Cast: Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Priyanka Chopra, Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma, Rahul Bose and Farhan Akthar
Director: Zoya Akthar
Outside of Harvey’s comic universe, Richie Rich is like a fish out of water. It is hard to empathise with ‘the poor rich boy’ and it is harder to find a friend like him. But, it is still fun to watch Richie save the world while he slips over random dollar bills. Not because he fits the bill of an action hero let alone a James Bond. To us, he was a spectacle on TV – too obviously unreal. Watching Dil Dhadkne Do (DDD), one feels a similar sentiment. Must you feel empathy or laugh at the misery of an elite family? Or should you simply sit back and enjoy the cruise without mulling over anything that the characters say or do? The latter is what you would probably feel when you watch Zoya Akthar’s latest multi-starrer. Raising a few laughs while otherwise leaving the viewer in a lull akin to watching mindless television, DDD is a movie by the rich, of the rich and for the rest of us, to gawk at the rich.
The movie takes off with Aamir Khan’s voiceover for Pluto Mehra, the pet dog and sanest member of an elite and dysfunctional Punjabi family. Reminding you of the countless narrations by Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, Aamir, in his sanitised tone, explains literally everything – the myriad ways in which his family is dysfunctional. Though this is hilarious in the beginning, after a few scenes, this preachy narration gets on your nerves. Must Aamir explain every scene to us, we ask.
Aamir begins his narration with the patriarch of the family, Kamal Mehra (Anil Kapoor). Rich, feudal and obnoxious, Kamal is almost bankrupt and en route to celebrating his 30th wedding anniversary by taking his family and friends on a lavish cruise. At his side is his formidable, fat-shamed, manipulative socialite of a wife, Neelam Mehra (played by the talented Shefali Shah). Pampered and witty beta Kabir Mehra (Ranveer Singh), an ignored but accomplished beti Ayesha Mehra (Priyanka Chopra) and Pluto Mehra, the cute dog imposed with the burden of carrying the Aamir’s voiceover, completes the nuclear model.
Using satire to question Victorian ideals and the deceptions inherent in Indian society, the movie is an attempt to expose the inner workings of a pretentious upper-class family. While this is commendable, satire is a difficult genre. To be subtle and patient until the very end by resisting the overwhelming urge to pull the carpet from under someone’s feet is a daunting task. Therefore, laughing at an elite culture entails patiently and consistently mocking the absurdity of the characters, their states of mind and the situations. The 1991 Sylvester Stallone-starrer Oscar is an example of how it can be done. Laughing at a mob boss’ attempt to go clean, the movie makes fun of the eponymous protagonist Oscar and his band of goons till the end.
However, in B-town, things boil differently. If we have revelled in laughing at characters played by star celebrities so far, we must somehow balance this out by showing a few snippets of their personal histories and angst-bhari kahanis. And this is where DDD falls short. It is one thing to laugh at the insanity and pretentiousness of an upper-class family and another when the viewer is forced to look further into their personal histories and feel empathy. A 100-crore movie already, Tanu Weds Manu returns also celebrates the madness inherent in marital and familial relationships. But the movie puts the viewer at ease as it sketches the middle-class household in detail. But, in DDD, how can the viewer relate to the pain of its champagne-drinking brand-draped protagonists when the director has already set the stage for laughing at them?
Despite such obvious flaws, DDD has its moments thanks to the Mehra parents. In sync with each other, Anil Kapoor and Shefali surpass the superstars in the movie with their acting chops. The number of expressions that fleet past Shefali’s face as she speaks about her marriage, the exact shade of red that Anil’s face turns when he listens to his daughter’s plan for a divorce, the couple’s incessant snubs at each other and their brand of black humour are too good to go unnoticed. Not lagging far behind is Ranveer’s wit that gives Aamir’s dead pan explanatory humour a run for its money. If only this was used more often as compared to Aamir’s Suno, I will tell you a kahaani, the movie would have been a smoother watch. And that is precisely why Pluto Mehra contributed to making this movie similar to a programme on Discovery Channel. Instead of invoking the feel of a movie that shows rather than tells, DDD forces you to mechanically observe this species (the Mehras), their unique mating patterns and their utter lack of communication skills.
But if one asks this writer to point out the director’s favourite character, it is the ‘nice guy’ who wins the goodie bag. Appearing towards the fag end of the first half, Sunny (Farhan Akthar), last seen soul-searching in Spain, is the next best humane creature in this planet of ‘alien species’. It is also this bias towards her brother that adds to the movie’s inability to let the viewer feel for the Mehras. As a friend succinctly puts it, “In Akthar’s universe, the coolest star is another Akthar.” That is perhaps the reason why the movie fails to make any of the Mehras look cool.