Dum Laga Ke Haisha – A Rom-Com Bollywood Movie

Dum Laga Ke Haisha roughly translates to “give it all you’ve got”. These words, commonly chanted when doing any kind of physically strenuous work, evoke an affectionate nostalgia for a time gone by a time before mobile phones took over our lives, before Google made libraries redundant, and before shiny CDs replaced those double-sided audio cassettes that we inevitably wore out from repeatedly listening to the same track over and over again.

DLKH

It’s that very nostalgia that writer-director Sharat Kataria’s film so effortlessly taps, set as it is sometime in the mid-90s in Haridwar, a relatively smaller town in North India. Katariya’s tale is one of old-world romance, punctuated by over-the-top 90s songs, stolen looks and passive-aggressive fights. It is also a tale of the dysfunctionality that is present in every family, often obscured by the cheery tone and the general good-natured ribbing that goes on when extended relatives gather.

Ayushmann Khurrana plays Prem Prakash Tiwari (or Lappu as he’s fondly called at home), a tenth-standard failed 25-year-old, who runs father’s audio cassette shop in a gali in the congested city on the banks of the Ganga, is passionate about cassettes and the Kumar Sanu songs that he plays on them all the day long. Here, we catch glimpses of the river but it is not an overstated presence; we see Haridwar from eyes of a Person living there not as a tourist.

Cassettes Business isn’t working-out good as CDs are coming up in the Market, so Prem’s family decides to make a transaction that will save them from penury. They fix a match for him with an educated girl who has good job prospects and can help prop up the family’s finances. He’s bullied by his family into marrying Sandhya (newcomer Bhumi Pednekar), but he can’t summon up the slightest affection for his new bride.

Sandhya is a sweet-looking woman, a little on the heavier side – but she isn’t terribly conscious about it. Prem is cruel to his wife; he’s embarrassed to be seen with her in public, and insists that by marrying her he’s ruined his life. He despises her and her size, and is blind to her feisty nature and consistently positive outlook in life, something that the perpetually whiny Prem desperately needs. Sandhya, refreshingly, is unapologetic about her weight, mostly confident in her own skin, and she knows how to give it right back.  Sandhya though, seems to be in love with Prem, despite his rather prickly behavior, and is willing to take the initiative in the relationship. She isn’t afraid to slap her husband when he hurts her, but she will also gladly get up and give him a glass of water in the middle of the night.

Prem has a complex about not having cleared Class X. He has a complex about not having stepped out of his domineering father’s shadow. The Character of Prem is handled very well. We aren’t invited to hate him – not even when he insults Sandhya while with his friends. We know the man’s got serious issues, and we aren’t even sure if his problem with Sandhya is that he doesn’t like plus-size women in general or if Sandhya’s arrival in his life has caused another complex, that he’ll not just be known as the guy who couldn’t clear Class X, the guy who gets bossed around by his father, the guy who gets emotionally manipulated by his mother (Alka Amin) and aunt, but also as the guy who couldn’t get a svelte, conventionally pretty girl to marry him.

Here, we don’t follow the journey of the person with the perceived problem. By the end, Sandhya isn’t asked to transform. She makes no effort to change. Prem learns to accept her the way she is – and the film is really about Prem’s journey. In an early scene, his father relegates him to the back seat of their car, and later, he says he’ll sit in front – that’s his character arc in a nutshell. At the end, he enters a competition in which husbands carry wives on their backs and run a race on an obstacle course. This is, of course, a metaphor for marriage. Prem has starting trouble, and then he picks up speed, negotiates ups and downs, and reaches the finish line.

This might not be your everyday Bollywood romance, but it is one that should be celebrated, because it is a love story that is rooted in reality.

Music plays an important role too, as highlighted in one lovely scene where Prem and Sandhya switch between popular Hindi film numbers on the transistor to convey their respective moods. Anu Malik and lyricisit Varun Grover deliver some winning tracks, nicely rendered by Kumar Sanu, who isn’t merely a reference in the film but whose presence hangs over the picture throughout.

A soothing Italian-sounding score fills the soundtrack – it’s as laidback as these environs – and the lovely Yeh moh moh ke dhaage is used to underline the physical nature of the central relationship in unexpected ways. The first time the song plays, Prem is driving his scooter and Sandhya is holding on to him from behind. The second time, he’s carrying her in that race.

Ayushmann and Bhumi have charming chemistry, and each delivers heartfelt performances that ring true. Ayushmann plays it from the gut, never once striking a false note as the insecure young fella, bitter over being dealt an unfair hand, but who nicely transitions when he realizes he’s wrong. Bhumi, meanwhile, steals the film with an assured turn, effortlessly making you care for Sandhya, without ever reducing her to a slobbering, self-pitying caricature. Dum Laga Ke Haisha sucks you into its world with well-etched characters, beautiful cinematography, perfectly detailed production design, and a host of fine actors Right from Sheeba Chaddha as Prem’s crabby aunt to Sanjay Mishra as the father; they are all perfect for their roles – who add to the film’s authenticity.

Simple and breezy, while at the same time evocative of life in small-town India, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a charming film that you really shouldn’t miss. If you want to see a fine example of choreography, costumes and dancing steeped in humour and intelligently done nostalgia, then don’t leave the hall early.

One Comment Add yours

  1. ashokbhatia says:

    Looks like it has to be put on our TBV list!

    Like

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