Film: Dream Girl
Director: Raaj Shaandilyaa
Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Nushrat Bharucha, Annu Kapoor, Manjot Singh, Vijay Raaz
The season of good-old comedies is back. Not just in terms of jokes, puns and comic timing, but also of characters who genuinely work to make the bigger picture work. Dream Girl is one such film and Ayushmann Khurrana is the catalyst responsible for this reaction. His filmography is an evidence of the revival and development of comedies that are satirical, sometimes black and sometimes just plain entertainers.
In Raaj Shaandilyaa’s debut directorial, Ayushmann plays the character of Pooja, who works at an adult hotline centre to pay off loans that his father (played by Annu Kapoor) has taken and is in a genuine need for a ‘regular job’.
The film has been written very well, both in terms of dialogue and screenplay. Set in Mathura, Dream Girl funnily fluctuates between Faridabad, ‘Noida side’ and Gokul as easily and swiftly as the narrative is in a hurry to establish its characters, their backstories and the development of text to the climax of the film.
Dream Girl opens quickly and establishes Ayushmann’s character through his much-awaited portrayal of Sita, Lord Ram’s wife in the Hindu epic Ramayana. Following this, his friend, played by Manjot Singh, father (played by Annu Kapoor) and other characters are simultaneously woven into the narrative. A very economical use of screenplay, Raaj does not waste time or space to effectively introduce his characters who drive the plot of Dream Girl.
Nushrat Bharucha’s entry in the film is with a bang and as an audience, one expects that she will have some significant role to play, but after a short public lecture on equality between men-women, her character gets reduced to a mere student of Home Science, who can cook well. What more can a girl from Gokul do?
Annu Kapoor’s character has been well-written; it was refreshing to see him not play the typical Punjabi father, or a character who is out there giving moral classes on progressive thought. He was so well-woven into the fabric that he looked most well-situated in Mathura, he could easily be mistaken for an ‘agarbatti’( incense stick) seller ( a character he plays in the film). The small nuances he brought here and there in the film, particularly in the latter half, were more-than-just-entertaining. For instance, a part where he embodies in himself the character of Shah Rukh Khan’s iconic Rahul from cult-favourite Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, with a complimentary background score of the film.
Another character that adds greys is that of Bal-Brahmachari Abhishek Banerjee who suddenly becomes Rafi (iconic singer Mohammad Rafi) to woo Pooja. An understated character whose performance rests on his gradual transition from a literal “bheegi-billi” obsessed with milking cows to an “aashiq”. This one particular scene where, while watering the Tulsi plant and speaking to Pooja at the same time, he is sensually caressing the lota for a split second is great ‘show’ of character development, without essentially telling it.
Vijay Raaz’s character of a Haryaanvi policeman who is so fond of “shayari” that instead of writing FIR’s he mixes his “shayari” with complaints filed by people. He looked dazed and confused, first in his “shayari” and then in the love of Pooja. His comic timings, ‘evergreen shayar ashiq’ role played with some nuances added fresh texture to the film.
There was a new addition of a millennial lover, played by Raj Bhansali, who dons the hat of a Gujjar young boy born into privilege. Bhansali plays Toto, the kind of extreme-lover who cuts himself on not being able to meet with Pooja. His performance widened the diversity of lovers we have seen in Hindi cinema.
Nidhi Bisht’s man-hating character, after having left broken-hearted in three relationships, and slowly warming up to Pooja is one typecast of a liberal woman. An ‘angry young woman’ who by no invitation exposes men of double-standards to women who are dating them, Bisht’s character is used for one redeeming point, apart from its stereotypical portrayal; in a scene between her and Ayushmann’s character where he says, drinking and smoking could be bad habits, but not a sign of bad character.
In that regard, makers did sprinkle social messages in the latter half, where to console his lovelorn father (Annu Kapoor), Ayushmann exchanges banter with Manjot on love-crosses-all-barriers of religion, caste etc. The angle of exchange is a conversation that does not make it look preachy, but there have been so many now, off-late in Hindi cinema, that the line between direct fourth wall conversations to the ones characters have between themselves –whenever there is a social message to be given — has become blur.
Despite being all of that, the film makes meta-narrative remarks and questions typical tropes used in this genre and at the same time showing that they are self-aware and yet contributing to the development of thought and re-defining comedy in a new way – That jokes have progressed from derogative remarks on women to a more refined sensibility, speaks a lot about the writers of films in Bollywood.
The narrative of Dream Girl does not weigh down on Ayushmann Khurrana, who despite him playing the titular role, actively explores and gives screenspace to its supporting cast, which has been written of well and performed by the actors to the best of their respective abilities. Ayushmann shines in his Pooja parts; the strength of his performance lies in his effortlessness to deliver the character and also in giving ample space to fellow actors to play out their parts.
Music is an integral part of the comic genre, and characters who play all kinds of lovers benefit from character background score which enhances their performance quotient and better explains their intellectual sensibilities. The songs are fit into the narrative, so there is never the question of ‘why this here’. Although, the film did get a bit draggy in the second half, becoming stuffed with writing that the maker was too attached to let go.
The tonality of the film is not played around with, the texture of the situational comedy that Dream Girl is, rests solely on the characters’ performances and the writing.
The last monologue that resolves all complications is delivered by Ayushmann. It was on the ‘loneliness of modern existence’, but did not strike much as an audience. What did stay back was, in fact, a Bollywood megastar in women’s clothes delivering a speech and being taken seriously. That close-up alone set a historical mark on how far cinema and stars have come.
(Shaandilyaa is well-versed with comedy. He holds a 2013 record in the Limca Book of Records for having written 625 scripts, having written 200 scripts alone for comedian Kapil Sharma. His writing speaks volumes and is the core strength of the film, but whether his direction has made a mark apart from the clever use of screen-time and screen-space is something we can speak of only when the filmmaker makes a few other films)