By Gautaman Bhaskaran
When a director makes a great film, he or she raises the bar of expectation. Sometimes very high. And to stay there may not be easy. Rather it can be pretty difficult. This is precisely the case with Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do.
Her debut work in 2009, Luck By Chance, was interestingly narrated — about a man who comes to Mumbai to become a movie star. Zoya’s brother, Farhan Akhtar, was just superb as the struggling youth, and he was as riveting in her second film, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, which was about three friends who get together and journey to Europe before one of them, essayed by Abhay Deol, gets married. Kind of a bachelors’ outing! This movie was absolutely splendid. Neatly scripted, well mounted and ably helmed, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara also — and in an important way — owed its phenomenal success to the male actors, Farhan, Abhay and Hrithik Roshan (who leaves his six-abs behind to discover the meaning of life). Katrina Kaif and Kalki Koechlin were passe, but since the film was all about the men, the women did not really matter.
With Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara behind her, one obviously hoped Zoya to better or equal that with her latest ensemble-cast Dil Dhadakne Do. She had undoubtedly got hold of a talented set of actors — Anil Kapoor, Ranveer Singh, Farhan, Rahul Bose, Priyanka Chopra, Anushka Sharma, Shefali Shah and Zarina Wahab. The family of four, Kapoor as Kamal Mehra, his wife Neelu (Shah), their son, Kabir (Singh), and daughter, Ayesha (Chopra), go on a European cruise along with Ayesha’s husband, portrayed by Bose, and his mother (Wahab). Yes, also their dog, Pluto, an adorable bull mastiff. They along with a retinue of friends are celebrating Kamal’s and Neelu’s 30th wedding anniversary.
Ten days on board, on the high seas, punctuated by shore visits to Istanbul and Greece, the motley group while away their time — by not just eating and drinking and partying but also gossiping, sometimes viciously so — so much so that the dirty linen begins to appear on the decks of the luxury liner.
Kamal’s industry is going bust. Ayesha’s marriage with Manav (Bose) is hitting an iceberg. Kamal and Neelu are trying desperately to get Kabir hooked to a rich friend-on-board’s daughter, so that he may help salvage Kamal’s sinking ship. But Kabir sees his mermaid swimming one night, Farah Ali (Sharma), and sinks into love. But she is a dancer out to entertain the ship’s guests! And into this mad-hatter’s party walks in Sunny Gill (Farhan); he and Ayesha were deeply in love once, before Kamal packed the boy off to America to make sure that the two never met. But they do on board, and sparks fly. The romance is still alive.
Though, Kapoor is still in form — smooth talking, shouting and snarling — Bose is impressive, Shah is quietly dignified in the face of her husband’s philandering, and Chopra as well as Sharma are amazingly expressive, Dil Dhadakne Do did not get my heart pounding. Maybe, Farhan should have had a bigger role. He appears only after half the movie has rolled by, and he is really a fantastic actor. Truly.
And, Zoya is not quite up to the mark when the screen is crowded — as it was on several occasions. The film is too long, and some of the scenes sag. Zoya clearly loses her grip here.
And the pace — languorous and lethargic — suddenly quickens in the last 20 minutes to introduce utterly illogical melodrama. Surely, Zoya could have wrapped up her work differently, and this is one significant area where the climax in this movie contrasts with that in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. And this is where Zoya fails in navigating her ship full of dysfunctional men and women out of the storm she creates in the first place.
All that Professor Higgins wanted in My Fair Lady was “a room somewhere”. All that two little boys in first-time director Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai (Crow’s Egg) desire is a pizza. From the slums of Chennai, the lads, who call themselves as Periya Kaaka Muttai (Vignesh, 14) and Chinna Kaaka Muttai (Ramesh, 12), go to the quirkiest of extent to earn that Rs300 needed to buy themselves this Italian delicacy from an outlet which opens next to their shanty. It is both novel and hilarious when the two get a makeshift pull-cart to transport sozzled men from the roadside bar to their homes. At other times, the children pick coal that drops from passing steam engines (but I thought they had been replaced with diesel and electric locomotives) to feed their family of a mother (played with extraordinary ease by Iyshwarya Rajesh) and a grandmother. The father is in jail, and the wife is struggling to get him out on bail — grappling as she is with crooked lawyers.
Finally, when the boys collect their Rs300, they are not allowed into the pizza joint by the manager, who finds that they are shabbily dressed. But the Kaaka Muttais devise a wittily ingenuous method to get themselves new clothes.
Kaaka Muttai’s humour camouflages the pain of the lads and the brutality of class distinction. One does not fail to notice the iron fencing which separates them from a rich boy whom they befriend, and their conversations, often centring on the elusive pizza and sometimes on the swanky watch he sports, underline the pathos of India’s have-nots.
However, Manikandan must be credited for not pushing his movie into a state of sombreness. Though occasionally punctuated by the boys’ frustration and sorrow, the story otherwise rises above the mundane, and the carefree smile of the children (watch the glee on their faces when they divert the attention of a crow to steal its eggs and drink it up) light up Kaaka Muttai.
Another plus point is the helmer’s ability to etch each character with care: the father in the jail and his longing to see his sons who are not allowed in because he is in a tuberculosis ward, the grandmother and her little effort to make a pizza out of a dosa and the mother herself, an epitome of dignity and restraint, are superbly three dimensional. A beautiful economy of words and excellent camerawork (Manikandan) further enrich Kaaka Muttai.
The only disappointment I had with the film was its rather clichéd way of reaching the finale. We have seen an innumerable times the cocky interference by television channels, the corrupt politicians and the unethical practices of businessmen. Manikandan could have devised another climax in a movie which uses subtle ways to condemn ruthless consumerism and the brazenness of celebrities in pushing products.
*Gautaman Bhaskaran has been
writing on Indian and world cinema for over three decades, and may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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