The story revolves around the millionaire Mehras, permanent fixtures in Delhi’s high society, with patriarch Kamal (Anil Kapoor), his wife, Neelam (Shefali Shah), their daughter, Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and son, Kabir (Ranveer Singh), who invite the who’s who of their circle to go on a 10-day cruise aboard a luxury yatch across Turkey and Greece to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
The narrative starts with Javed Akhtar penning self-mocking gems like “Duniya mein zubaane bohot hai lekin har zabaan mein paisa bolta hai (there are many languages in the world, but money talks in every one).” We are told early on that the narrator is none other than the family’s fifth member, Pluto Mehra, an adorable boxer voiced by Aamir Khan, who as the film progresses, turns more and more into a fly-on-the-wall than a dog in the hole.
Singh looks considerably less smarmy clean-shaven, and has put up a stellar performance that shows his comic timing and skilled restraint. Anushka Sharma does another Rosie, and plays a dancer on the ship’s cabaret. It’s quite the Cinderella love story, but as is the recent popular sentiment in Bollywood (or even Hollywood), it’s really the prince who needs saving. Farhan Akhtar as Sunny Gill makes his entry right before the intermission as the Yale-returned, world-famous journalist, who writes “depressing stories about war and death” and happens to be Ayesha’s former lover.
Among luxurious Hamam baths, touristy detours and champagne that flows like water, as well as half a dozen song-dance montages, we are taken into the murkier world that lies beneath the vanities of the upper class. This is a world where Pluto often drolly questions the logic of entrenched sexism, and women who deal with their adulterous husbands grotesquely stuff their faces with cake instead of actually confronting them.
To her credit, the director has drawn on a rich tradition of typical Indian familial tensions, a la Sooraj Barjatya. The multi-strand narrative is rife with sexual politics, dynastic politics, business politics and the double standards of society, and odd moments of conniving-Aunty humour. There is a heartfelt dialogue (between two men) on “women’s issues” that is fast becoming the hallmark of every mainstream Bollywood film. Yet, we know that after everything is said and done, the Mehras are going to return to their golf and high-tea lives with easily-earned closure.
We get lessons in “duniyadari” from the two-faced Mehras, as they strike business deals by trading their children, who are forever trying to undo the twisted ways in which they have been raised. Ayesha is the adarsh beti who is a successful businesswoman yet tries to please everybody. Kabir loves to fly and doesn’t want to be the CEO of his dad’s fledgling empire. But the so-called ‘dysfunctional family drama’ isn’t invested in any real stakes, and stops frustratingly short of dragging any skeletons out of the polished closets.
In a hilarious scene pointing out the hypocrisy of many marriages, the family tries to address Ayesha’s failing union with “Tum dono young ho, successful ho, Punjabi ho, squash khelte ho, what do you mean you aren’t compatible?” “Uh...tennis, we play tennis.” But as the 10-day cruise chugs along with its captive travellers, I almost feel like I’m watching an airbrushed episode of Big Boss. The film finally ends with a needlessly drawn out and filmy climax that could also be taken as a lesson for how Punjabis are wont to create a ruckus wherever they go. Dil Dhadakne Do does have its enjoyable moments, but with a three-hour runtime, it fails to sail the high seas.