Dil Kabaddi was already reminding me of a Woody Allen film - rich, urban, bookish couples prattle on about their relationships - when Rahul Bose's film professor character Rishi compliments a young student on her writing by saying "That line in your script was wonderful. What was it...? Ah, 'Life is not a dream but a bad saas-bahu serial.'"
A nice contemporary Indian twist on "Life doesn't imitate art. It imitates bad television." And when I rewatched the movie to get screen captures, I was pleased to see that the filmmakers acknowledged their source and were happy for me to think this way. Look at the book Rahul Khanna is holding in the image on the main menu:
The Woody Allen character type, the aging man who has a good life but cannot resist wandering to a nubile, carefree woman, is distributed across the two male leads. Rishi is the not-so-sage wordsmith with the big bookshelves (Rahul Bose) and has no idea how to relate to his wife Simi (Konkona Sen Sharma),
who shares her poems and cozy lunches with her magazine industry colleague and total dreamboat Veer (Rahul Khanna).
Samit (Irrfan Khan) accuses his doctor wife Mita (Soha Ali Khan) of frigidity while cheating on her with a co-worker. Squabblig Samit and Mita split at the opening of the film;
he moves in with his aerobics instructor Kaya (Payal Rohatgi), who is perpetually bending, bouncing, or squealing,
and she goes on a few dates with Veer after an introduction arranged by Simi.
Both Rishi and Samit are described as having "lost the balance between body and mind," which I think we are to interpret as lust and duty. Or love. Or reasonableness. Or habit. It's hard to tell. The further the film progressed, the more it seemed to me that the men were dawdling in the opposing pulls of ego/youth/vitality and "should;" whether that sense of "should" derived from a vague sense of what was right or from a genuine concern about hurting the women who love them (and whom they couldn't decide whether they love), I'm not sure.
The man-childishness of this story reminded me of Rock On, but wordy, chattering, romantically/sexually blundering man-children are apparently more my cup of tea than mopey, phallic symbol-wielding ones. Also like Rock On, I've seen this basic story before, though not in Hindi. What I like better about Dil Kabaddi is there's clearly nothing noble about these characters - no long-suffering heroes, no constrainedly pragmatic or doting wives - and the filmmakers do not attempt to tug any heart strings. Nobody's perfect; though it seems the relationship dramas basically start because of the men, once they have followed their respective shiny young things away from home, the women are quick to go their own ways too. Simi is another familiar character type; she initially comes across as a sensitive victim of Rishi's pathetic ego but is revealed to be a master manipulator.
When I think about relying on subtitles to watch a Woody Allen movie, I realize that I must have missed a significant portion of the wit of Dil Kabaddi, but I liked it anyway. As is often the case with movies that present everyday dramas, the words and delivery felt natural-ish. Little moments of confidence, reflection, and sarcasm felt right. Here's Kaya throwing a fit because Samit has left her and come running back to Mita,
who suddenly realizes how brainless Samit's life has become. "You chose her?" she asks in disbelief. "Live with her! Great choice," mocking him with an impressed expression and the "well done" gesture.
I'll be interested in opinions on the dialogues from Hindi-speakers: did they sound as relatively normal and non-filmi as the subtitles led me to believe? I also liked the structure of film, loosely set up as a series of interviews, with an unseen narrator asking people questions to move the perspective from character to character. Giving them the opportunity for direct address to the viewer enabled them to develop as they saw themselves, sprinkled with occasional moments of real self-awareness.
Rishi shoos the narrator away indignantly when asked about his feelings for his student.
Babyish boy-toy Kaya was cartoony, especially when Samit finally sees her through non-bedroom eyes at a party with his colleagues, but no moreso than Mira Sorvino's character in Mighty Aphrodite, and I assume she was made purposefully ridiculous to highlight how pathetic and hollow Samit's life with her was.
Shades of KANK's Sexy Sam.
Everyone was solid in their roles. If I had to pick, I'd say Konkona's performance was the strongest, as she varied Simi ever so slightly as her true nature was revealed. Irrfan Khan's basic physical gravitas saved Samit from being totally juvenile, and it was also used to great comic effect in the song "Good Night," in which he romps around goofily like a boy half his age.
Since Mita was never quite able to move on past Samit, for once Soha Ali Khan's sad eyes were totally suitable. Good thing, too, or otherwise how could you explain someone being able to resist this?
Why do I forget how much I like Rahul Khanna, other than that he's only been in about ten films? He seems to have all of the killer looks and charm of his dad but none of the slightly menacing swagger. Veer must have been a fun character to play, a smiling, old-school sentimental who just needs someone to respond to his love of the written word and romantic first dates. Here he takes Nita to an outdoor concert, complete with pretty pillows and glowing candles.
Costumer Namrata Jani should get extra points for metrosexual refinement of button-downs with giant 70s-sized watches.
Sigh. Those Khannas. I love them so.
My only complaint about Dil Kabaddi is the design of its cover and promotional images (see top and below),
which I think is all wrong - too playful, too zany. The faces Rahul B and Konkona are pulling don't seem in the tone of the movie at all, and Soha and Irrfan making a heart with their arms doesn't quite work for me either. She smiles more in the poster than she does throughout the whole film, and his expression says absolutely nothing. This movie is about squabbling and talking, not wackadoo or cutesy-poo. Maybe this would work better?