The first thing you should know about ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ is that it has a story. Verily, the thing that movies ought to have before they get made, the very thing that Bollywood forgets, unbelievably, so often. The story is the basis of a solid, honest-to-goodness script, a lead couple that wins you over gradually but surely, and a bunch of actors who know exactly where they are at.
Welcome back, Yashraj Films.
Insecure young fellow Prem Prakash Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) is a perfect candidate for the kind of ‘rapid-speaking’ English coaching classes, the ads which you find plastered on walls in small towns and ‘kasbas’. He’s called ‘Lapoo’: it could well have been ‘Lalloo’, because that’s what Prem comes across as, as he ricochets between his overbearing father (Sanjay Mishra), his annoying ‘shakha pradhaan’, and his pals.
He’s the kind of man-boy who still changes into khaki knickers and does ‘varjish’ by the riverside (the ‘shakha’ bit is an interesting quirk, and adds to the character), and who can still be badgered. That trait leads him to the `mandap’, where he is placed alongside Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar), who would be called, kindly, ‘healthy’ (pronounced ‘haalthy’). Or, ‘plumpy’ by people who think it is a word. Or, if you are the reluctant husband who is seething at his union with a girl with no ‘soorat’, much worse.
Sharat Katrariya’s writing is astute and finely layered. The coming together of two people in the kind of `mohallas’ they live in, is the coming together of two comfortably squabbling families. There are your papajis, mummyjis, `behens’, `behenois’ ( husbands of the sisters), and pesky young brothers. The Haridwar of the ’90s, where the film is set, has shops with loaded with dusty, unused cassettes, trembling on the cusp of CD advent. The characters too follow the template: they are rooted, but they are also looking for change.
It emphatically breaks away from the kind of empty ‘aspirational’ movie that Yashraj has been mired in making in the last couple of years, films that have had no provenance, and no originality. ‘Dum Laga Ke Haisha’ knows where it’s coming from, and where it wants to go. It is not drowning in studio-created ‘lower-middle-and-middle-class’ design, another Yashraj failing. And its girl and boy segue into woman and man in mostly natural ways, just the way two strangers potentially could in real life.
A couple of things mar the proceedings a trifle. I found the accents a bit mixed up, and the chatter sometimes a bit forced, calling attention to itself (look, look, we are all so homely). And yes, a few contrived strands that poke out of this well-knit mesh. But these are minor mis-steps. The strength of the film is the two people at who start off on either side, and we know that they will leave their corners to walk side-by-side, but they make us smile as they find their way: Sharat Katariya has given them enough room to grow, and some lovely, moving scenes.
Ayushmann Khurrana does a good job as the ‘chota shehari’ Kumar Sanu fan who learns to dust off the cobwebs in his mind, and to apologise to the woman he has hurt : it takes courage to play this not very likeable character without demanding sympathy from us. The triumph of the film is Sandhya, beautifully played by Bhumi Pednekar, the overweight girl burdened by not just by her size, but by the lingering awareness that love could, heartbreakingly, be out of her reach.
I’m humming its lovely song, ‘Yeh Moh Moh Ke Dhaage’, written by lyricist Varun Grover: the words are better than the tune, and they fit right into the movie. Because what else remains, other than these threads of affection?