Monday, November 30, 2009

Babli at the bat: Dil Bole Hadippa


That unstoppable, beautiful happiness! Raniiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

My favorite Bollywood lady is predictably cute and appealing in bumpkin-Babli mode - that is, a spirited small-town young woman with big dreams and sheer and/or pink outfits, not as complexly written but still thoroughly enjoyable and root-for-able. As Veera, Rani shines as only Rani seems to do - squeaky, sometimes bratty, fully egotistical, but also loving and helpful and sweet. And, importantly, absolutely right morally, which helps her bratty moments slide by more easily. Her alter ego Veer is kind of annoying. Veer doesn't exactly show-boat, but his near-constant patter and sideline silliness make me wonder if Veera has never had the chance to be part of a proper team and doesn't know how to behave when it's not just her against various egotistical bowlers. I rewatched Chak De India before seeing this, and Dil Bole Hadippa generally suffers from comparison, but its implied arc of learning how to be the best possible team member one can be (not just an individual performer) is nice to see again. Too bad people other than Veera didn't have to grapple with it too. Writing Veer as a different character than simply "male Veera" makes sense, and it also meant Rani had a lot more to do, so no complaint in principle - I just wish Veer hadn't come off as such a nervous 14-year-old.

Shahid Kapoor, the v-neck wonder, is blandly pleasant and super-smiley as the blandly pleasant, dil-newly-hai-hindustani Rohan. It's a good thing Shahid is so pretty to look at since little else is demanded of him in this snooze of a role. (My mom even thought he was cute.) I wish he'd gotten to dance more, I wish they hadn't had him literally copy a Shahrukh moment, and I wish he wasn't scripted to spend quite so much time doing Intense, Dramatic, Cricket-Related Staring throughout the final sequence. Dalip Tahil was a happy treat among the forgettable parental generation (also giggling Anupam Kher as Rohan's megalomaniacal dad and sad-faced Poonam Dhillon as his mother, who fled with Rohan to the UK years ago to escape dad - and who can blame her!).

A quick question about the cast: imdb says Tabu is in this film, but I didn't see her. Where is she? The DVD I got from Netflix lurched and skipped and caused my player to crash twice, so it's quite possible I missed a scene or two.

So how could I not love a movie that starts off with that top picture? Never fear: the geniuses at Yash Raj Films managed to muddy up some of its potential. Things started slipping for me as soon as they billed Shahid over Rani. As if, YRF. She has the bigger role and the movie is about her, and she's a much more accomplished and experienced actor. Whatever message the film has about women playing equally on any stage they choose was not taken to heart, apparently. Do as YRF says, not as they do? Next, Veer, the fake man, also has to get taken down a peg by Rohan, the real man, at their first meeting. It stung like grown-up Rahul beating grown-up Anjali at basketball, though it could also be a sign of having to learn one's weaknesses (arrogance, in Veera's case) in order to be at one's true best. Why does the woman have to be belittled the very first moment she joins the "real" team? Why couldn't Veera just be impressive from the get-go? Or get her comeuppance later? Or not at all, since no one else on the Indian team other than Rohan gets any kind of character arc that shows them learning to be a better team player/human being? Still later, at the big match, Veera actually enters the game saying she's playing for Rohan - gone, or at least subsumed, are her big dreams of being a cricket star for India.

Aspects of Dil Bole Hadippa's cultural self-love are hard to take, even though they're nothing new. We all know western-styled seductress Sonia (Sherlyn Chopra) won't stand a chance with Rohan - rules of screenwriting dictate that if the boy takes up residence in India for six months, ain't no way he's going to maintain any interest in a bikini model - but she isn't even an actual character. She doesn't say anything or think anything. Sonia even crosses the infamous "sari point" and still doesn't win the man - that's how free of actual appeal she is.* Sonia's makeover kicks off a scene that, to quote the fine sports film Dodgeball, made me throw up in my mouth a little. It's clearly rude and stupid of Sonia to label women performing pooja in front of men

as "silly" and "old-fashioned," but the answer she gives (husbands as god, husbands' long lives, more sons) and is criticized for by Veera is one that countless other films, like YRF's own London/Punjab-centered Dilwale Dulhani Le Jayenge, have reinforced. Veera's response is that the women's prayers make the grains grow, thus making sure the nation, including ungrateful Sonia, never goes hungry. On top of this, Veera takes over Sonia's tour guiding, shutting her out for the rest of the film. There's no room in "the land like a lovely embrace" where "we embrace every heart" (lyrics from "Ishq Hi Hai Rab," according to the subtitles) for Sonia and her kind. The Veera-Rohan romance is the cutest and most successful part of this film, and in no way do I wish that any of the obstacles to it had been longer or more complicated, but straw sluts are so tiresome. Especially when a few moments later, Veera pops out of a truck in a cut-to-here minidress and heels too high to walk in, proudly telling Rohan that she'll change to be more "made in England" whenever he wants. So, showing skin is trashy when Sonia does it and should be changed, but it's accommodating or awkwardly endearing when Veera does it? Rohan, of course, wants Punjabi field-romping Veera, and he says that to love Veera and India, he must change - he'll take the "non" out of his NRI status and basically do whatever his until-now largely absent father asks. Hmmmm. I'm glad Veera gets to stay true to herself, but the "phooey on England, which, by the way, is where I earned a crapload of money for all my cool sunglasses" change in Rohan is facile. It's also an interesting plot pairing with the basically feminist and girl-power message that Veera delivers after the big game - and that the initially skeptical crowd wholly accepts. Of course one can be culturally jingoistic as well as feminist - I just wasn't expecting it.

I do think the film's basic message about full and equal participation of women is solidly delivered - after all, Indian only wins when women play too - and I liked the central romance and its portrayal by Rani and Shahid. But this just wasn't as strong a project overall as I had been expecting and hoping. Someone was very clever in ending this film not only with the Important Message Speech and consensus-cementing slow clap but also a fantastically spangly dance number, leaving me feeling cheerful and sated after earlier moments of real disappointment.

* The science of "the sari point" is usually not very complex, in my experience, though Dil Bole Hadippa gives us an interesting twist on it: it's a self-proclaimed sari point, rather than occurring naturally in a song inspired by true, requited love. I'd love to know if any female characters who voluntarily go from western-slutty to traditional actually get their men. Anjali gets her man, but of course she was never, ever slutty-looking. Another good twist on sari science can be found in Main Hoon Na, where a sari-centric makeover wins the boy but the girl decides it doesn't really feel true to herself and so she ditches it.

16 comments:

sunshin3girl said...

The science of "the sari point"

Hee, I love your theory. There are certain things that are etched in the minds of filmmakers so bad that they refuse to see how unreal they are.

For beginners, most modern Indian girls limit saris to special occasions, simply because they do not compare with jeans in comfort. The women who wear sari every day drape it anything but sexy fashion! The rural women simply "drape" it, the teachers and hostess' in service industry wear it in an elegant style, which is very impressive but never hot. It makes me wonder where the filmmakers get their ideas from.

Great write up, btw. =)

Ellie said...

Amen.

The Rahul/Anjali basketball moment still stings-- it ruined that otherwise sweet film for me (that and my old friend Johnny Lever, argh). This at least avoids such a blatant moment-- but... the sari point. Yeah. By the way I LOVE the "I am wearing contact lenses so you cannot possibly recognize me" thing, also delightfully present in "Baazigar."

Watch "Karan Arjun" for a serious Sari Point moment. But drink first. Oh, drink first.

TadyLovesDaniel said...

I totally agree the Shahid/Rani romance and the music where the only good thing about the film...and the message of "girl power"..i guess...i just wish they would have done a better job at portraying it better, I was wondering if u knew the song or film that Rohan played homage to when he was apologizing to Veera on stage, remember when he hit her with the sling shot flower on her back...I really liked the song...I just don't know what film it's from...

veracious said...

Agreed, the romance is good and silly and Rani shines. But there's so much mediocre to bring it down from being a truly memorable fun little fluff piece. I couldn't even bother to analyze why the "standard YRF fare" stuff didn't work here as it does in some movies, so I appreciate you breaking it down on my behalf.

Rum said...

awww the science of sari point turned me off the film for a while when i was watching the 'ISHQ HI RAB' song and i was rolling my eyes to the back of my head! UGHH but i remembered this was a RANI film and just enjoyed it for and the mini comeback from poonam! Shahid was soo creepy in his smiling sometimes when he looks at rani in the DISCO WALE KISKo song!

lapetitediva said...

Things started slipping for me as soon as they billed Shahid over Rani...

That's how I felt about the opening credits for Chandni. Sridevi, the star of the movie and the title character, was third billed after Rishi Kapoor and Vinod Khanna. I managed to like the movie in spite of that mishap, but still, Sridevi's name should've appeared first.

Sorry for the off-topicness, but I assume the current banner is Aishwarya and Hrithik from Dhoom 2? They both look suprisingly hot enough to make me wonder if the movie is worth watching even once.

shell said...

I have this but haven't watched it yet (save for 15 minutes before company came and interrupted). Interesting points (including the popular sari point theory. I imagine that it has got to be the filmmaker's attempt at trying to instill cultural sense into these new modern ladies? Anyway, I will eventually get around to watching it if even for Rani.

theBollywoodFan said...

If Tabu was there, I didn't see her. (Or maybe I see her in every other woman, and might've fooled myself for once, LOL.) Didn't like this movie at all, and I am a Rani fan, *and* a cricket fan. :( It's so all over the place...will be interesting to see where Rani goes from here.

I disagree with defining/identifying modernity by nature and extent of dress (talk about generalizations!), so I'm with you on being bugged by the 'saari point', assuming I interpret it correctly.

Do transformations (of state of dress) in dreams count? Those probably happen a lot in both directions. Going back to your question, one recent case I can think of is Rani in Laga Chunri Mein Daag, in which it's a lot more serious than just about the dress, of course. Oh, well...

Filmi Girl said...

Oh no!! I'm so sad you didn't enjoy this! :(

I can totally see the points you were making but for me, that stuff took a backseat to watching Veera (and Veer) do stuff and keeping my eyes peeled for deliciously slashy subtext (thank you, yummy Rani/Rakhi song.)

And the cultural jingoism was extremely awkward when I saw this because I was in a theatre FULL of NRIs and they all LAUGHED at the lines making fun of NRIs! I was baffled!

Finally - girl who goes from slutty to getting her man? Saira Banu in Purab aur Paschim. She doesn't don a sari until the very last scene.

bollyviewer said...

I still havent seen this one - each successive review pushes it further down on my to-watch list.

Cant believe Rani was billed after Shahid! I thought the Bollywood convention was 'senior star' first - Madhubala was billed over Shammi Kapoor, Nanda over Shashi and Meena Kumari over Dharmendra. HOW could YRF do that?!!

Kudos for recognising the importance of "the saree-point" in a plot. Saree research is a much neglected area of filmi-research. I cant offhand recall heroines that went from western-slutty to sarees, but there are plenty of tawaifs who went from nautch-girl gear to sarees.

celluloidrant said...

I think part of the problem is simply that it picks YRF parts off the shelf and assembles it without really adding anything significant. It never really feels energetic and alive. I watched this back-to-back with Wanted -- guess which one stayed in memory? :-)

~ramsu

ghazalintokyo said...

@TadyLovesDaniel: The song is Didi Tera Devar Deewaana from Hum Apke Hain Kaun.

I LOVE THE SAREE SCIENCE!! so true. Have you seen the song with all the stars in Om Shanti Om (forgot the name)? I really really want someone to analyze what the thinking behind putting certain actresses in sarees and some in dresses, I know it wasn't a coincidence.

Pessimisissimo said...

Beth, a very eloquent and thoughtful breakdown of what was problematic in DBH. Like FilmiGirl I enjoyed the gender-bending, but didn't think very deeply about the rest of it--I'm glad you took the trouble.

BTW, I have a pet theory that the later Anjali/Rahul basketball scene in KKHH was a critique of forcing women into hobbling traditional roles (symbolized by the basketball-inappropriate sari)--or is that just wishful thinking?

ajnabi said...

Ugh, I had forgotten about Rani being billed after Shahid. That was so, so LAME. He was still pulling dupattas over Aishwarya in Taal while she was dueting with SRK! Grrr. And you know I love me some Shahid.

The take-down scene (between coach & Veer) I actually thought was well done. She *was* unduly impressed with herself; just because she could beat a bunch of people who played in their spare time didn't mean she was a) a good team player or b) as far better than everybody else as she thought. And it did a little to show that Coach guy was actually a good team runner. The rest of it was really lacking, though. :-/

maxqnz said...

Great review, Beth! I *really* wanted to like this film, and overall I probably let it off easier than you do.
The nauseating YRF brand of patriotism I could ignore (except for that pooja scene), because I expect it. What stuck in my craw was the AWFUL character of Rohan's Dad. Not only was he megalomaniacal as you said, but he was apparently totally without sin. To see him stay resolute in believing that all his despicable behaviour was righteous because it was all about "Saare Jahan Se Achcha," was just too much. The fact that the viewer was supposed to accept that point of view was made plain by the way first son then wife capitulated completely to his selfish, deceitful manipulative actions, ackowledging the was right and that they had obviously been corrupted by the decadent West. It really was disappointing, because the film had a lot going for it.

Beth said...

WOW I'm so behind on replying to comments! Sorry everyone! I'm pressed for time at the moment but hope to come back to this soon.

maxqnz - First, it's so nice to see you here - I know your work well from Filmi Geek :)

Thank you! I wanted to like this too. I re-watched part of it with Filmi Geek awhile ago and she loooooooved it, and we had some interesting discussions about what role one's mood plays in the experience of a film. She was very much ready and willing to be swept away. She also had avoided learning ANYTHING about this film in advance of seeing it and didn't know about Veera's big plan and really enjoyed that surprise.

Anyway. As you say, even when one WANTS to like something, it can still be an uphill battle in the face of things like poor writing :) Rohan's dad does seem...I was going to say "one-dimensional" but I'm not sure that quite captures it. His righteousness is so inexplicable. Hmph.