A girl who wants to play a sports associated with boys must either find a new hobby or, if she is brave, join the team pretending to be a boy. Bending convention ever so slightly, while taking light jabs at the gender perceptions of women in sports and cross-dressing types in general, Dil Bole Hadippa is a work-in-progress headed in the right direction.
Village belle Veera (Mukherjee) wants to play cricket, is good at it, and the local team (entirely made up of boys) won’t let her play. To make her dream come true, Veera hides her black tresses in a turban, puts on some pants and becomes Veer, the would-be cricketing champ. Along comes the dashing London-returned cricket captain Rohan (Kapoor), who recruits Veer to play on his team. Veera the village belle is attracted to the boy captain while Veer the player sets off inter-gender, intra-sex, and international complications as the team prepares to take on a cross-border rival team from Pakistan.
Where Hadippa falls short is in the overdose of Punjabi culture presented as a conduit for an always-upbeat Indian mood. Not every single occasion calls for breaking open a bottle of full-throttle bhangra in elaborate dance formations that stretch out—literally—as far as the eye can see. Compared to the rural Punjab used as a backdrop for old-school generational conflicts in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (Yashraj Films’ paean to young love), Hadippa comes across as a saccharin-sweet, dime-store product from a writing team that has attended one too many Daler Mehndi stage shows. Also, one would expect anything with the word “hadippa” (a playful rallying cry to gather all good troopers) to have foot-stomping tunes that popular music composer Pritam has a knack for delivering every now and then. No such luck. Pritam’s soundtrack resembles a CD-full of jingles the maestro possibly pilfered from an afterhours London bhangra speakeasy. On a soundtrack purporting to celebrate bhangra, forcing “disco’’ to rhyme with “khisko” ought to be a crime.
It is Mukherjee’s central role—carried out without elbowing out Kapoor’s machismo or newfound street cred following the success of Kaminey—that is a minor milestone; it makes Hadippa worthwhile. Even if the extended screen time Mukherjee gets resulted from the tight affinity she shares with Yashraj honcho Aditya Chopra, she has seldom appeared so comfortable in a role. This is especially true in crossing the gender barrier and helping Veera find her inner boy. Freed from her feminine trappings (create artificial dimple, bat eyelashes, tuck the hair behind the ear, repeat), Veera’s “boy” is very well played. Even though small in stature, Veer bravely stands up to the men on the team. Assisted by a wonderful make-up job by Mike Stringer, the specialist from the United Kingdom who propped up Hrithik Roshan’s multiple disguises in Dhoom 2, Mukherjee’s Veer and Veera subtly conjoin into a nervous, combustible nexus of male-female energies just waiting to collide.
In Hindi films, cross-dressing is used almost exclusively for comic relief. Cross-dressing leads lashing out against social norms in a serious context are extremely rare. Shahrukh Khan getting into high heels and a wig while committing murder in Duplicate to reveal his character’s homicidal alter ego, Padmini passing off as a male circus hand to eke a living in Raj Kapoor’sMera Naam Joker, or Madhuri Dixit transforming into a mustached, crotch-scratching, average Jayant to evade an abusive husband in Yaraana would be those afore-mentioned rare vignettes. Until we get the Hindi equivalent ofYentl, where a woman dresses as a man to fulfill the dream of becoming educated, or even Mulan, where a Chinese girl dresses as a soldier to fight in place of her father, anyone seeking a serious examination of this type of alternate sexuality in mainstream Hindi films will have to be content with deciphering Bollywood punch lines and doing a little Hadippa.
Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.