Dolly Ki Doli opens with a long, concentrated narrative stretch that zooms in on Sonu (Rajkummar Rao) and Dolly (Sonam Kapoor). The first time we see them, they’re in a car by a railway crossing. He leans in to kiss her. She simpers and shakes her head. Shaadi ke baad. He sulks that they’ve been dating for a couple of months now. But if he wants the ke baad, he has to commit to the shaadi first. He meets her parents. She meets his. They get engaged, exchanging rings and smiling for photographs. They get married. On the wedding night, Dolly walks into her in-laws’ room and gives them glasses of milk. Main vaisi bahu nahin hoon jo keval apni pati ko doodh doongi… Main sabko doodh doongi. Then she enters her bedroom – there are roses everywhere, in pictures on the walls, on the canopy of flowers over the bed, and, later, on the table on which the empty glass of milk rests, the glass that has been drained by Sonu and which has caused him to pass out. Sonu wakes up the next morning and calls out to Dolly. This is the point all this exposition has primed us for – the discovery that Dolly is a thief, that she has decamped with all the valuables in the house. Only, we already know, thanks to the trailer (see below), which opens with the scene in which Sonu wakes up and calls out to Dolly. The trailer also features the doodh doongi line, the rose-filled decor of the bedroom, and the reveal that Dolly is a – as the film puts it – looteri dulhan.
As Dolly Ki Doli began to drag, I thought the problem was this trailer, this two-minute equivalent of the guy in the seat in front of you shouting “Rosebud is a sled” or “Bruce Willis is a ghost.” (There was a time you could try and avoid trailers, but they’re so ubiquitous now, I’ve stopped resisting, if only because I don’t want to be the guy in the movie hall scrunching his eyes shut, plugging his ears, and going lalalalalalala…) Why set up, so leisurely, this reveal about Dolly if the surprise is already out in the trailer?
But there’s a bigger problem. The film, directed by Abhishek Dogra, tries desperately to convince us that it’s a comedy (again, see that trailer), but the jokes are essentially one-note, the same setup warmed up and served over and over (get married/hand out glass of milk/cut to shots of empty cupboards). The really interesting stuff is in the darker shades. The fact that Sonu continues to love Dolly despite a back that still smarts from her stabbing. The fact that a guy (Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub) in Dolly’s gang doesn’t want to pose as her brother anymore. The fact that the only genuine emotions that Dolly expresses are towards little girls she sees begging – this has to do (inevitably) with her past, which we learn about (inevitably) through a song. With most movies, you wish they were shorter. Here, you wish more time had been spent on fleshing out these characters. Surely there’s a way to do this without compromising on comedy.
The local colour and some of the performances help a bit, though none of the actors are given enough to do and we are left with lots of questions about them. (How did the Ayub character get over his feelings so quickly, so easily? How did Sonu discover Dolly’s whereabouts? Also, doesn’t he have an iota of self-respect?) Pulkit Samrat is completely miscast as a tough-guy cop. He’s too model-pretty – every time his face came on in a close-up, I expected him to lift a razor and demonstrate how smooth a shave it gives him. Zeena Bhatia, who was so good in Miss Lovely, is wasted in a bit part – or perhaps the way to look at it is that she’s been shown, firmly, her place in the commercial scheme of things. Sonam Kapoor isn’t required to stretch – she’s fine in her comfort zone. But Rao is the real surprise. We all knew he could act, but did you know he could dance? He keeps up, amazingly, with Malaika Arora in an item song (see below), which is a little like chancing upon Salman Khan reading a book.
I liked the closing portions, though. There’s a refreshing, even thrilling, emancipatory element that seems wasted in a film this frivolous. And the last scene offers the biggest laughs. We meet people headed to Chennai and they are attired in what they seem to think are appropriate clothes, in order to “blend in.” The men have perfectly painted-on white markings in the centre of the forehead, and they wear perfectly pressed angavastrams. (If I saw someone like that in my vicinity, I’d think they were either from outer space or from a Bollywood backlot.) And the women wear white saris with gold borders – maybe their first stop is the Malayalee Club in Chetpet?
- shaadi = wedding
- ke baad = afterwards
- Main vaisi bahu nahin hoon jo keval apni pati ko doodh doongi… Main sabko doodh doongi. = I’m not the kind of daughter-in-law who’ll just give her husband a glass of milk. I’ll give everyone a glass of milk. (Or if you want what she really means: I’m not just going to screw over my husband. I’m going to screw everyone over.)
- looteri dulhan = the bride who steals
- Miss Lovely = see a clip with Zeena Bhatia and Nawazuddin Siddiqui here
- angavastram = the scarf-like, over-the-shoulder stretch of crisp cotton that Bollywood thinks everyone in Tamil Nadu wakes up with and goes to sleep with
- Malayalee Club in Chetpet = see here
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