When one hears Yash Raj Films, titles such as
Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Mohabbatein, Veer-Zaara and Fanaa spring to mind. Feel-good, tragic, warmth-inducing icons of Indian cinema. So, when I read the synopsis for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, I had to double-check the production company. Here’s the trailer with English subtitles.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha couldn’t stand out more from the crowd. While couples in the films mentioned appear to overcome the odds, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar) really don’t look like they have a chance at all. Firstly, they’re drawn into an arranged marriage that Sandhya appears to look forward to, at least. Secondly, and the stickiest point, is that Sandhya is “plus-sized”. Bollywood (Hollywood, too) heroines, even if they’re oddballs, are still too glamourous. There’s pressure for viewers everywhere to conform. That’s why Dum Laga Ke Haisha is an important film: it dares to be different. It may subscribe to Bollywood’s slice-of-life, feel-good style at times, yet it has an independent film feel.
The beauty of the film lies with Sandhya, which is an ironic statement to make given the film’s premise. She knows she doesn’t live up to standards looks-wise but she carries herself with confidence. A lot is asked of prospective brides: certain caste, educated, social-standing, culinary skills,
beauty, fair skin and obedience. It’s Sandhya’s prospects as a teacher that’s a large draw for Prem’s family. Notice how I said family. Practically the minute after their marriage, his family nit-pick at Sandhya, mostly behind her back but Prem’s aunt is catty enough to fling insults Sandhya’s way about her weight. Thankfully, Prem’s father counters this by highlighting his son’s less-than stellar qualities. She could be – is – a good-natured woman with her head screwed on right. Also, even with her figure, Sandhya is quite lovely – especially with her hair out. Unfortunately, her husband and his family aren’t willing to realise that. Until the climax of the film, she takes what they deliver, illustrating her inner strength.
The most heartbreaking moments of the film are in scenes involving the married couple. Not only is Prem visibly displeased during the marriage ceremony, he avoids being seen with Sandhya in public. She clearly relishes exploring local streets on the arm of her husband but he finds every opportunity to put space between them. He goes on about her weight, worst of all: he bursts out loud that he finds her physically repulsive to sleep with. Viewers feel a punch to their own stomachs, especially as she witnesses this. She smacks him (many would say right on) and he retaliates. At this point, things are spiraling leaving viewers wondering if there is any going back after this. The scene that evokes the most emotion is when Sandhya is forced to explain why she’s back at her parents’ home. She has to not only re-live the awful moment she was publicly insulted, but is forced to admit that society finds her undesirable. This once again emphasises the pressure Indian women are under, especially as carriers of their family’s honour. The delivery of this brings tears to viewers’ eyes.
With a family such as his, it is easy to understand why Prem just can’t get going. His father is overly-strict, pushing him into a box Prem doesn’t fit in, while his mother and aunt spoil him and overlook his flaws. That’s not to say he’s not responsible for his actions in the film, it just explains why he is so. It may be difficult to witness his lacklustre life, however Prem’s depressive state and his father’s treatment of it opens eyes. The message is to try to look beneath the word lazy and examine what has caused it. Prem’s family represent how not to handle mental health problems.
There are comedic moments that leave the audience either snickering or full-on cackling. Moments such as Sandhya putting on an erotic film to get her new husband in the mood, to his aunts overhearing his eventual bedroom exploits. ‘My son has become a man’ his mother declares. It’s difficult not to lose it at that point. Moreover, Sandhya’s brother is a little brat with his insensitive remarks towards his sister. Sandhya gives as good as is delivered, which adds to the humour.
A few more unsavoury actions from Prem towards Sandhya and he finally demonstrates some change. He accepts she deserves better than him and wakes her up to his family’s deceptiveness. While his transformation towards loving Sandhya during the couple’s race seems a bit sudden and out-of-the-blue, it’s definitely satisfactory to watch them both reach a level of happiness. After a struggle to adjust to marriage to each other, Prem and Sandhya are finally happy. The song and dance sequence during the end credits is an example of Bollywood conventions done right: the focus has been on the storyline, now that it’s resolved, it’s time to celebrate. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a film to be celebrated, itself.