This is the time of the year when India’s film awards are on in full force, with the first out of the box, the Apsara Film and Television Producers Guild Awards, happening on the same day as this film’s release. However, all this filmi excellence hasn’t rubbed off, as the much-anticipated Dulha Mil Gaya may go down as the first of the worst of 2010.
Eventually taking about 3 years to shoot, Dulha Mil Gaya was hampered by all manner of delays, and while the extra time could have resulted in a finely distilled film, this offering is a sad muddle throughout. The story lacks oomph, the pace lags early on, and you may be tempted to multitask in the theater. This is Mudassar Aziz’s first film as director, and he’s also responsible for the dialogues/screenplay. He was perhaps too close to the production (and Sushmita Sen) to have the perspective that the whole package clearly needs. The plot reads more like an overdone serial and the hack storylines aren’t relieved by much that’s fresh or fun. There’s your NRI discovering the value of the pind, the importance of love, comeuppance via some disguised characters, a My Fair Lady-style transformation, the making of a proper Indian woman, and extolling marriage’s value via karva chauth blahdi blahdi blah.
There are a few issues with the characterizations – the lead roles aren’t developed enough for any one character to stand out. The story’s perspective shifts between Tej (Fardeen Khan), Sushmita Sen’s Shimmer, Samarpreet (Ishita Sharma in her first major role), and Shah Rukh Khan in a very large guest appearance. None of them are anyone you’d want to spend much time with at a cocktail party, let alone watch a loooong film about. Spray-on tan metrosexual Tej Dhanraj is a cipher of symbol shorthand– he’s rich, likes women, smoking, drinking and partying, but has something going on about his mother’s diary. He has the mannerisms but lacks the magnetism.
Sen’s Shimmer is a model, and seems to be a female version of Tej – very caught up in herself and her career, with a desire hidden so deep it takes a judgmental speech from the simple Samarpreet to shake it to the surface. She overacts throughout the film, though her character has a certain charm. Sharma’s Panjabi village girl Samarpreet is syrupy, naïve, and the fount of most of the homespun wisdom about rishtas in the film.
While SRK has the been known to perk up many a tired film (2002’s Shakti, anyone?), here he is superfluous as he sleepwalks through his characterization of Pawan/PRG, leaving the character largely a sequence of familiar gestures and glances from some of his iconic roles. Rumor has it that after agreeing to a guest appearance in a song, SRK was annoyed to find he had a full-on character role, and if that’s so, it might explain what appears to be a lack of investment in the part. When the ebullient SRK gives up the ghost, time to head for the door. I’m not speaking lightly when I advise that even die-hard fans should save their money and wait to borrow the DVD.
The supporting roles are a mix of stock characters, some as foils and some as very cheap comic relief, like Shimmer’s assistant Lotus, a prime example of pastel-suited gay-man-as-buffoon that I’d like to see go out of fashion very soon, and some Trinidadian servants straight out of the ole US South. And of course in the Punjab, everyone breaks out in chaotic celebration at the drop of a hat when they’re not caught up in melodramatic family affirmations. Cheap physical gags abound, complete with stock sound effects to let you know something funny just happened.
For a film set largely in the Caribbean, the cinematography falls depressingly short, with some sequences appearing out of focus and some dark and grainy. While the film opens with location overemphasis (this is reportedly the first Indian film shot in Trinidad/Tobago), which may flash you back to 2009’s Blue, it largely features underwhelming settings. The nadir occurs in the second half with “cruise ship” deck scenes which have the surreally bright lighting of a Pierre et Giles photo shoot (or perhaps Mr. Winkle) and are all clearly on an indoor set intercut with a few helicopter shots of a generic cruise ship to add credibility.
The film toys with MTV-style “hip” pacing – quick shots interspersed with stills, some black and white frames, and the occasional voiceover of a character’s name or a youthful phrase, but still manages to lag. The song sequences are largely flat and uninteresting and the title track song, which has featured widely in the film’s promotion, is cut so that it loses energy, with the momentum of the dancing sequences interrupted by shots of characters mugging at each other in an attempt to develop the storyline while the dancing is going on. This song would have been a great way to let SRK’s dancing charisma reorient this flagging cruise, and it’s lost.
The opening day audience in Mumbai virtually fled once the film’s tagline appeared to signify that we were at our port of call, and “Say yes to a relationship” is a good way to represent a film so vague it seems unaware of what it’s trying to say. Let’s keep fingers crossed for sunnier shores for the rest of the year.