दिल बोले हड़िप्पा
Romances and sports stories are challenging for storytellers. When the conclusion is foregone - the couple will get together, the underdog hero will win the big game in the final play - it's no mean feat to keep the audience engaged and even in suspense. Dil bole hadippa ("My heart cries hooray"), with the dual freight of being both romance and sports movie, succeeds triumphantly. Delightful, funny, and sweet, this charming film had me on the edge of my seat - and grinning like a dope - right up until the very last ball.
Veera Kaur (Rani Mukherjee) is a peppery Punjabi girl with a big dream: to play real competitive cricket. She bets visitors to her dusty village pitch that they can't bowl her out before she hits six consecutive sixers - and she wins those bets, too, even against male professional all-rounders. In nearby Amritsar, Vicky Singh (Anupam Kher), runs a cricket team who annually play a symbolically-charged cross-border match against a Pakistani team. Singh, crestfallen when the Tigers lose that match for the ninth year in a row, imports his son Rohan (Shahid Kapoor) - a professional cricketer who has lived most of his life in London - to take over the team and train them to finally beat the Pakistani rivals. Veera, confident that she's as good a player as there is, longs to try out for the team, but gets rudely turned away - no girls allowed. That night, the lead actor in her uncle's dance troupe turns up too drunk to perform, and Veera is pressed into service as his understudy, donning his costume and performing as a lusty young Punjabi man. After the show, as Veera removes her turban and peels off her mustache, inspiration strikes - if girls aren't welcome on the cricket pitch, she'll just have to be one of the guys. With a fuzzy little fake beard and her hair tied up in a turban, Veera marches into the training pitch, introduces herself as Veer Pratap Singh, and wins a place on Rohan's team. Living her dream, though, places Veera in a bit of a sticky wicket. Romance blossoms between Rohan and Veera (who he thinks is his teammate Veer's sister), and Veera has her hands full keeping the charade going as they train for the match.
Make no mistake - Dil bole hadippa is pure Yash Raj, mainstream Bollywood at its most mainstream and most Bollywood, with everything that implies, both magical and cheesy. The dramatic moments skew manipulative and trite - appeals to filial duty, religious fervor, or patriotic pride are tearfully rendered over swelling strings. And yet I watched the film - the first time through, at least - completely in the zone, and loved every second of it. No small part of that is thanks to Rani Mukherjee, who throws herself with seemingly limitless energy into a very physical performance and appears to have the time of her life doing it. She is funny and completely adorable. Shahid Kapoor is a serviceable chocolate hero - a much better than average dancer, which doesn't hurt - and their romance is sweet, a nice confection and easy to get behind. The cricket manages to be fun and suspenseful too. Despite the formulaic fetters, Dil bole hadippa hits every entertainment note just right, from Veera's stubborn vivacity to Veer's manically silly bravado, from the colorful and boisterous dance numbers (bhangra, of course) to the expansively beautiful shots of rural Punjab.
The movie steers clear of any implicit or explicit homosexual ramifications, as are common in other stories of this type from Shakespeare to Victor Victoria. For all his dewy-eyed gazing at Veera, Rohan does not show any signs of attraction to Veer (who is, in honesty, too weird to be sexually appealing to anyone). Nevertheless, there is plenty of saucy double-entendre for those who are ready and willing to look for it. In one song, Veera-in-drag brags about the boudoir prowess of Punjabi men while brandishing an enormous staff. And, as she often reminds us, Veera is a switch-hitter - meaning, of course, only that she bats both right- and left-handed - but the nudge-nudge-wink-wink is ripe for the plucking.
Veera isn't above taking advantage of being one of the fellas, either. In one scene, Rohan - angling for a date with Veera - asks Veer whether he thinks Rohan is a good-looking guy. Veera-as-Veer gives him a long, leisurely look before responding, her eyes wandering up and down lasciviously as she checks him out in a delightful renversé of the traditional male gaze. Not that there isn't plenty of the familiar of kind of male gaze - Rohan only becomes aware of his attraction to Veera after accidentally seeing her naked. More than that, Veera has a weak romantic foil in the form of the slinky, scantily-clad westernized Soniya (Sherlyn Chopra), the kind of filmi vamp who gets her own leering theme melody. While Soniya hardly turns Rohan's head for a moment and presents no real threat to Veera (who even has fun giving the vamp deliberately misguided romantic advice), the camera lingers far too long on her T & A for there to be any doubt what she's really doing in the movie.
Indeed, Dil bole hadippa is not subtle with its portrayal of the westernized vamp as shallow, cheap, and ignorant. And yet, it handles with some delicacy the question of how the girl who is supposed to represent the virtues of the seedhi-saadhi Hindustani ladki can yearn to hitch up her salwar and get out on the pitch. Veera's speech at the film's climax drives home the movie's very important point, a rich nugget of substance that floats there in the tasty filmi froth: it's possible to be a true Indian woman and still crave equality and respect for one's abilities.