Every once in a while there comes a film that challenges the conventions we are used to seeing in Hindi cinema. Can the male lead have a huge inferiority complex? Can the female lead not have a perfect figure? Can they have a fulfilling love story without any external threats, except their own insecurities?
Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha was one such breath of fresh air. Arguably, the last memorable love story from Yashraj, the film had just enough substance to push it above clichés, while maintaining the innocence of romance.
DLKH is about a lower-middle-class family in Haridwar that is struggling financially, and whose only son, Prem (Ayushmann Khurrana), doesn’t lead a very promising life. To boost the family fortunes, they get him married to a qualified and spirited girl, Sandhya (Bhumi Pednekar), who can contribute to the family income. Her only flaw? She’s fat. The family members don’t have a problem with this but Prem just can’t accept this. He is not highly educated or talented. He doesn’t have a bright future waiting for him. Perhaps, his only hope of victory in life was a stunning bride but that too is taken away from him. The blow throws him into a state of disarray: he is constantly aware of his wife’s weight. Even while walking through the market, he tries to maintain a distance from her so that they aren’t recognized as a couple. Finally, his suppressed feelings are given voice during a drinking session with his friends, which Sandhya overhears, sending them down the potential path to divorce. Prem channels his energy into clearing his long-due 10th grade English exam, and Sandhya focuses on weight loss. During the divorce proceedings, the court forces them to live together for six months, and during this time they discover respect for each other. This respect turns into love by the end of the film.
The most outstanding scene for me was Prem’s mental collapse in the examination hall as he tries to clear his long due 10th grade English examination. As he tries to cross the barrier that had been holding him back his whole life, the emotional turmoil proves too much for him to write a single word. He looks around and sees 16-year-olds effortlessly inking their answer sheets while not a word of the examination paper makes sense to him. He can’t take it anymore; the almost-decade long burden seems too much to bear. He realizes that clearing the exam won’t make his life any better but failing it again will only add to his long list of failures. He decides to write a note to the evaluator in Hindi, asking them to pass him out of sympathy, or else it will destroy his family. It is essentially a suicide note; he accepts his failures towards his wife, his family and himself, before submitting the answer sheet to the invigilator. It is a remarkable scene where a complete breakdown is depicted beautifully, without much dramatization.
I wondered for several days after watching the film why the director made Prem fail the examination. Why would he show us Prem diligently preparing a timetable, visiting the library to collect books and studying late into the night only to show him fail at the end of it. And then I realized that clearing the examination might further boost his sense of misplaced entitlement, which would have been the end of his marriage to Sandhya. For the relationship to work, he had to see victory in her.
What makes this film inspiring is its teaching: for the most part, happiness lies in valuing what we already have and not in fantasizing about what we could have had. In the times of social media, it is easy to get lured into the trappings of a ‘perfect life’ (the dream job, the dream girl, the dream vacation) and completely lose sight of what we have. It is this perspective that causes Prem to dismiss Sandhya as a suitable match since day one. However, as time passes, he realizes the value she could bring to his life (if he let her) and how making her happy could fill the void he has been trying to fill for years. She pushes him to participate and win the “Dum Laga ke Haisha” competition. During the race, she whispers into his ear that she doesn’t want to go to Meerut (where she has been offered a job), and instead wants to stay with him. Prem is not used to feeling wanted and realises that she makes him feel things he has never felt before.
In hindsight, this film must have been very special for a lot of people. At the time it seemed like a low-budget small-town movie, but turned out to be a tremendous feather in the cap for some of the best actors we have in the industry today: Sanjay Mishra, Seema Bhargava, Sheeba Chaddha. After Ayushmann Khurrana’s consecutive flops – Nautanki Saala, Bewakoofiyan, Hawaizada – this film helped his career up a notch as well. But the outright star of this magnificently orchestrated narrative was Bhumi Pednekar. I can’t recall a more impactful debut in recent times. Playing the unconventional role of an overweight leading lady must have been daunting but Bhumi embodied the role like a seasoned professional. The icing on the cake was Kumar Sanu – it was so refreshing to hear his voice on-screen, amidst the sea of Mika and Honey Singh songs at the time! Dum Laga Ke Haisha is truly a gem.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.