Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dum Laga Ke Haisha (live action movie), via Netflix

In Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Prem, a high school dropout, agrees to marry Sandhya, an overweight young woman, in the hope of improving his family's fortunes. Although Prem doesn't have a future beyond his family's cassette tape recording shop, Sandhya is educated and hopes to become a teacher soon.

Although Sandhya is eager to be a good wife and adapt to living with her husband's family, pretty much everyone is a jerk to her. Prem's aunt insults Sandhya at every opportunity, making fun of her weight and saying that she thinks she's too good for them. As for Prem, all he sees when he looks at Sandhya is a fat and therefore unattractive woman his father forced him to marry. He wants a different life, one where he managed to graduate high school and marry a slim young woman. Sandhya, meanwhile, becomes more and more fed up with the way she's being treated.

Warning: this review includes a few spoilers.

Netflix thought this would be a 5-star movie for me. I was wary, but willing to give it a shot. In some ways, this turned out to be impressive and refreshingly different. In too many other ways, however, it didn't work for me.

I've seen this categorized as a romantic comedy. If that's really the genre it was aiming for, it failed miserably. The bulk of it was dreary and difficult to watch. Sandhya tried so hard to make her marriage work, even though her husband's aunt kept insulting her to her face, and even though her husband refused to consummate their marriage during their first night together. Although they did have sex the next night (I think? It seemed pretty clear what happened, but in a later scene, Sandhya told her parents that she was “intact”), it only happened because Sandhya did what she'd been told was her duty as a wife and seduced Prem. Afterward, Prem felt only revulsion when he thought about what happened.

This depressing state of affairs continued until Prem got drunk and shouted his true feelings about Sandhya at his friends, not realizing that Sandhya was behind him. In a way, this scene was a relief, because it meant Sandhya finally understood exactly where she stood with her new husband. I had felt so bad, watching her slowly warm to him while he silently stewed in his feelings of resentment, bitterness, and disgust.

I was glad when Sandhya stormed out of Prem's home and back to her family. I was less glad when her family basically told her, “So what if he called you a fat cow? You should have been quiet and put up with it.” Thankfully, Sandhya was incredibly strong and sure of herself. Prem and his family had been unforgivably insulting, and she wanted a divorce, no matter what those around her said. Pretty much the only thing that kept her and Prem's marriage from ending immediately was the court's decision that Sandhya had to stay with Prem for six more months before the divorce could be finalized.

Prem was a loser throughout most of the movie, nowhere near worthy of Sandhya. Around the time of Sandhya's request for a divorce, he started trying to better himself, but he couldn't seem to manage it. His newest attempt to graduate high school was a failure, and his family's cassette shop was about to be made obsolete by CDs. I admit that I felt bad for him, but I still didn't want Sandhya sticking around with him. Him being a loser in everything else didn't entitle him to be a winner in love.

The “romance” aspect of all this didn't enter the picture until the last 30 or so minutes of this 1 hour and 49 minute long movie. For various reasons, Prem and Sandhya decided, at the very last minute, to enter a contest in which husbands ran an obstacle course while carrying their wives on their backs. I had dreaded this contest, figuring that it would involve lots of comments about Sandhya's weight. Thankfully, this part of the movie was blissfully free of that sort of thing. Sandhya and Prem managed to have fun, Sandhya had a change of heart, and Prem decided that maybe he really did love his wife after all...and then the movie was pretty much over, except for a cute song-and-dance number.

I really, really wish that more time had been devoted to showing Prem and Sandhya falling in love, and to showing them finally enjoying being married. As things stood, their love was like watching a light being switched on – nice and bright, but very sudden. It didn't help that I had a ton of unanswered questions. If Sandhya stayed with Prem, what did that mean as far as the teaching job she'd been offered? And what about Prem? What was he going to do with himself? His father's cassette store was going to die no matter what, and they didn't have the money to upgrade everything to CDs.

I loved how sweet and loving Prem and Sandhya looked at the end as they sang and danced together. I loved that Sandhya didn't have to lose weight or change in any way in order for Prem to fall in love with her. I loved that, for the most part, she was the one with the power in this relationship – Prem and his family needed her more than she needed them, and I felt like, if the divorce court had let her, she could have left Prem and found a way to be happy and successful all on her own. Ayushmann Khurrana (Prem) and Bhumi Pednekar (Sandhya) were great. This could have been an excellent movie, and I feel bad that I didn't like it more. Unfortunately, too much of the narrative weight was devoted to Sandhya having a miserable time with Prem's family while Prem whined about her behind her back.

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