June 25, 2015

Dil Dhadakne Do. Let the heart beat. When your children become adults, let them make their own decisions. Let them fall in love, let them work where they want, let them explore, let them make mistakes. More importantly, give them space to breath. And always communicate: it solves existing problems and keeps new ones from arising. These are the ideas director Zoya Akhtar touches upon in this case study of a highly dysfunctional Indian family.

The film centres on the Mehras — a wealthy Delhi family that enjoys the finer things in life. The head of the family, Kamal (Anil Kapoor), is a self-made businessman who has a penchant for infidelity. Unsurprisingly, he has a troubled relationship with his wife Neelum (Shefali Shah), who chooses to stick around despite the knowledge of her husband’s indiscretions. Together they have two children: Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), a talented entrepreneur who is miserable in her arranged marriage, and Kabir (Ranveer Singh), a happy-go-lucky guy who reluctantly partakes in the family business. In celebration of Kamal and Neelum’s 30th anniversary, they all take a 10-day Mediterranean cruise with their friends and family.

The first half of the film showcases the lives of the Mehras and their friends — the Indian elite in all their overindulgence and shallowness. They gossip, engage in social politics, and get involved in scandals that make the morning dailies. It is an intriguing portrait of vanity and excess, but a tad on the dry side, with little meat to make it interesting.

In the second half, however, the superficial exterior is peeled and we are taken into the depths of the complex family dynamic of the Mehras. When Ayesha and Kabir attempt to wrest control of the steering wheel of their lives from their parents, they are met with stiff opposition. Kamal and Neelum are stubborn in their ways and adamant that they know what is best for their children. Bound by tradition and cautious of the prying eyes of the world, they make decisions for their children that will best serve their image as upstanding members of India’s high society. But in this mad desire to appease others, they fail to see that Ayesha and Kabir are miserable.

As the film smartly points out, a key component in Kamal and Neelum’s poor relationship with their children comes down to their lack of communication. This is particularly evident whenever Kabir talks to his parents: he starts off by trying to say what he wants, but soon backs down and gives in to their expectations. Scenes like this allow us to share Kabir’s frustration, and one keeps thinking that this family would not be not be so dysfunctional if dialogue and deliberation were more openly encouraged. And this is the point of the film, to emphasise the value of communication and importance of being candid. It is only when Kabir and Ayesha finally engage in a meaningful conversation with their parents that Kamal and Neelum realise the folly of their ways, and acknowledge that their children are adults, capable of making their own decisions.

Dil Dhadakne Do is as lively as it is relatable thanks to brilliant performances by the cast. Anil Kapoor and Shefali Shah are wonderful as Kamal and Neelum Mehra and make the tension in the family palpable. Priyanka Chopra also puts in a restrained performance, conveying the misery of her marital life with subtle signs. But the real star of the show is Ranveer Singh as Kabir. He is hilarious without overdoing it and is loveable through and through. His chemistry is perfect with all his co stars, especially Anuskha Sharma as Farah Ali, a free-spirited dancer with whom he falls in love.

Dil Dhadakne Do is a well-acted, well-written film that forces the audience to think about the consequences of denying young adults the freedom to learn from their own mistakes. This is an important issue — especially in South Asia — and one that should be discussed in all households.

An undergraduate student at New York University, Ali loves to write about anything under the sun. He is also passionate about politics, cinema and food.