The title Dum Laga Ke Haisha has a nice ring to it. These words, commonly chanted when doing any kind of physically strenuous work, evoke an affectionate nostalgia for a time gone by a time before mobile phones took over our lives, before Google made libraries redundant, and before shiny CDs replaced those double-sided audio cassettes that we inevitably wore out from repeatedly listening to the same track over and over again.
It's that very nostalgia that writer-director Sharat Kataria's film so effortlessly taps, set as it is sometime in the mid 90s, and in Haridwar, a relatively smaller town in North India that appears virtually insulated from globalization. Ayushmann Khurrana plays Prem Prakash Tiwari, or Lappu as he's fondly called at home, a tenth-standard failed 25-year-old who sits at his father's audio cassette-repair shop listening to Kumar Sanu hits all day. He's bullied by his family into marrying an educated but rotund girl, Sandhya (newcomer Bhumi Pednekar), but he can't summon up the slightest affection for his new bride.
Kataria creates believable scenarios and gives us flesh-and-blood characters that never feel less than real. Prem is cruel to his wife, he's embarrassed to be seen with her in public, and insists that by marrying her he's ruined his life. Sandhya, refreshingly, is unapologetic about her weight, mostly confident in her own skin, and she knows how to give it right back. There are other characters too: screaming fathers, pushy mothers, opinionated aunts, and assorted friends and relatives that pop up regularly and weigh in on the 'samasya'. The script gives each of them a reason to be there, mining laughs from unexpected places. In one scene, on hearing the sound of overactive bed springs from her son's room, Prem's mother remarks to her husband: "Sayana ho gaya humra Lappu," then follows it up with the zinger: "Zara Jaya aur Rekha ko bhi bata doon, mann halka ho jayega." In another scene, a saline drip of all things becomes a source of much amusement.
It's the relationship between the protagonists however, and how that eventually changes, that is at the heart of this film. Kataria's script puts them through their paces, never rushing towards a contrived, convenient resolution. Ayushmann and Bhumi have charming chemistry, and each delivers heartfelt performances that ring true. Ayushmann plays it from the gut, never once striking a false note as the insecure young fella, bitter over being dealt an unfair hand, but who nicely transitions when he realizes he's wrong. Bhumi, meanwhile, steals the film with an assured turn, effortlessly making you care for Sandhya, without ever reducing her to a slobbering, self-pitying caricature.
Dum Laga Ke Haisha sucks you into its world with well-etched characters, beautiful cinematography, perfectly detailed production design, and a host of fine actors - including Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa, and Sheeba Chadda - who add to the film's authenticity. Music plays an important role too, as highlighted in one lovely scene where Prem and Sandhya switch between popular Hindi film numbers on the transistor to convey their respective moods. Anu Malik and lyricisit Varun Grover deliver some winning tracks, nicely rendered by Kumar Sanu, who isn't merely a reference in the film but whose presence hangs over the picture throughout.
Simple and breezy, while at the same time evocative of life in small-town India, Dum Laga Ke Haisha is a charming film that you really shouldn't miss. I'm going with three-and-a-half out of five.