Every Beating Heart

“That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”—Steve Martin, Grand Canyon

A Review of the film Dil Dhadakne Do

May Contain Spoilers

When I told one of my friends that he should watch Dil Dhadakne Do, he said, “Priyanka Chopra is about as expressive as a banana. And Ranveer Singh doesn’t know how to act. Really doubt it.”

The best thing I can say about Dil Dhadakne Do is that I felt a strong and sudden urge to defend Priyanka Chopra—something I have never felt before.

Perhaps there is one more thing. Although he does well throughout, there are moments when Anil Kapoor is simply sensational. If you know me well enough you will know how hard it was for me to say that, so it must be true.

I usually find Bollywood movies too jarring for the emotions, too irrational for the mind, too overstated for the senses and too long to be given the time of day. I know it sounds elitist, superior and very hoity-toity but I feel that Bollywood’s story-telling abilities simply make my case for me.

A Triumphant Story

Dil Dhadakne Do, (Let Every Heart Beat), is well-crafted triumphant story-telling, perhaps because it depends on all the elements of a good Shakespearean comedy—a series of plot twists revolving around unmarried characters with a light-hearted tone that steers inevitably towards a happy resolution.

But it’s more than that.

It’s triumphant because it forces its superstars to disappear into their characters, kneads an egalitarian ethic into the movement so that it’s difficult to say who’s leading the plot, subtly lets the characters shine in a way that makes the others shine brighter, quietly diffuses trite cliches with refreshing comic timing and softly trades Bollywood exaggerations for an understated spirit that feels as restful as a holiday—entirely fitting, since its characters happen to be on a cruise.

More than anything, it’s important story telling because it ably undermines so many of urban India’s cultural narratives without losing a grip on the lives of its characters.

It forces you to face tough questions about why we are the way we are and why we do what we do.

Perhaps I am writing in the afterglow of watching an entertaining film, but for a Bollywood film to be entertaining enough to create an afterglow is a compliment in itself.

Its characters are honest, believable and likeable. It has a stellar supporting cast with some stand-out performances. About the only flat character is probably the one played by Farhan Akhtar, which is ironic because he wrote the dialogue for the film—something he’s done well.

While most new Bollywood films I have watched begin with a promising premise, they tend to fall apart within ten minutes. But Dil Dhadakne Do is engaging for most of its length, faltering only at the very end. But it’s easy to forgive because you’ve been sufficiently entertained, engaged, moved and amused by that time.

Undermining Cultural Narratives

If new Bollywood has been criticised for idealising the rich and celebrating the glories of the uber-life, Dil Dhadakne Do pulls back the curtain to reveal the hypocrisy, superficiality, emptiness and bankruptcy of high society—its view of women, its anxiety-inducing pressures, its longing for authenticity, its damaging obsession with what people will think and what people will say.

Its characters call for greater compassion, empathy, honesty and vulnerability in society, among other things. They ask for and offer forgiveness to each other. They take time to reflect, seek counsel, ask important questions, reveal human frailties and express universally shared longings. In many ways, they do what they want all of us to do.

Most of it is desirable, some of it is questionable, but all of it is important.

Without being preachy or moralistic, it questions the status quo and undermines cultural narratives that are accepted in urban India without any reflection on whether it is necessary, meaningful or even true. It’s done so well, if “they” watch the movie it makes you wonder what they will think and what they will say.

Asking Important Questions

Dil Dhadakne Do feels like its writer-director has been secretly walking through the world of high society, much like one of the younger characters in the film, taking copious notes so that she can turn their lives into a story because she knows that’s what writers are supposed to do.

They’re supposed to tell the truth.

Her story and its characters ask vital questions about people and human nature; questions like, “If these self-made people are really self-made, why didn’t they make themselves better human beings?

It asks questions about nepotism in business, meddling in marriages, the irrational fear of social exclusion, gossip in high society, clashing ideas of gender roles, the trampling of the individual by the burden of society’s expectations, keeping up appearances and what really matters to the human heart.

The Person and the People

Old Bollywood was exceptionally good at questioning the status quo, telling stories that turned the screen into a mirror so we could see ourselves as we are.

It questioned social injustice (Coolie), religious intolerance (Amar, Akbar, Anthony) and violence against women (Damini), among other things.

New Bollywood has lost a bit of that fervour, being more concerned with chasing a self-determining, individualistic ideal that questions authority, morality, traditions, cultural values, religious beliefs—essentially anything seen as a threat to personal autonomy.

If old Bollywood seems more concerned with the needs of the many, new Bollywood seems more concerned with the needs of the one.

If old India cares too much about what society thinks, perhaps new India cares too little about what society needs. One self-driven pattern of living is simply being subverted by another.

Dil Dhadakne Do puts the individual on a pedestal and turns its desires into needs and its needs into rights. A denial of these rights is seen as a violation of justice and it seems to say that if we treat our desires as rights, we can do what we want to get the life we always wanted.

It shines a great light on society’s finer hypocrisies but it does this at the expense of concealing the individual’s sense of entitlement.

If old India says the people are larger than the person, new India wants to say the person is larger than the people. As with most things, perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle.

In The Republic Socrates says what the Bible echoes in Romans.

Justice for the one cannot be gained by losing sight of justice for the many. Finding your purpose is never an individual endeavour. It has to be shaped by the particular skills of the one and the universal needs of the many. In an ideal and just city, the city’s needs and the individual’s needs work symbiotically, the city benefitting from its people and its people benefitting from it.

Art and Friendship

Dil Dhadakne Do is not simply a great movie, it’s an important one. It does what only good art and great friends can do.

It tells the truth in a way that hurts before it heals because it cares enough to want more for us than what we want for ourselves.

It’s successful because it generously gives what all good stories should give to every beating heart—something worth thinking about, something worth talking about.

Image Credit: z Q

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