I'm assuming by now that everyone knows what Dasvidaniya is about: Amar Kaul (Vinay Pathak) finds out he's going to die, and champion list-maker that he is, is persuaded by himself ('I am You', as Amar-with-hair, looking like Shakti Kapoor, says) to make a different kind of list: a wish list instead of the quotidian ones he's spent his life making.
Topping the list of Things To Do Before I Die is (1) Car, followed by (2) Foreign Travel and only at (3) Neha. For this I am grateful. Because there's plenty to be annoyed about with the film. Shall I just list 'em out, since I'm not in the mood for reasoned exposition?
- Exposition. Let's start there. How does a filmmaker start the film with bad news without having spent any time making the audience care for the character? Unless, that is, you feel an instant bond with Amar because - like you - he also lists out the things that need doing around the house, or turns out to be the guy everyone bumps into on the train, or over whose head co-workers talk. I mean, sure - he's a regular guy. That's been established. Why should I care because he's going to die in three months' time? I don't. Not really, not unless I've just been reading Donne.
- Lists. This is my biggest problem with the film. Because, like Amar, the filmmaker has been unable to resist ticking off things he's accomplished in the course of the film, which, with a litle luck, ought to have everyone weeping and laughing (I'll come to the latter in a bit). So you have Special Effects Moments, Foreign Locations, The Big Breakdown Scene, Lip-Synch Song, Pop Culture References, etc etc etc. As Amar goes through his remaining three months ticking off things on his list, we spend two hours watching the director putting neat ticks against some list of his own he undoubtedly had stashed away.
- Pop culture references are all very well when there's some way to recast them or claim them for your own in some new way. Otherwise they advertise nothing except the scriptwriters' gaucherie. And if all dialogue writers are going to be quoting Deewar all the time what will future generations quote? (Not Dasvidaniya. That's for certain.)
- Those special effects? The first time we see Amar the Second, the original number has this towel on his shoulder. Now, I know dialogues are frequently cut with the non-speaking character slightly in frame and in this case - both characters being the same actor - that poses some problems for the special effects folks, but does the object in the frame have to be a blur of towel?
- End title gimmickry. This bit actually annoyed me the most and made me pretty angry. The actors were all asked, as the titles rolled by on the right, what they would do if they found out that they only had three months to live. One of the more fatuous answers was Suchitra Pillai's (with her thumb unaccountably held up in a gesture of enthusiasm) saying that she would spend it with her friends, those she has known since childhood or some such thing. Others said they would do things for their parents; do exactly as Amar had in the film; travel to a place they'd never been before. Stuff like that.
- Which brings me what makes me livid: the characters and the director clearly had no conception of how somebody with a death sentence hanging over their head will behave. A real, imminent end - not a theoretical one which all of us live under. They have no deeply felt, empathetic position from which to operate or act or speak. This is the problem with the film. Everyone breezes through it as if to say, look what a wonderfully different idea we have, as if to have the idea is sufficient cause for congratulation. Bah. And what does Amar do? SPOILER ALERT! Naturally, the grand gesture: he leaves everyone a gift before he dies: his new car for his guitar teacher; the flat for rent to the girl who sold him the car, because she and her boyfirend are looking for a place to rent (where will his beloved mother for whom he sang that lip synch song go? Oh - naturally to live with the long-lost brother whom we didn't see until well after the interval, but about who's history we learn in the space of two minutes with some very comprehensive dialogues); and other such sentimental bequests. It makes me want to puke.
- But why grumble all the time? Let's end this with a Fun Moment which even in the midst of death we can find if only we look hard enough. So during this scene where Amar and his brother are on his balcony discussing the view, someone in the audience gets a call which she takes. And because she is talking loudly, aunty-lady in the row in front of her asks her to shut up. "Please go outside. Why did you come here if you have to talk about work during a film?" (Or some such). "Bunking work and coming to mutter mutter mutter." "I'm not bunking work!" "Then why..." At which point the audience, which has, as one person, turned to watch this exchange, bursts into laughter*. We turn back and see that Amar has died in the meanwhile and there is his picture all garlanded and everyone in white (does everyone here possess an all white ensemble ready for such emergencies? Or all black, as the case may be? Films always have people who do. Saris without the tiniest trace of coloured embroidery; salwar kurtas Nirma-bright and as plain as somebody's nose.) Unfortunately, our badly behaved audience didn't fall into a shocked silence. They continued to giggle and make ribald comments through the scene and the film which, mercifully, ended soon after.
- Which brings me to the question: if some, at least, of this film was supposed to be funny - and I'm not convinced that it was meant to be funny; I think it achieved funniness inadvertently - why can we not do black humour? This was a perfect - now lost - opportunity for it.