Monday, November 17, 2008

Inappropriate Laughter: Dasvidaniya

This is not a review. Be warned. Well, it may be. Kind of. Then again, it may not.

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?

Ok, then.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
* I admit it wasn't especially witty dialogue remotely funny; it's a measure of the audience's perception of the film that they found this exchange more rivetting than what was happening on screen.

15 comments:

Falstaff said...

How does a filmmaker start the film with bad news without having spent any time making the audience care for the character?

It's not that uncommon, surely. There's Cleo from 5 to 7, and Mike Nichols' Wit, and (as I remember it, at least) Denys Arcand's Les Invasions Barbares. In all of those cases, the bad news simply sets the scene - the empathy comes afterwards, as we learn more about the character.

Space Bar said...

falsie: no, of course it's not. what i meant to say was, how does one 'successfully' do all that. it takes a certain kind of filmic skill to pull that off, which the director of this film didn't have. but i didn't make that distinction clear enough and now that you've pointed it out, of course i'm not going to change the post.

Jabberwock said...

Falsie beat me to it: how about Ikiru? (But I do agree that you mustn't change a post because of a Falstaff comment - if everyone did that the Internet would come to a swift end.)

Space Bar said...

jai: they probably watched ikiru until the dvd jumped and very possibly even then. it might account for what's missing in the fim.

Falstaff said...

SB: Ya, I figured. From your description, it sounds a lot more like they watched The Bucket List than Ikiru.

I would take umbrage at Jai's comment, except that I kind of like the idea of being able to singlehandedly bring down the Internet. Is this how Randall Munroe feels 24/7?

Space Bar said...

falsie: i feel there's an xkcd in that somewhere (the taking the internet down. not dasvidaniya as bucket list). no?

Ritu said...

LOL on the review. Now I wont see the movie. There is nothing worse than sitting through a movie not made with conviction. Am still recovering from Karzzzzzzzzz

??! said...

Falstaff's right (and how many times has the Internet heard that? (stop grinning, you aggravating man!)), this sounds suspiciously like 'The Bucket List'. Indianised, of course, but TBL nevertheless.

Ritu said...

LOL on the review. Now I wont see the movie. There is nothing worse than sitting through a movie not made with conviction. Am still recovering from Karzzzzzzzzz

km said...

I'm assuming by now that everyone knows what Dasvidaniya is about

Woah. Easy. It suddenly felt like I am back in tenth grade biology class and I am the only kid who's not ready for the test.

Space Bar said...

ritu: oh i don't know. suppose you like it?

??!: sigh. is it? i'm glad i haven't seen that one then.

km: oops! :D ok, the skinny - if you haven't already gathered - is it's about this 37 year old guy, average doormat mama's boy, who's told he has stomach cancer and who makes a list of things he wants to do before he dies, does them and dies. there you go.

Cheshire Cat said...

"Topping the list of Things To Do Before I Die is (1) Car, followed by (2) Foreign Travel and only at (3) Neha."

Until I re-read the post, I thought this was your list. Which was puzzling. And interesting.

Lekhni said...

The sideshow was somewhat funny, no? I'd have laughed too at auntie-lady's outrage at bunking work :)

Is it even possible to bunk work anymore? Even if we aren't at the office, work follows us around anywhere there's a cellphone/ blackberry. And as for her puzzlement as to why one would one get work calls on a day off - Auntie lady is quaint, don't you think? :)

Space Bar said...

cat: oh, yikes, no! bite your tongue! (glad a re-reading sorted that out, though).

lekhni: well, maybe a little. at least we all *were* laughing. i think aunty-lady was indignant about the cavalier manner in which the younger generation was treating a film about death.

Falstaff said...

km: If it's any consolation, I totally wasn't prepared for the test either; had never heard of the film.

Then again, I wouldn't have, would I? So it's more like being in eleventh grade biology class and thinking "Biology? Wait I'm commerce stream!"