Dil Dhadakne Do: A Triumph of Casting
The largest of the societal issues the film deconstructs is the attitudes towards women. Interestingly, while the situation for women is established as being difficult, the situation for men is also dealt with.
There are many ways that Dil Dhadakne Do stands out—its inventive and naturalistic song sequences, its feminist message, its unusual location—but the most important reason its narrative functions is its triumph of casting. 5 of the 6 main actors are not only excellent in their roles, but are able to allow the audience to relate their real life personalities and struggles with their on screen roles. The one outlier is able to bring only her acting ability-no outside influences-into effect and her character suffers for it.
The only development in the film is the changes within the characters. The film was structured in such a way that all the conflicts established early on quietly dissipate over the course of the film. The big issues at the beginning were shown by the end to be just the characters losing a sense of proportion and ultimately none of them mattered. For instance, the conflict between the Sood and Khanna families shown at the beginning is presented as ominous and terrible.
By the end of the film it is revealed to be merely based on a years past broken engagement and the two families are reunited by something as simple as a moment of sympathy for a young woman. It is not so much that issues are resolved or solutions found, as that characters learn to accept situations and move past them.
The largest of the societal issues the film deconstructs is the attitudes towards women. Interestingly, while the situation for women is established as being difficult, the situation for men is also dealt with. There is a general breakdown in how parents approach their children, and it is shown to be worse for girls, but it is still there for the boys too. Boys are forced into marriages, and into jobs and positions for which they are not suited. The wealthy powerful characters treat their children like bargaining chips they can move around as it suits them instead of people, and it is ruining all their lives. The happy ending is just that the parents finally come to realize their errors and accept their children as independent people.
The greatest way in which parents exercised their control was through marriage. In terms of women, there are only three options: running away to a love marriage; agreeing to an arranged marriage; or rejecting marriage entirely. Each of the main female characters represents one of these options and shows their flaws. While a love marriage may allow for a greater closeness initially, ultimately it leaves the woman completely unsupported and isolated, her entire life tied up in her husband.
An arranged marriage allows the woman to maintain an independent relationship with her family, even provides for the support needed to allow her to pursue a career, but leaves her unable to fully connect with her husband. The character that completely rejected marriage, in many ways was the most successful. She built a life on her own terms and was able to reject or accept love which came her way as she chose
There was a fourth option, represented not by one of the main characters, but by Noorie (Riddhima Sud). While she fell in love with a man her parents opposed, she refused to elope with him. At the same time, she refused to bow to her parents’ wishes and marry a man they chose, instead seeking for a way to marry the man she wanted without giving up her whole life to him. This character was also the only one whose actor brought a blank slate to the performance, as this was Sud’s first film and the audience had no prior conceptions of her; this helped her character to present a fresh and hopeful perspective. All the other main characters were strongly influenced by the real life stories of the actors playing them, which provided a sense of heavy pasts and inevitable futures.
Priyanka Chopra’s casting as Ayesha is a definite miss-step, especially as she has one of the most complex and pivotal roles. Her character must convey a surface confidence and competence, indicative of her high society roots and business success, which hides a deep seated insecurity coming from her position as a dismissed daughter and abused daughter-in-law, which in turn hides great strength that only comes out in times of adversity. The script establishes this, through the constant mentions of her reluctance to complain to her parents about anything, even something as small as an invitation card, followed by fiery dialogue once she is instigated by either her brother Kabir (Ranveer Singh) or her ex-beau, Sunny (Farhan Akhtar).
However, these scenes which are meant to have such power as she slowly regains her own confidence and reveals her strength, instead seem all of a piece with Priyanka’s acting choices throughout the film, as she strides confidently across the screen, shouting off spurts of English accented dialogue, and flinging her hands about in perfectly graceful gestures. Any scene of demureness or shyness rings as false as her item dancer character in Salaam-E-Ishq (2007) pretending innocence; her final scenes of defiance appear less triumphal feminist awakenings and more entitled demands.
Supposedly, the character was originally written for Kareena Kapoor. In one of her first films, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2000), Kareena showed herself similarly incapable of treading the line between a character pretending to be modern and confident while secretly shy and traditional, and one who has no level beyond the surface modernity. However, in her work since, Kareena has handily treaded that line, with characters as diverse as the brash but heart-broken Geet in Jab We Met (2007), the femme fatale who hides a love worthy of Radha in Tashan (2008), or even her prostitute Rosie in Talaash (2012) whose scant clothes and seductive sexuality hide a tragic secret.
As important as her acting ability, Kareena Kapoor’s personal story would have lent strength to her character. Like Dil Dhadakne Do’s Ayesha, Kareena grew up in a successful and larger than life family, and struggled to make her own way and succeed on her own merits. Like Ayesha, she has now achieved success, but will always be considered second to her male relatives, especially as a married woman. This parallel would have been even stronger if the other half of the original cast had remained, Kareena’s cousin Ranbir playing her younger brother.
Ultimately, instead of Ranbir, Ranveer Singh play’s Ayesha’s brother Kabir. While Ranbir’s personal life would have brought on a suggestion of sibling rivalry with his cousin Kareena, as well as the strong component of father-son rivalry through his well publicized relationship with his father Rishi, Ranveer brings his own strength to the casting. Like his character Kabir, Ranveer refuses to treat his career with the seriousness and importance society demands, regularly flouting the rules of everything from interviews to awards shows. Also like his character, he wears his heart on his sleeve, loudly proclaiming his love for his real life girlfriend Deepika Padokone. In many ways, he is the naughty younger brother of the film industry, constantly poking fun and puncturing the seriousness with which others attempt to approach it.
And, while the original casting would have given a real-reel sibling relationship with Ranbir and Kareena, the final cast provided a real-reel relationship between the Kamal played by Anil Kapoor and his son, Kabir. Although less well-known and publicized that Ranbir and Kareena’s relationship, Anil is Ranveer’s uncle by marriage. Their comfort and familiarity onscreen was no doubt heightened by their comfort and familiarity off-screen.
In the current formulation of the cast,
Anil Kapoor is the most famous of the lead actors. This is remarkably appropriate, as his character is the fulcrum around which all the others turn. Anil’s Kamal dominates his son and daughter and sends his wife almost into invisibility with his powerful personality. However, at the same time, he is beloved by his friends, his family, and even his employees. Only Anil Kapoor could convey such a character, strong and dominant, and yet also charming and lovable.
Shefali Shah as Kamal’s wife Neelam was also, supposedly, not a first choice. Initial suggestions were actresses such as Madhuri Dixit. Such an actress would have provided a definite advantage in that the audience could mentally insert their past films with Anil as a vision of the youthful courtship between the middle-aged couple in this film. However, they would have also brought their own strong personalities and past successes to their own screen characters. Instead, Shefali Shah, while a phenomenal actress who has worked steadily for several years, has never reached a high level of fame or power in the industry. Just as her character is struggling with constantly being over-looked and ignored, feeling that her husband has somehow left her behind as he moves on to a higher level, so Shefali Shah as an actress is less well-known and powerful than her co-star, Anil Kapoor. So much so that it almost seems wrong for them to be cast opposite each other, just as it has begun to feel wrong for the characters to still be married.
The remaining two main actors, Farhan Akhtar and Anoushka Sharma, have much less layered roles, merely providing the love interests for the main stars. However, even in this simpler level, their off screen personalities shine through. Farhan’s Sunny is unafraid to speak truth to society, to act as a breath of fresh air in a stultifying community, just as Farhan’s own films and personality served to shake up the film industry. Anoushka plays a young woman who left home as a teen to pursue a career and has, finally, found a foothold in her chosen profession, and refuses to apologize for either her confidence or her personal life. In the same way, Anoushka herself began as a model and actress while still in her teens and has confidently confronted her critics.
None of this is to discount the power of the script, the directing, even the song sequences, everything that lead to a well-rounded and enjoyable film, but certainly it would not have been the same, and the characters would not have had nearly as much power and depth, if it had been cast differently.
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