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.