In these boom times for India’s economy —already the seventh largest in the world—leisure time and exotic vacations are increasingly within reach of an ever-expanding middle class.
Cruise ship travel, for example, is suddenly a family summer getaway possibility. For the emerging middle class, what could be better than taking one’s terra firma modern problems out to high seas on what promises to be an eventful cruise? Fashioned after that thought, Dil Dhadakne Do, a seven seas romantic comedy set almost entirely on a cruise ship, more-or-less balances the wave motion while wringing through wet sordid upper-crust angst to dock into a surprisingly astute and slam dunk fun formula.
Director Akhtar and co-scriptwriter Reema Kagti wade deep into family waters to reel in the highfalutin 1-percenter Mehra clan that invites about a thousand or so of their closest friends on a Mediterranean junket. Kamal (Kapoor), the patriarch, is secretly triangulating for a business white knight to rescue the family’s struggling empire. His wife Neelam (Shetty), makes a little too obvious the distance that 30 years of marriage has created between the couple. Kamal would like nothing more than for his under-achieving son Kabir (Singh) to take over the keys to the kingdom while overlooking the shrewdly entrepreneurial daughter Ayesha (Chopra), who is by all measures an accomplished self-made businesswoman—even as she tolerates a cold, dismissive husband (Bose).
The gimmicky yet observant nuance of chunks of the dialog “spoken” by the human thoughts of the family dog Pluto (memorably voiced by Aamir Khan) provides comical insight into what ails not only the Mehras but also other assorted shipside fauna. There is Farah (Sharma), the onboard cabaret dancer that catches Kabir’s eye and Sunny (Akhtar), an old flame of Ayesha’s who may just throw a pebble into the pond that is Ayesha’s otherwise stagnant existence.
This longish three-hour-cruise could have done with one or two fewer ports of call. Still, like she did with Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011), underneath the spectacle of shallowness, director Akhtar engages with a nudge towards basic human elements with which the Mehras and their well-heeled entourage sometimes desperately need to re-connect. That the filmmaker is able to tie all loose knots into the harbor so neatly is even more remarkable considering the huge all-star cast—perhaps the biggest ensemble of a marquee roll call since Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2002).
For added luster, Shankar Ehsaan Loy’s catchy soundtrack will no doubt end up on car dashboards and MP3 players this summer. This includes the Roaring Twenties jazzy number “Girls Like to Swing” (Sunidhi Chauhan), filmed on Sharma and her dance troop on an elaborate dinner-stage, and is a retro delight. Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar come up with decent chops in the title track, while the “Gallan Goodiyan” bhangra number figuratively brings to fore the afore-mentioned thousand guests who all appear to join in the rumpus.
As a respected big-budget filmmaker who can draw A-list talent before and behind the camera, Zoya Akhtar’s nearest contemporary big tent equal is Farah Khan whose movies, even though they earn far more money, are generally confined to churning out over-the-top Shahrukh Khan home projects (Happy New Year, Om Shanti Om). The fact that both these women firmly stand their ground and make successive box office hits in an otherwise male-dominated career track attests to the changing headwinds in Hindi cinema.
Aside from some gorgeous Mediterranean port of calls that include Tunisia’s Roman ruins, Paris’s riverfront and Istanbul’s Bosphorus as well as the magnificent Blue Mosque as backdrops, it is director Akhtar’s chisel-sharp floating microcosm that airs out stiflingly closed upper-crust slices from lives jaded by riches. Most deck-side hangers-on are wannabe nouveau riche who are more posers than actual movers, more crass than class.
Their social passports are devised entirely out of gossip, faux scandals fabricated out of innuendo and the perceived misfortune of others who may or may not be in the same income tier or station in life. Dil Dhadakne Do is perhaps the closest that polite society gets to soft-core wealth porn.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.