Dil Dhadakne Do: A Family Film

Here’s a random post.  There’s a big thought provoking scary hard important post coming tomorrow morning, but I wanted one more nice film discussion post first.  And Angie reminded me that I had still not written about this film.

It took me a while to figure out this film.  There’s a lot about it that I don’t like.  Priyanka Chopra, for instance, I find her performances difficult to watch.  I also didn’t like that it was representing such a small and very specific part of Indian society (very wealthy Punjabis) without seeming to realize it was representing a non-universal experience.  I also found Aamir’s voice over tiresome and pointless, and Farhan’s character slightly needlessly perfect.

(Priyanka=Irritating)

 

But somehow, despite my not liking all those things, this film stayed with me.  And I kept thinking and thinking and thinking about it, and finally I figured it out!  It’s a film about a family.  Strip out all the rest, and it is about 4 people and the complicated relationships between them.  Not about a son rebelling against his father, or a couple falling in love, or anything as simple as that.  But about 4 separate people who each have their own problems, and happen to be related.  Really really related.

In Indian film, families are always part of the plot.  But most often they are treated based on their social responsibilities and positions, mother is noble and sacrificing, father is authoritarian and upholds society, and so on and so on.  They don’t feel like people who have similar personality traits, similar weaknesses, similar strengths, similar taste in movies, similar jokes, similar reference points, any of that.  But in this film, they do.  4 people with different dreams and hopes and needs.  But with the same flaws, the same traumas, and an abiding familiar kind of love, a love that is so familiar you can forget it is even there.

What’s surprising is that the most important love patterns in the film are not the ones you expect.  Ranveer and his mother Shefali.  Priyanka and her father Anil.  Shefali and Anil and each other.  They are the ones who, at the beginning, seem most distant or least distant, seem to have the most stable patterns.  Are not the “problem” in their lives.  But, they are.  That’s how families work.  The relationship you spend the least time on, you think about least, is often the one that hurts the most, the one that you have pushed down and down and down so that you don’t have to deal with it.

And that’s what this film is about, all the complications and all the fights and all the problems that happen are just there to pull out the hidden miseries within this family and resolve them.

 

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll deal with the boring stories first, the kids.  Ranveer is friendly and smart and funny and kind.  But he is bored with business and he isn’t very good at it.  His father is pressuring him to become something he isn’t.  And then pressuring him even more, to marry a girl in a semi-arranged marriage in order to seal a loan for the company.  He goes on his parents’ anniversary cruise and meets a dancer on the cruise ship, a Muslim British Indian played by Anushka Sharma, very inappropriate, and they fall in love enthusiastically and immediately.  Meeting her inspires him to finally confront his family over all the secrets they are hiding from each other and the world, including the most poisonous and painful secret, that his father is cheating on his mother and she pretends not to notice/care.  At the end of the film, he learns Anushka left the ship at the last port, and dives off the ship to swim to her, finally fearlessly going after his own life.

Priyanka is the older child.  Married to Rahul Bose, and runs her own successful travel agency.  We learn that her family pressured her into marrying Rahul, while she herself was reluctant and still a little in love with her childhood sweetheart Farhan Akhtar.  Now, she is miserable in her marriage, and on birth control pills to avoid having a child, and considering a divorce.  Farhan surprises her by showing up on the cruise, bringing all her feelings to ahead.  She finally slowly admits that she wants a divorce to her brother, her mother, and finally her father.  Her issues are resolved when she confronts her husband in a family meeting and says she wants a divorce and discovers that her parents do and will in fact support her.  At the end of the film, she kisses Farhan and asks him to wait for her before jumping off the boat with her parents to chase down Ranveer.

And now, finally, the interesting ones!  The parents.  Interesting in so many ways.  While Ranveer and Priyanka are troubled little rich kids who have never made their own lives, Shefali and Anil have created their own problems, are tied together in a lifetime of hurt and growth and struggle and success and everything else that goes into a marriage, into founding this family.

Something that is a bit hidden in this film is that Shefali and Anil are in fact the hero and heroine of most movies.  Just, older.  They are Kajol and Shahrukh in K3G, or Aamir and Madhuri in Dil, or any other young couple in love that runs away to start a life on their own.  It is mentioned a few times, they had a love marriage, they ran away together.  And Anil made his fortune on his own.  Behind what we see of them today are 30 years of being in love, of building up everything their children take for granted, of founding a family.  A real family that needs each other and loves each other and, most of all, knows each other.

At the end of the film, we see the family reunited, smiling and laughing on a lifeboat, riding off into an unknown future.  And that was the end, but it also felt like a flashback to what had been in the past, the foundation that all these relationships were built on.  At some point in the past, when Ranveer and Priyanka were children, they had been a happy family of 4.  They had been close, they had laughed together, they had adventures together, they were each others best friends.  And we see that in how Ranveer and Priyanka, in the present, are still each other’s best friends.  Are still each other’s safe space.  And we see that in how Anil and Shefali’s marriage isn’t like their friends’ marriages, not quite.  Somewhere in the heart of it is so much love and therefore so much hurt.

Anil and Shefali were “normal” people who fell in love and started a life together.  But then they became very very rich.  And now they are surrounded by an odd mixture of “normal” people who are happier in their relationships than they are, and rich people who never expected to be happy in their relationships.  We see that in the beginning, Shefali’s identity is as the lucky one with the romantic story among her ladies-who-lunch friends, and as the lucky one with the rich husband with her in-laws.  Anil’s identity is as the powerful self-made man who can control his own destiny, who is still handsome and powerful and vibrant, unlike his friends who were handed everything.  And both Shefali and Anil have become trapped by these identities.  They are now playing the role of who they used to be in the past, unable to connect with who they are in the present, unable to admit that they have come together to a new place, a cold and unhappy place.  And, worst of all, a place that they think they have come to alone.

(This song does a great job of establishing the card playing men, lounging women, and showy Anil and shy Shefali)

Again, I have to start at the end.  After Ranveer has confronted his family, told his mother to stop pretending she doesn’t know about his father’s “business trips”, Anil comes to Shefali and they have a very very difficult conversation.  He tells her that he didn’t think she knew.  She says she did.  He asks her why she didn’t leave.  And she says that she didn’t have anywhere to go.

Both actors play this scene perfectly, but it is Anil that really brings something we hadn’t seen before.  Shefali just seems sad, sad and resigned, no longer willing to hide her pain in order to make him feel better.  We saw her earlier, reacting to Anil’s affairs, we know she knows.  And we saw her starring at herself in a mirror, looking lost, we know she is thinking about where else and what else she could possibly do with herself.  But we didn’t know that Anil didn’t know she knew.  And we didn’t know how much that would hurt him.

Seeing his face in that moment, when he realizes that he hurt her that much, so much that he almost lost her, that she is only still with him because she has no other option, suddenly it makes everything else he did in the rest of the film, all the unforgivable hurt he gave her, suddenly appear from the other side.  And, to me, it becomes clear that it is a situation in which both of them think the other one has left the marriage first.

Anil wants to feel desired, wants to feel loved, wants to feel young.  And he wants that specifically from Shefali.  He is dieting, he is exercising, he is doing everything to try to make himself attractive to her.  And every time she ignores his diet suggestions, takes an extra dessert, it is a statement that she no longer cares to be attractive for him.  Every time she rejects his advances in the bedroom (which we see), it tells him that he has to try harder, be more attractive, more successful, more in control.  And then he turns to other women to get the validation he isn’t getting from her.  To learn that she knew, she knew all along about those other women, that he had thrown away his marriage and didn’t even know it.  And to learn that she was so out of love with him that she was only staying with him out of necessity, it breaks his heart.  We see that on his face, his heart breaking as he looks at her, breaking more than Ranveer with his little love at first sight flirtation, or even Priyanka with her childhood love Farhan appearing before her, breaking with the weight of 30 years, of two lives so completely connected that they cannot be separated without both ending, of his whole identity being built around this woman.

That’s what it is about.  A man and a woman who fell in love, who had children from that love and raised them up together, who made a family.  And then, somewhere, forgot what that family was, lost each other.

There is a lot more plot to get them to that point.  Anil is losing his business and bribes Ranveer with a promise to keep the family plane so Ranveer can keep flying if he agrees to get engaged and create a merger with another company.  To arrange the engagement, they have the anniversary cruise, including the nice manager of the company who’s son is Farhan the globetrotting journalist, Anil’s brother and sister-in-law and their unhappy (and clearly gay, HELLO ZOYA AND REEMA!) daughter, Anil’s best friend and his son Vikrant Massay, and the merger businessman, his wife, and his daughter.  The daughter falls in love with Vikrant Massay, despite their parents enmity, Anil has a panic attack which the family thinks is a heart attack, and so on and so on.  But none of this has to do with the young people, or the company or any of it.  It’s about getting Anil and Shefali to that moment of honesty with each other.  They are where this family started and they are where it can re-start.

It’s after this moment that Anil finally remembers how to defend his daughter, gives in to his fatherly instincts over his efforts to appear cool and businesslike and powerful and respected.  That he learns how to support his son, promising to do whatever he needs.  That he remembers what it was like to be young and fearless with nothing to lose so long as he had his family.

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25 thoughts on “Dil Dhadakne Do: A Family Film

  1. I got through the first third of the review until I realized, “Oh, this is THE CRUISE movie!.” I’ve only always thought of it as the-cruise-movie because it’s got a kind of odd travelogue feeling in the background.

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  2. This bit is magic: “And we see that in how Ranveer and Priyanka, in the present, are still each other’s best friends. Are still each other’s safe space. And we see that in how Anil and Shefali’s marriage isn’t like their friends’ marriages, not quite. Somewhere in the heart of it is so much love and therefore so much hurt.” Perfectly describes these relationships. My favorite scenes are the ones between Anil and Shefali, and Priyanka and Ranveer. The only other brother sister relationship I can remember being so moved by recently is You Can Count on Me–an underappreciated Mark Ruffalo/Laura Linney movie.

    As I said in the comment thread when this movie came up, I agree with your take on Anil and Shefali, that each one feels the other has emotionally abandoned them. I think another element is Shefali’s relationship with Ranveer, which you touch on a bit. Ranveer has become the man in her life, not in a sexual way, but she is in love with him in a way that she isn’t with Anil. She pours her unconditional love and attention onto Ranveer, but with a nasty semi-conscious bias against Anil which isn’t healthy for mom or son. I think they’ll both be better off with Ranveer making a life somewhere with Anushka.

    And the songs are so fun!

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    • Yes! And that’s why when Ranveer has his truth-attack, his final weapon is to ask his mother why she stays with his father. Because that’s what has been most damaging to him, the way his mother smothers him and uses him as a weapon in their relationship games.

      And it’s part of Anil’s frustration, we see that in the opening dinner scene, Anil is attacking Shefali directly through food, and she is passive aggressively diverting the attack through attention on Ranveer. Making him the pawn in their game, and not letting Anil feel like he can actually engage with her, any time he tries to make it personal between them, Shefali turns them into business partners and co-parents rather than people with a personal relationship between them.

      The other part of this is that both Anil and Shefali are forcing their children into an “appropriate” business arrangement kind of marriage. Which feels like it is another symptom of how their marriage has failed, they have been so broken by a love marriage turned bad, they would rather their children end up in marriages that have no love and therefore no possibility of hurt. And once their marriage woes are resolved, they are ready to support their children’s attempts to build a love marriage as well.

      I love how the ending leaves the possibility of them losing the company, being arrested, Ranveer not being able to find Anushka, all of these things could happen. But the most important thing is resolved, we saw Anil and Shefali laughing and flirting together, their marriage is finally back on a firm footing, and that is what matters most.

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        • Yes! Ranveer can break out and fall in love and start a career outside hte family business, Priyanka can cause a horrible embarrassing divorce, because Anil and Shefali are now strong enough in themselves and each other to survive it.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 2:05 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Thank you for this post 🙂
    I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. In the beginning I thought: oh those poor rich people and their problems. I couldn’t care less. But once the characters ceased pretending it was like all new film for me. I liked how imperfect and messed up Mehras were. And that both parents were terrible, reluctant to listen to their children.
    My favourite part of the movie was Priyanka and Rahul marriage. On paper he was a perfect match. And he wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t good either. I absolutely loved the scene when Anil sees for the first time how Priyanka is treated in her family. Seemingly nothing happened (nothing different from the last time they gathered to save Priyanka’s marriage) but now he opened his eyes and he is shocked. I think I will remember this scene for a long time. Even now I hardly remember what happened after because I stil have Anil’s expressions in my head. This and Shefali crying while eating sweets.

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    • Yes! Anil in that scene is so perfect, it gives us a whole history of being a truly loving father and seeing his daughter for what she is and helping her be strong and independent and so on. Until it slipped away, just recently. And now it is all coming rushing back to him, like you said, “ceased pretending”

      On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 3:05 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I must add that I like Priyanka here and I don’t find her irritating. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I haven’t seen any her film like for ages, or maybe because all her clothes were soooooo beautiful and I look at them instead of her.

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        • That could be it! I’ve seem her in too many films I think, her acting tics (which everyone has) have become way too familiar to me and I can’t forget that she is acting and just watch the character. Especially noticeable in this film where Anil and Ranveer managed to find something so completely different from their usual manners. Okay, Farhan and Anushka still seemed kind of the same as usual, but among the central 4, Priyanka stood out as feeling the most “familiar”.

          On Thu, Feb 8, 2018 at 4:00 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. For all that Shefali lavishes her attention on her ‘son’ she has a lot in common with Priyanka.Both women are what I’d term ‘secret rebels’.Shefali’s way of rebelling is cramming her mouth with sweets and Priyanka’s is taking birth-control pills.Their way of paying back Anil and Rahul for the lack of freedom they have in other respects of their life.I can’t for the life of me think why Anil thought Rahul would be a good match for Priyanka.The younger set clearly can’t stand him.Ranveer’s prospective bride shrugs the jacket he offers her.He does not fit in with the older set as well.He gets the sort of treatment when the wealthy daughter of the house elopes with a poor boy.Tolerated and treated politely.But never a part of ‘us’. And I can’t believe Priyanka was still carrying a torch all those years for Farhan of all people.He comes across very bland.The movie had all the usual Bollywood tropes too.Daddy threatening to take away Ranveer’s plane to make him toe the line is lifted straight from Love Story.And Ranveer falling for the ‘nachnewali’ is nothing new.If this wasn’t a cruise and set in the 70s she’d have been a tawaif.I don’t think the Mehras would bat an eye about her being Muslim or British.They aren’t very traditional after all.

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    • You made so many interesting points! Putting Shefali and Priyanka’s behavior together makes me realize that, for both of them, it is about controlling their bodies. Shefali knows Anil wants her to be healthier, to be skinny, and so eating the food she wants is her way of denying him what he wants, just as much as making him sleep on the couch. And of course Priyanka is taking even more control, using her body for work the way she wants.

      You are making me think about Rahul and the rest of them. I think it might go back to the way Shefali and Anil are trapped between what they used to be and what they are now. The wealthy crowd that they aspire to be a part of makes them think that Rahul would be an appropriate son-in-law, but the “real” people they are inside don’t like him, and the children they raised back when they were “real” people don’t like him either. I also think, since they were going blind and not really-really part of the wealthy society, they weren’t able to see fully past Rahul’s credentials to the real person who is kind of dull. But Vikrant Massey and the other kids who were born into wealth are not impressed by his credentials and therefore see what a boring person he is on the inside.

      You are right about nothing being really “new” when you break the plot down. In a way it reminds me of Dil Chahta Hai, in a good way. Dil Chahta Hai is ultimately just a 3 hero film, like Amar Akbar Anthony or any of the other classics, it has an Indian heart but a modern surface. This is a family movie with the older daughter with the bad marriage and the younger son who falls in love with the inappropriate person, but done in a realistic modern manner. Come to think of it, this is the exact same plot as King Uncle! Jackie Shroff marries his sister off for a business merger, throws out his rebellious younger brother for falling in love, and then Jackie himself falls in love and becomes a better person, ends his sister’s marriage and welcomes his brother’s love.

      On Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 6:28 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. It seems to me that a ship is a good ‘tool’ to force people into communication…one cannot really go far away (except leaving the ship)…yet there is (almost) constant movement with an open horizon.
    At the end, I thought: back to the basics! (in a good and healthy way)

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    • Oh yes! what a nice concept. And then the end explores that concept even more, by taking them from the cruise ship to that even smaller boat, just the 4 of them traveling alone through the world.

      On Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 2:34 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. Hmm so am I the only person who loved Farhan in it? I really did, and I loved the Priyanka -Farhan relationship. Two people who haven’t moved on from their relationship. And they haven’t gotten any closure. She also fits in more nicely with Farhan and his dad rather than her own family. Ranveer was cute too.

    I also feel like Shefali’s character somewhere didn’t understand her daughter’s rebellion because she was stuck in the marriage and didn’t understand why her daughter couldn’t live through it as well.
    The worst thing about the movie was the dog’s voice over , soooo annoying really! Aamir’s worst work ever, and the dialogues too – very unimaginative. Its like the writers were really scared we’d miss out on the dynamics so they had to spell it out.

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    • Yes! thank you for bringing up Farhan’s father! That was a really interesting dynamic, and felt very familiar to me. Priyanka’s father loved her, but couldn’t see her clearly because there was so much social pressure and expectations and everything else on their relationship. But Farhan’s father was just Priyanka’s friend, who had watched her grow up and knew her best and loved her for who she was. She relaxed with him. And you could imagine how that same comfort with his family and him would have translated to her earlier relationship with Farhan, falling in love with the boy whose house she was always running in and out of, who knew her as a messy real person instead of some princess.

      And now you have me thinking, the same idea of each thinking the other left first would work with Priyanka and Farhan even better than Anil and Shefali. Priyanka felt like her desperate pleas for him to come home and marry her that went unanswered were when he left her, and he felt like she should have waited for him instead of getting married. Both of them thought they were suffering from unrequited love that they couldn’t give up, but in reality they just needed to communicate better and have faith in each other. I wonder, if they had gotten married young, ran off to start a life together just like Shefali and Anil did, if they would have gone the same way as Shefali and Anil? Grown apart and not been able to stop and talk about it. Maybe this late start will be better for them in the long run, they can begin life together knowing that they love each other through thick and thin, not just when they are young and perfect, and more importantly that they will never be as happy apart as they will be together even when they are having problems, because they’ve already tried living apart.

      On Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 6:23 PM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes, that is true.. Priyanka and Farhan think the other didn’t try hard enough. He also says something like “So everyone is responsible for this but you”.

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        • And this time, the second time around, they are both afraid to try at all at first, and then in the end ready to try everything, Priyanka will kiss him in public before her divorce and Farhan will wait for her as long as it takes.

          On Sat, Feb 10, 2018 at 12:36 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I loved Farhan too, because how can somebody not love him here – the writers took all the best qualities a man can have: intelligent, free-spirited, feminist, handsome, faithful, and gave them to him.

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  7. Pingback: Film Reviews | dontcallitbollywood

  8. This movie is such a guilty pleasure for me, it’s nothing ground breaking or amazing, but for some reason I love re-watching it. The songs are great, but there’s something about the cast, and not just the main family, but all the smaller secondary characters too that just draws me in. The first time I watched it, what stood out to me was the fact that yes, they’re rich and wear western clothes and speak english, a “modern” family as indian people like to say. But no matter how westernized they try to be, they can’t escape the problems of a regular indian family, love marriages vs arranged marriages, the taboo around divorce, the way Priyanka isn’t really considered Anil’s daughter after she’s become Rahul’s wife, and a ton of other stuff that I’m aware isn’t necessarily specific to Indian families but it just goes to show that balancing indian values with “modern” liefstyles is really, really hard, and no one can really do it perfectly.

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    • Yes! to all of this. I can compare it with another variety of movies in which the Indian identity is erased and suddenly everyone has Western attitudes. Like, Bachne Ae Haseeno. Besides Mandira’s storyline, all the romances take place in a world where the biggest romantic problem is “lack of commitment” and families are not involved at all.

      And really good point about Priyanka no longer being Anil’s daughter. Or Shefali’s to a lessor degree. But the brother-sister relationship isn’t supposed to end like that after marriage, or at least doesn’t have as many rules, so it is easier for Ranveer and Priyanka to stay close.

      On Sun, Feb 11, 2018 at 11:44 AM, dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. Pingback: Aamir Khan Film Index | dontcallitbollywood

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