Director Zoya Akhtar’s first feature length release following the enormously succesful bromance/road movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara takes us on another journey – this time it’s on a luxury liner to Turkey with a dysfunctional family. Kamal and Neelam Mehra (Anil Kapoor and Shefaly Shah) have booked a cruise to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary though there appears to be little to celebrate. He’s an adulterous, insensitive workaholic and she’s a Lady Who Lunches, and dines, and disappears to the loo to gobble down chocolate muffins in lieu of confronting her hurtful husband. Accompanying them on the trip are their children; unhappily married Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) and her controlling husband Manav (Rahul Bose), and Kabir (Ranveer Singh), the reluctant heir apparent to the Mehra empire. Following a serious downturn in business that could potentially bankrupt the fantastically wealthy Mehras, Kapoor and Shah encourage their single son and scion to romance one of their fellow travellers, the daughter of a wealthy potential business contact. Predictably enough (at least for anyone who’s seen Dirty Dancing), he falls in love with one of the ship’s entertainment staff, dancer Farah (Anushka Sharma) instead.
All of this sounds as if it might be rather fun, but at a running time of nearly three hours, fat on dialogue that never rings true, and styled to look more or less like a perfume ad, Dil Dhadakne Do is the voyage of the damned. This, in spite of some superb performances from its stellar cast, especially veteran Kapoor. The problem is in the execution – for one thing it’s tiresomely derivative and very much held in the thrall of the American romcom, from its tone to its look to its background score. In terms of ideas though, the film touches upon themes that may have appealed to Henry James and Edith Wharton. The Mehras are a family living in the stranglehold of privilege and patriarchy, with each member sublimating their desires to fit the elite’s social strictures. When dealing with real money and power, marriage is seen here reverting to its original function – that of uniting lands and families, stabilizing and expanding fortunes – at the expense of true love.
Alas, the examination of these themes barely skims the surface with the director more taken up with the film’s high-gloss, Vogue shoot aesthetic. Dil Dhadakne Do could have given us an insider’s look at the entrenched hypocrisy and sexism of the upper crust but holds its punches, unsure, it seems, as to whether it wants us to disapprove of the Mehras’ lifestyle or aspire to it. One cannot satisfactorily explore the lives of those trapped in a gilded cage if one’s area of interest is the gilt itself.