It's been 6 years since we met the Mehras and their ensemble of opulence. Zoya Akhtar has mentioned that the theme of Dil Dhadakne Do is projection. This makes the movie all the more delicious to re-watch. If the screenplay was written with a core of projection, the film itself has been passed through a filter of projection. Starting, of course, with the perfect metaphor that is the ship.
The ship is decorated, dressed up, extravagant and expensive. The same adjectives can be used to describe the Mehra family. The ship cruises through postcard-perfect settings and the Mehra family is here on an ostentatious wedding anniversary celebration. But the ship is, in fact, still only a vessel in the middle of never-ending waters with crew members working to keep up the perfection. And the Mehra family is a portrait of illusions, kept pretty with the collective efforts of its members.
In the hall of fame of movies that depict dysfunctional families, Dil Dhadakne Do deserves a perfectly decked-out throne. The family constantly exists at a distance from each other. When in close quarters, it is always an illusion or an attempt that doesn't last. The parents argue with an arsenal of passive aggression, straight-up aggression and manipulation from across a too-long table while a son sits in the middle, deadened by the crossfire. But when it is a question of keeping up the threatened illusion, the parents sit on the same side, opposite the son they need to manipulate.
The daughter is not invited into this discussion because her very nature will not allow the sham to extend to her younger brother; as is evident when she barges in. When she drops yet another cannon into the walls of their family, the space shifts again and it is now the son who takes charge and leaves to inspect the damage. Here again, the parents confront only from a distance, as disembodied harsh voices on a phone demanding that their son do the leg work.
While the parents exist on opposite poles of the family, guarding their respective ends, the children meet in the middle. They have taken up the responsibility of tending to the aftershocks. It is not the façade they concern themselves with, but the cracks on each other. They sit on the same bed, sharing the same dessert, the younger, of course, stealing from the elder. But the elder sibling cannot be vulnerable until at breaking point, and the younger sibling can do nothing to help other than stand nearby in quiet solidarity. This reverses when it is the younger whose cracks catch up to him. The elder will call him out on his conscious mistake, forcing accountability even when Kabir would rather blame it on the aftershocks.
This is why the memorable scene in the hospital room forces out the truth from the family. The tiny room is finally small enough for the family to face each other. And in crackling dialogue and wonderful performances, we see the family burst the illusion – at least amongst each other. The father and the daughter sit in silence and shock, while the mother and son scream and hurl harsh truths at each other. It's a visual picture of the nature of the family that has been hinted at throughout. Ayesha is her father's daughter, and Kabir is his mother's son. It's a delightful depiction of a clichéd truth.
It is fitting that we only really see the waters surrounding the ship in close quarters when the youngest plunges himself into it. Because if anybody could shake the family out of apathy, it had to be the member they share collective responsibility for. And now the illusion is irrelevant because someone is literally in the water. It does not matter if the ship must be traded for a raft, as long as it stays afloat and is big enough for the four.
The metaphors are brilliant, and while it is jarring to have the film be pulled sharply into the literal at the end, it is clear that it is the only jolt strong enough for the Mehras. But it isn't the easiest set of metaphors to decode, and so the fifth member of the family obliges through voiceovers: Pluto the dog. It's clear that in this film, the humans aren't the most trustworthy. And so in another cheeky metaphor, we get the truth from a species incapable of projection.