DIL BOLE HADIPPA! (2009, d. Anurag Singh)
There are times when there’s just no pleasing some people. Or in the case of 2009’s cricketing comedy Dil Bole Hadippa! (’The Heart Yells Hooray!’), it would seem there are times when there’s just no pleasing anyone. How such a thoroughly delightful, warm-spirited romp could pass by virtually undetected as it did late last year, garnering little but shrugged shoulders from cinema-goers, truly boggles this Bolly-mad bloke’s brain. What was there not to adore? Two unhealthily attractive leads, a genuinely uproarious cross-dressing plot, one of the catchiest, dance-worthy soundtracks in recent years and boasting more unbridled energy than a Hadron Collider. All this plus more, yet what reactions does it provoke? “Rani’s too old… Not more Punjabi stuff… Sooo clichéd”. Killjoys, I tell thee. Killjoys!
Rani Mukerji plays plucky Veera, a girl who’s crackers about cricket and can run rings around even the male players in her small Punjabi neighbourhood. When village elder Vikram Singh (Anupam Kher) recruits his son, England cricketer Rohan (Shahid Kapoor), to coach his Indian team for a friendly game against their Pakistani rivals, Veera sets her sights on getting selected. After she is rebuffed by the male-only squad, she hatches a plan and swaps her tights for a turban - morphing from feisty female to stern sardar, fake beard ‘n’ all. Her daring scheme proves a success and Rohan takes the newly-named ‘Veer’ into the team, only to ask ‘him’ for an additional service: advice on how to woo ‘his sister’ Veera, with whom he has fallen in love with!
Shahid and Rani dance to ‘Discowale Khisko’, one of the decade’s best songs: See it!
Okay, so the premise may be thinner than Amy Winehouse standing sideways and, yeah, Punjabi culture has been celebrated/mocked in equally liberal doses already in Indian films (particularly by distributor Yash Raj Films), but when one is eating a meal that has been served countless times before yet has now been cooked to absolute perfection, should it be sent back to the kitchen or savoured with a generous tip left? My vote goes to the latter as I had a ball watching Dil Bole Hadippa!, a Bollywood romantic musical that admittedly has nothing new to offer the genre, but what it lacks in originality more than makes up for in sheer entertainment value.
Much of the fun is owed to star (yet strangely second-billed) Rani Mukerji in a comedic part that is poles apart from her role as a deaf-dumb-blind woman in 2005’s haunting drama Black, yet no less engaging. She’s clearly relishing the chance to take centre stage here, carrying the picture as she does single-handedly. Seldom have I seen any screen performer run the emotional gammit of laughs and tears with such stunning enthusiasm, all the while vigorously dancing up a storm inbetween. All other participants simply play second fiddle and with rumours abounding that Mukerji even ghost-directed several scenes, DBH! could easily be considered her baby. Which makes the resulting failure of the movie all the more disheartening. Perhaps audiences of Indian cinema just aren’t ready for a popcorn masala flick in which the girl runs the show, particularly when it’s Rani, who - at 31 - should be smearing white chalk in her dark hair and playing aunties by now as is Bollywood tradition. Certainly not acting alongside hunky Shahid Kapoor, an actor who is (gasp!) younger than she is.
Cross-dressing’s a drag
In a televised interview with filmmaker Karan Johar, Rani Mukerji once revealed that her own mother opined to her that Rani isn’t a fraction of how good an actress Madhuri Dixit was. And she was correct. She’s better. I remain hopeful that Bollywood’s Miss Dependable carries on defying expectations and delivering such lively films as Dil Bole Hadippa!, even though I sometimes fear it will be for nobody else’s benefit except mine. Surely somebody else out there likes this one. Anyone! Koi hai?