Film Review: Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji

Directed by: Madhur Bhandarkar

Starring: Ajay Devgan, Emraan Hashmi, Omi Vaidya, Shahzan Padamsee, Tisca Chopra, Shradha Das,  Shruti Hassan

All images courtesy of: http://www.glamsham.com

Sometimes, the unfamiliar can be a good thing – it can lead to a new discovery or prove something was not as bad as initially thought. And then there are times when the unfamiliar reminds one why it can also be a bad thing. After finding out my regular cinema chain was not showing this film on any of its screens, I had to do with the next best thing which is a cinema I had been to once before and had a bad experience at – a dirty cinema, sound cutting out, an intermission taking too long and the wrong sort of crowd; people who didn’t care if they spoiled others enjoyment by being loud, continually making trips to the loo and snack bar and talking on their mobiles (seriously – why watch a film if all you are going to do is chat on your phone???)

Bracing myself for the worst, I went to the cinema and luckily, aside from incredibly shoddy service at the ticket counter (the actual box office was closed so I had to go to the refreshments counter to buy a ticket and the two people in front of me in the queue bought enough food to feed an army meaning I missed the trailer for Patiala House), the screening conditions were favourable, as it was only myself and one other die hard movie fan in the cinema – proving my theory that rowdy sorts avoid the morning shows like I avoid rowdy sorts).  Settling in and able to stretch my legs in my seat of choice, the film began (literally – I walked in just as the BBFC certificate appeared!)

Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji (DTBHJ) revolves around Naren Ahuja (Devgn), a middle aged man going who is going through a divorce and is forced to move out of his marital home. In order to make ends meet, he takes on two lodgers – Abhay (Hashmi), a randy gym instructor who sleeps around and Milind (Vaidya) a churlish marriage bureau worker who is unlucky in love. Whilst Naren falls for the pretty young intern in his office, Abhay falls in love unexpectedly with a socialite’s daughter whilst Milind waits in vain for the girl he loves to return his love…

DTBHJ is well made and certainly looks the part – the film has all the ingredients for a good film but unfortunately for me, it didn’t all come together. There are many good ideas and scenarios but therein lies the problem – there are too many ideas for one film. DTBHJ begins with an unnecessary setting up of the scenarios and a back story for all the characters. Whilst in a directors cut, this probably makes sense, for the viewer, DTBHJ doesn’t draw us in,  build any momentum or move things along fast enough. There is also a bit of confusion as to what the film wants to be – is it a comedy, a social commentary or a drama-comedy? Sadly, the script isn’t able to multitask and we end up with a mess of a film. I felt the film was trying to capture a certain mood but in doing so, lost sight of being entertaining and engaging. However, there are a few positives to be had – the performances of the ensemble cast are very good (which is due to solid characterisation) and  the way the women are portrayed – the men are used, abused and dumped by the ladies but there is no judgement here on either side – the women move on leaving our heroes in the shade. This is a refreshing notion and one that I wish had been explored in more depth and it shows that in the few moments the film gets it right, the patient viewer/fan is rewarded for persistence.

With the content not engaging me, it allowed me to be distracted by the sets and the styling. I liked Naren’s apartment and wish more had been made of it – the cool animated sequence at the beginning suggests all the action will take place at the house so it was disappointing in a way that it doesn’t. In terms of style, there were a few highlights – I liked how Naren wears a corporate style wardrobe with smart shirts and co-ordinating ties whilst Abhay is more casual in relaxed t-shirts and linen pants. Milind sticks to ethnic wear and plain shirts in keeping with his character though I really liked the red button up collar he wears to dinner with Gungun. As for the ladies, Padamsee does the cute intern look very well in structured pieces in bright colours with simple accessories and always a different hairstyle – Das does boho chic whilst Hassan looks stunning in skinny jeans and t shirts with scarves and in full length evening dresses. The winner for me was Tisca Chopra in a high fashion avatar – her green Herve Leger bandage dress teamed with gold sandals looks stunning as does the purple jumpsuit she wears with heels. I also thought the black dress and clutch worn to the funeral scene made a very chic combination.

Thank god the performances are good in DTBHJ – Ajay Devgan is fantastic as usual, playing his role by the book, adding nuances and gravitas even where it is not to be found and is eminently watchable. I thought it might be the case that Ajay was narrated the role in a certain way but the film shaped up differently but either way, he does himself no discredit in this role. Omi Vaidya also does well, though the massive shadow of 3 Idiots looms large and one hopes he starts to move onto other character roles before getting typecast for good. Shahzan Padamsee gives a very good account of herself, part irritating, part endearing and works well with Ajay, in that she is not overwhelmed by him but steps up her own game and this is a good thing. Shradha Das is very good as the selfish and manipulative Gungun, I liked how she played the role with boldness and strength and though at times she came across as unlikeable, this was down to the script rather than her performance which suggested otherwise (ie that she could be a likeable character). I thought Shruti Hassan was very good in her brief role, powering through her scenes and proving she has potential and now needs the right projects to build up a good body of work and harness her talent. Similarly, Tisca Chopra does a good job as the steely socialite, in a sympathetic performance that could easily have been  drowned in caricature. The biggest surprise for me was Emraan – normally, I cannot stand him (except in Once Upon A Time In Mumbai) but I thought he was quite good in DTBHJ – yes, he is the still the serial shagger in this film but he did make his character recognisable and relevant to the audience and showed good versatility, surpressing the need to play to the gallery and actually trying to act.

It’s a real shame that DTBHJ disappointed me – like I said, this film could have clicked big time. With perhaps an extensive rewrite of the script, focusing on one character rather than all three or maybe a brutal edit to give a shorter running time would have helped me accept the film. After a fantastic run of three films this year so far, it’s a shame a great month ended with DTBHJ and even more worryingly, the end of the film is left open for a sequel – to be fair though, it would probably be much better than its predecessor and could make up a lot of lost ground.

This isn’t one to rush to the cinema for (or cheat on your regular cinema for) but instead best enjoyed on DVD or telecast. Bhandarkar is a talented director, watching any of his previous films proves this (and there is a cheeky reference to Fashion in the vets surgery) but sadly, this time he missed the mark. As comedy is unfamiliar territory for him, he should be applauded for doing something different and no doubt, if he does try comedy again, I’m sure he will get it right. As I said, there is unfamiliar that should stay unrecognisable for the right reasons and then there is unfamiliar which actually turns out to be a surprise – if only DTBHJ had been the type to surprise…

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