Great Indian Middle Class Entertainer
Do Dooni Char
Director: Habib Faisal
Actors: Rishi Kapoor, Neetu Kapoor
Mujhe maloom hai kitni chadar phailani chahiye,” cautions Mrs Duggal, abridging a popular metaphor that’s traditionally defined the self-satisfied Indian middleclass – ‘Jitni lambi chadar ho, utna hi payr pheilao (Stretch you legs, depending on the size of your bed-sheet). Live within your salaried means.
Money at a home like the Duggals’ is a plant to bring good luck. It usually hangs from the corner of the balcony. “Rs 7,600 in income tax returns” is both cause for celebration and serious discussion over what to buy. The young daughter eyes an iPod. They could do with a new refrigerator.
Mr Duggal, I suppose, can curtail his expenses. The generation after his – his children, of a new consumerist India – is unlikely to buy austerity for an advice. Duggal saab is a teacher in high school -- mustachioed, belly hanging loose from his waist; always in half-sweater he probably shopped from Delhi’s Lajpat or Sarojini Nagar. He takes coaching classes in claustrophobic rooms to pay for his kids’ 'first class English schools' -- no compromises there.
Lunch for him is a plastic 'tiffin carrier' his wife packs in the morning. Milton water bottle hangs around his neck at picnics and vacations. Being a guru of mathematics, his English fails him when he addresses the class, especially when angry: “Both of you three, stand up.” You've heard this joke. I’m certain Mr Duggal has taught you in school as well (I had one called Mr Meghlani). Resonance is complete. As is delight in the mundane.We spend years with such teachers, and move on, forgetting they’re still there. They may not make much money. Some earn far more respect in return. Duggal rightly says his hands have turned out engineers and MBAs who take home Rs 1.5 lakh for starting salaries. He can't even afford a car the size of a matchbox. Times have truly changed.
Mr Duggal’s Bajaj (scooter) now leaves his body open, in public, to humiliating gaze from neighbours and relatives. Economics alone defines stature. There's something eternally liberating about a “people's car”. Hitler knew this. So did Sanjay Gandhi. Ratan Tata recently figured this out. Mr Duggal's made up his mind to buy himself a car, come what may. The means to acquire one is an issue, and this film’s phenomenally entertaining, innately charming premise, executed brilliantly by some of the finest actors on screen and a surprisingly self-assured debutant director.
Hindi cinema had a delightful phase of the Great Indian Middle Class Family Entertainer in the '70s: films like Chupke Chupke, Golmaal, Baaton Baaton Mein, Ek Chhoti Si Baat.... Movie buffs still take pride in recounting the number of times they’ve watched those subtle comedies on quirks of the common man. Dibakar Bannerjee’s Khosla Ka Ghosla and Rajkumar Hirani’s filmography so far (Munnabhai 1, 2; 3 Idiots) are close approximations of that genre. But these movies are too few and far between.
A reason the Great Indian Middle Class Entertainer doesn’t quite exist now is the same as this film’s sweetly addressed point. There is no such thing as the self-sufficient Indian middle class anymore. Each stratum merely aspires for the next. Honesty isn’t as much a prized virtue. Consumer is king. Respect lies in the eyes of the ambitious neighbour.
Your heart then goes out to the Duggals. And everything we’ve lost. Dig into this family. And this film, for sure. You won’t be disappointed. It's full-on paisa vasool, since that's what you want to hear!