The lions (and lionesses) of Panjab roar “hadippa!” Mostly.
Yash Raj Films has been cranking out hits (and the occasional flop) since the 70’s, and they’re surely a force to reckon with in the Hindi film industry. If you’re the least bit plugged in, it’s been hard to get away from the promos for Dil Bole Hadippa (DBH), their latest release. When even the “making of” clips promise just about all the elements that YRF is known for, the bar is set high for the sugary deliciousness they throw into the masala pot.
The good news is if you like your Yash Raj in the style of say, oh, I don’t know…. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) (a film they reference overtly and repeatedly in DBH), you’re probably going to like this one. It’s got all the elements: a melodramatic heartwarming family story that’s just a hair shy of soap opera-ish (DDLJ), a lot of pro-Indian flag waving (literally!) extolling the virtues of the country (Veer-Zaara (2004)), some Indo/Pak sports rivalry mixed with calls of “but we’re really both pulling for peace”, a romance that starts out with the leads hating each other, some religion, a little bit of NRI love/hate, and a lead character dreaming the impossible dream. Oh, and cricket, and I don’t mean the one chirping in the mustard field.
I can’t imagine anything I’m saying here is a spoiler. Unless this is your first Hindi film, you can read the writing on the wall and predict just about every story element as it’s introduced. As with most YRF products, the plot itself name checks a bunch of other YR films one way or the other, and some scenes echo other major studio releases from the last 10 years like Jab We Met (2007). The film shamelessly pulls out all the stops to pluck heartstrings that have been touched before. It’s déjà vu all over again, but who cares when the outcome is predictably fun?
The film uses up most of its songs before the interval, including the highly entertaining “Discowale Khisko,” which shows off all the colors, rhythms and people of the filmi Panjab, with just a little bit of pride in India and reintegration of the London resident Rohan thrown in. Vaibhavi Merchant was a good selection for lead choreographer for this film, as the dance moves get away from the often cornier faux-jazz edge of Shiamak Davar and blend a folksy bhangra with a little bit of hip hop lite without seeming too twee. Shahid Kapoor trained at Damar’s hand and he sometimes needs a little bit of guidance to avoid appearing as robotic as Harman Baweja when dancing. Rani Mukherjee studied Odissi from the way back, and her dancing is loose, technical, and infectious to watch, especially when she lets go.
Thank God for Rani Mukherjee. She’s had hits, weathered some hits, and grown from her flops. With all the emphasis lately on finding actresses under 20 for 40-something leading men, it’s important that she’s still around to add the mature depth she brings to the silliness. In her dual female/male role of Veera Kaur/Veer Pratap Singh, a lot of the believability of the plot gimmicks rests on her, and she is well up to the task. Veer and Veera are large personalities who don’t give up, yet are also distinct. They are energetic without being too cloying.
Shahid Kapoor plays his role as Rohan Singh with aplomb. He trades insults with the vaguely bumpkin gavwali Veera Kaur in a comedic fashion, and acts the good yet emotionally wounded son, the order-barking cricket captain, and the love-struck puppy believably. He’s not asked to do much more than mug a bit, be a decent guy, and have muscles. He does each just fine. As an actor it feels like his best is yet to come, and roles like these may be less-than-challenging.
There’s a tiny feminist undertone to the tale in Veera’s dream of playing cricket for the Indian team at the 2011 World Cup, but before you get excited that this marks something innovative about female characters on the well-traveled path of this film, there are also two throwaway characters (Sherlyn Chopra and Rakhi Sawant) who seem to be there mostly for their small costumes. As Soniya, Chopra’s only reason for being is to contrast her “foreign” T-and-A and disdain about India with Veera’s homegrown earthy larkii. The contrasts may be so marked intentionally, and they also undercut the impact of Veera’s accomplishments. The cricket plot slows the film’s pace down in the second half, and unless you’re a sports fan you may find it hard to focus on the details.
High production values go a long way to keep DBH from falling into schlock, though when you step back from the narrative for a minute, despite all the plot lines, its thinness begins to show through. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – the film’s core is lighthearted, colorful, and positive. It raises some contemporary social issues without getting into preachyville. The Panjab here has wide-open green vistas where your future is right in front of you and everyone’s your friend.
If you let your mind relax into the journey of the film, you might not anticipate some of the plot twists, or you may not care if you do. The film’s imagery and plot are formulaic, and have largely been a winning format. How long will audiences find satisfaction in the familiar? It's the question on everyone's lips, but no one knows the answer.