At first thought, it seemed plausible that Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s tone would be primarily defensive. Thankfully, it isn’t. Dum Laga Ke Haisha hits all the right notes: it is not too loud, nor is it too spread-out. It is neat and light-hearted, and not vehement, and nor is it explicitly brave. There is no angry undercurrent to the film, no disguised men-hating agenda that sublimely informs it, but instead lots of warm humour and emotion that makes it altogether engaging and enlightening.
A small-town boy from Haridwar, Prem Prakash Tiwari (Aayushman Khurrana) is forced to get married. Because he is basically unemployed and degree-less, his value in the marriage ‘market’ has enabled him to procure an equally ‘valueless’ woman, Sandhya Verma (Bhumi Pednekar), who is educated, wants to be a school-teacher, and is fat. Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a humorous coming of age story of two characters that ultimately learn of acceptance, humility and love through their mutual conflict.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a true encapsulation of the current traditional Indian marriage market in India. It is a market in which women are traded as goods between earning men, valued according to their assets such as beauty, ‘acchab swabhaav’ (‘good’, or non-rebellious, temperament), dowry and family status. Obviously, a woman as independent, educated and fat as Sandhya figures relatively low in such a scenario. But one of the best aspects of this movie is that Sandhya never suffers from an inferiority complex because of her ‘defects’. She is confident of her physical beauty, sexually assertive, intelligent and a fighter. And most importantly, she isn’t shameful of her excessive weight.
On the opposite pole is Prem, who is aimless, directionless, and simply lost. He is depicted as a shallow man, angry at his father for not guiding him properly while hypocritically putting in no effort come out of his stagnant situation too. He definitely suffers an inferiority complex, which explodes when he squirms with jealousy watching his engineer friend land a beautiful wife.
The parts wherein Sandhya is rejected by her in-laws, and most cruelly by her husband, were aimed to move women, and probably induce guilt in those who have ever shamed a woman for being fat. What becomes evident is that Prem is not only angry with her, he is also (very) angry with himself. Thus, the story is essentially not of Sandhya and her weight-issues; she is, from the very beginning, a strong, mature and driven woman. It is about Prem, and his growth as a person. And thus the movie’s title is directed towards him – Dum Laga Ke Haisha, or ‘give it all you’ve got’. Carrying Sandhya on his back and winning a racing competition, and accepting her as his wife, is Prem’s ultimate victory over his demons. However, Sandhya functions as his pillar of strength and his motivating force. Besides, Sandhya had a promising career to look forward to, and wasn’t too upset about not being married: she was never truly losing anyways.
The reason Dum Laga Ke Haisha is balanced and un-provocative is because it is laced with light-hearted humour and it doesn’t preach. It simply presents a problem and its happy resolution, making it pleasantly conventional. Bhumi Pednekar’s honest, unpretentious and effective portrayal of Sandhya is admirable, as is that of Aayushman Khurrana’s. Perhaps one critique that can be levelled against the movie is with respect to its message: there are times when it does seem like Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a deceptive propaganda to make men like Prem study and work harder in order to escape marital doom with a fat wife. But, this is balanced by the fact that it shows how women can escape this de-humanising market by also studying harder and getting a job. Also, is it probable that, after watching this movie, a fat woman will be accepted with more grace; is Dum Laga Ke Haisha’s primary message coming through? Perhaps it would be better to ultimately focus on Sandhya’s accomplishments, and not her figure.
By Ananya Tiwari