A Tale of Popcorn and Empowerment
By Chandrika Patel
Watching a Bollywood movie in British cinema can be an interesting experience. It is customary to turn titles of Indian films into acronyms and the comedy-drama Dil Dhadakne Do (2015)-DDD directed by Zoya Akshtar- appeared to be targeted at multiplex audiences. The literal translation of the title, meaning ‘Let hearts beat’, is a poetic metaphor, evoking notions of freedom of thought and being, reminiscent of the 1976 Disco hit, ‘Young hearts Run Free’ by Candi Staton, with lyrics by David Crawford. The story of DDD revolves around the upwardly mobile Mehras — father (Anil Kapoor), mother (Shefali Shah), son Kabir (Ranveer Singh), daughter Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra), the son-in-law Manav (Rahul Bose) along with Pluto, the canine, all of whom go sailing on a luxury yacht on the Bosporus to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary along with their acquaintances and foes.
From the outset, the somewhat preachy narration provided by Pluto ( voiced by Aamir Khan) offers observations while the dialogue (Farhan and Javed Akhtar) deals with themes of gender equality and empowerment of women, suggesting a story with a message, generously clothed in designer garb and embellished by Bollywood musicality, providing entertainment at the expense of the rising Indian middleclass. The ‘designer’ aesthetics of the film with its exotic locations (Turkey) combined with the botoxed, well-heeled, apparently Westernized Indians who at the same time are inextricably tied to their ‘Indian’ ways, has proved to be crowd-puller. It uses a formula that succeeded in the past with films such as Dil Chahta Hai (also by Farhan Akhtar), Cocktail and others.
In the scanty audience of about ten persons on a Monday afternoon in the Vue cinema in Croydon, it was the animated Maasi (In Gujarati, the word means auntie and is also a term of respectful endearment used to address elderly Gujarati-speaking women) who invited attention, sitting at the edge of her seat with a modern haircut and dressed in salwar-kameez and white trainers. In between shuffling through her white plastic bag containing the homemade popcorn and checking messages on the glowing mobile, she appeared to be totally caught up in the dysfunctional family drama as if she were watching it on TV in her living room, reminiscent of the Gogglebox TV programme on Ch.4 in which families slouch on their living room sofas providing an amusing, running commentary on their favourite TV shows. During the 170 minutes duration of the film, the timely interjections provided by the animated Maasi varied from “Oooooooh…” when Ayesha’s past ‘love’, the scruffily dishy Sunny, (Farhan Akhtar), made an appearance to catchy one-liners in Gujarati – Jo Bayri Ne Mukine Gayo- Look…he has left his wife to go with ‘her’! when Mr Mehra appeared to be giving more attention to an attractive female guest at his wedding anniversary party than to his wife, invited laughter from audience members. It reminded me of being at the cinema in India where it is not unusual to hear jeers, claps and sardonic comments in the vernacular from seasoned cinema-goers who would often recite the Hindi dialogue in the voice of their favourite star, providing parallel entertainment to the audience.
During the break, Maasi left her seat to offer the homemade popcorn to others. When DDD ended, I could not help but wonder about Maasi’s own story and hoped that she would share it with me as readily as she had shared her popcorn. I approached her and she agreed to have coffee and a chat with me.
It was the Ayesha’s tight lipped character in DDD that Maasi appeared to identify with in her own life. In her salad-days, she like so many others gave in to family pressure to marry for material considerations. She even fought for English-medium schooling in India as opposed to the one offered in Gujarati, having been educated in colonial East Africa. Like the glamorous Ayesha , there had also been ‘Sunny’ in Maasi’s life who had approached her father for her hand in marriage but was passed over for a richer and therefore more ‘suitable’ boy from a similar caste. Unfortunately, the arranged marriage turned out to be a disaster and and after one husband, two children and a near-death experience, the Gujarati grandmother from East Africa reinvented herself, having broken away from the shackles of ‘what would people say’ existence portrayed in DDD, towards a path of seeking out “twice as much enjoyment” to make up for ‘lost time’.
Candidly shared over coffee and popcorn, Maasi’s story of empowerment and courage was indeed inspiring and felt so much more real and more thrilling than the film we had been watching. I watched as she slowly disappeared at the end of our conversation into the crowd of shoppers enjoying the festive atmosphere of a British High street. Happy endings do not always come in ‘family size’ as generally portrayed in Bollywood cinema.
Dr Chandrika Patel completed her PhD in drama studying British Asian Theatre in 2008. Her book The Taste of British South Asian Theatres: Aesthetics and Production was published in August 2015.