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Review: Dum Laga Ke Haisha: Brilliant, plain brilliant

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This month, Bollywood has been rewarding me for my unwavering devotion to it over the years, with films that warms the cockles of the heart. First there was Badlapur with a twisted story of good and evil that surprised you at its every turn. And now comes ‘ Dum Laga Ke Haisha’.

In 1967, when I saw my first Hindi film, Upkar, could I have imagined to see one day a film on a subject like this – a guy from small town UP who failed his class X, pressurized to marry a fat girl who is much smarter than him? Mind you the girl is really fat. So fat that when she leaves her husband and comes to her father’s place because the husband said to his friends in public, “ How can I live with this ‘ moti shaandh (fat bull) ’! , her own brother says, “Tum to ho na moti shhandh !’

The film is brutally honest. You can see why the family wants him to marry her – she is a B.Ed., and the government job she is sure to get will help the family’s straightened financial condition, what with this boy being no good at anything. As for the boy’s perspective, you can see that he does not feel attracted to her. And you can empathize with him. But you can also see that she is smart, a genuinely good human being and has her own charm. To the films credit, she is written as a good girl, but not a goody-goody. She gives back as good as she gets. When she overhears him calling her moti shaandh she slaps him hard. But she hits back only when she is provoked. Otherwise she is trying her best to make the marriage work, including buying a punk nightie and putting on an ‘English film’ to arouse some passion in him. She is willing to teach him the rudiments of English when he is gearing up to give class X another shot. But he is a thick-skulled mule; he simply doesn’t have enough sense to value what he has got. He gets worked up by seeing the photo of a beautiful girl that his mohalla friend is going to marry.

The film starts with the boy acting as the narrator. ‘Three things can make me cry’, he starts, “ first, babuji’s chappals, then, there are Kumar Sanu’s songs, and the third…”, he pauses and the film unfolds. The little details of this North-Indian small town in the nineties – Kumar Sanu, audiocassettes, VCRs, scooters – are lovingly captured. The families of both the boy and the girl present such droll but real characters, played by competent theater and TV artistes.

The most subversive element of the film is an RSS like organization whose pramukh talks of anushashan and kranti, and drops the names of Bhagat Singh. The shorts they wear are not khaki, but the units are called shaakhaas. They talk of Bharatiya sanskruti while getting roundly drunk at a marriage party. We can see what is responsible, at least partly, for instilling the false machismo in our protagonist.

The final contest, from which the film gets its name, is the kind of script device that is becoming common for bringing rom-coms and other sliver-of-life stories to a fell-good close (from Lagaan to Rab De Bana Di Jodi to Taare Zameen Par and the recent Bengali gem, One Tee Bioscope.) But that is done quite well. What is not so done well is weaving the varied strands of the narrative (that includes a Bua whose husband has deserted her just after marriage) to a cohesive, well-articulated tale.

But what is on display is charming enough and not in small measure due to the performance of the lead pair. Bhumi Pednekar as the fat but feisty girl brings to life a singular flesh and blood character that you cannot help but relate to. Ayushman Khurana essays the best role of his career, bringing out convincingly how men can be such haramis.

And the final Kumar Sanu-Sadhna Sargam duet is a real blast from the past and I wish the theatre guys did not bring the lights on before the song was over.

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