century match might constitute.”

It’s funny how an Angrez who translates the title to ‘Let the Heart Go On’, according to ‘my schoolboy Hindi’ is not only better acquainted with the ‘ground realities’ but also has more empathy towards the smorsgasboard of dilemmas and circumstances that the younger generation of ‘contemporary Indians’ face more often than not.

The Guardian review also mentions how Ayesha who has succumbed to parental pressure to get married, still manages to stick to the decision of not bearing a child by being on the pill, secretly. Our learned HT reviewer certainly doesn’t think that a woman who has a MIL who is a pain in the ass, and a chauvinistic husband who has ‘allowed’ her to work is actually being infinitely brave when she’s putting her career before her marriage. More so because it has carefully been put together by her dour and inflexible parents, but whom she cares about nonetheless. To the critic, she’s ‘sobbing all through (the film)’.

Desi critics (and activists) are often in the grip of a certain kind of Nationalism while writing film reviews. If a film is well-received in the West (Bandit Queen, Slumdog), it is invariably slammed as a work primarily made to ‘whet Western appetites in the International Festival Circuit’. Now, I am not going to go into the veracity of such statements. What I find strange is how this ‘Nationalism’ is nowhere to be found when the same critics (and activists) are making appearances at Film Fests and/or Literary Fests where they give long impassioned speeches and readings about all that is wrong and asphyxiating about their Motherland. How Nationalistic indeed!

Dil Dhadakne Do is definitely not a ‘festival circuit’ film but it has managed to unsettle the critic used  to reviewing ‘commercial’ and ‘parallel’ as two completely distinct entities. It is not a film that targets ‘a Western audience’ rather it is meant for ‘a Westrenised audience’. In spite of being commercial, it doesn’t lose sight of real issues. I believe that those of us who have known parental resistance and/or ‘advice’ in anything and everything that we have tried to do with our lives will identify with the tragi-comic cruise of the Mehra family (and the rest of the cruise party).

Maybe the HT critic is one among the lucky few who didn’t have to face such ‘ground realities’ or maybe he was ‘rebellious’ enough to ‘not give a fuck’. Either way his review, if I can call it one, is mere cribbing (which distinctly look affected with personal opinions/experiences) rather than a well thought out holistic overview of the film’s relevance or technical aspects (which I must admit am not well versed with). Of course, one can’t take away personal views completely, but at least reviews shouldn’t be so grossly mired in them.




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