Sunday, January 25, 2015

Good golly, Miss Dolly - my attempts to make sense of Dolly ki Doli

[Did this for The Daily O]

The best thing I can find to say of the new film Dolly ki Doli – about a con-woman using marriage as her playground and decamping with valuables midway through each suhaag raat after drugging the groom-of-the-moment – is that it has the sense to be only an hour and 40 minutes long. This is a definite point in its favour. If they had chipped away another hour and a half, it may even have been a good film.

What is this movie about, I kept wondering, and why does it exist? Some observations that may or may not answer those questions:

It could be a sort of fable (though the thought and energy required to interpret it in those terms probably isn’t worth it) – an allegory about the Revenge of the Dowry Givers; a satire on the socially sanctioned assessment and bartering of young women, their subsequent shackling into married life where they are treated as inflatable sex dolls by husbands and as slaves and jewellery banks by parents-in-law; an exercise in wish-fulfillment that takes women’s empowerment into a new dimension.

If this is the case, the central character is meant to be a blank slate on which men (and their overbearing parents) can scrawl their own fantasies or ideals. “Dolly” is different things to different people – a gharelu ladki, a seductress, and so on – and you’d think such a tabula-rasa role would be well suited to Sonam Kapoor, who is as synthetic and vacant here as anything I have seen her in so far (with the exception of Dilli 6, where she had a few good moments). That isn’t how it works though. Kapoor is passable in the scenes where Dolly is carrying out her charades (because, think about it, what standards do we use to judge her performance in those bits? Anything goes. Every gesture and expression, however broad or unconvincing, can be explained away as being part of an act), but when Dolly is with her own people, being “herself”, there is no sense of a person with any inner life. Instead she mechanically drones lines that might sound meaningful on paper (“I would rather be in an actual jail than in your shaadi ka jail”) but have little overall relevance to this hodgepodge of a film, which doesn’t stay focused on any one thought for more than a few seconds.

But here’s another theory. The pastiche-like feel of the film, the wild tonal shifts, the problems in logic, the lack of continuity, scenes such as the one involving a misplaced dadi, the non-sequiturish incomprehensibleness of the note left behind by Dolly at the end (why do I do what I do, she says, pronouncing Hindi words with the diligence of a child in elocution class. Well, why does a sabzi-wallah sell sabzi and not alcohol?)… all this can be easily explained if one assumes that Dolly ki Doli isn’t a film but the sum of a series of auditions where actors like Rajkummar Rao, Varun Sharma and Pulkit Samrat were asked to try out a few different things – look, here is a role you could be playing in a big-budget film we may or may not be planning, so:

“Speak in a Sonepat accent.”

“Put on a moustache and try to look grown-up and policeman-like.”

“Be sleazy.”

“Look avuncular.”


“Do pelvic dance.”

“Say ‘dadi!’ and slap your forehead while looking surprised and sad.”

“And Sonam, no, you don’t have to pronounce ‘वे ’ as ‘Vay’ just because it’s written like that – ‘woh’ will do nicely. Oh well. Whatever.”

And then all those audition clips were thrown together.

Ultimately though, I have decided that this film is best seen in meta terms, as yet another self-examination by the movie industry. What better way to comment on certain feudal-patriarchal traditions in our society than to reference another major feudal-patriarchal tradition, the star system? So here is a savvy con-woman getting the better of a host of men who are clearly out of their depth in her company – and as if to echo this, we have a privileged, glamorous, second-generation actress in the lead role, surrounded by “plainer” actors from more low-key milieus. (“Itni lambi ladkiyan hoti hain?” asks a boy’s mother amusingly, and one is reminded that as a physical specimen of lambaai and gorapan, Sonam Kapoor bears roughly the same relationship to actors like Rajkummar as the elven-queen Galadriel does to the Dwarf Lords in Tolkien.**) No wonder then that when all these non-starry men can’t track down or tame Dolly (she is always out of reach), it needs a cameo appearance by a mainstream star (Saif Ali Khan) to help apprehend her.

And no wonder too that the final, “money shot” cameo – even though it’s only a photograph – is by Salman Khan. Forget all those platitudes about shaadi as a jail, or the “serious” angle of a woman, let down in love, avenging herself on other men. THIS is what the film has been building up to all along: Salman as the ultimate ideal of malehood, the prem rattan, the superstar capable of turning even our opportunistic heroine into a bag of mush. Poor Saif. Despite that grand, star-cameo entrance, even he turned out second best in the end. And as for the film’s ostensible leading man Rajkummar… at least he got an item number.


** No offence intended to Lady Galadriel or her followers

1 comment:

  1. I thought Rajkumar's performance stood out as did that of Archana Puran Singh and her son