Dasvidaniya (more aptly titled as 10 Things To Do Before I Die,) tries very hard but fails to move you at any level whatsoever. It may be because it is helmed by a first time director, a fact that becomes painfully obvious as the movie unfolds. Indian cinema has seen an amazing surge in the quantity of atypical, anti-Bollywood Hindi films in the last two years. However, this knowledge is not always received with as much celebration as it should, mainly because of the quality of these films. Dasvidaniya is the latest entrant to the fold. There is no denying the sincere attempt to make a unique, independent film by the people behind it, but the final product comes across as amateurish, muddled, and laborious.
The directorís inexperience shows in the handling of a plot that has so much promise. You can see that at a script level, this film would have been a terrific prospect. The premise of a dying man who decides to live the last three months of his life like he never has brings forth visions of a warm, intimate, intelligent film, shorn of melodrama, and yet poignant enough to touch you at the end of it. And the film sets out trying to achieve exactly this. But it is let down woefully by its writers. The screenplay and dialogue are the villains, and they fail miserably to raise the plot and the performances to the required level, often irksomely attempting to disguise random† as quirky. The foreign trip sequence is an excellent example of this. You are flabbergasted as you see the pathetic attempt to create a love story between Amar Kaul and a Russian hooker without any setup, twist, or explanation. Vinay Pathak wanting to commit suicide at this point in the film is inexplicable, the hooker saving him and seducing him is incomprehensible, and the way their love story develops (and finishes, in less than 5 minutes), is insipid and inexcusable. The writer of the film said that they wanted Amarís love interest to be someone totally different from him, hence the hooker. And Russian, because it would give them great cinematic opportunity to show how love overcomes the language barrier. But I think this part of the film is screenplay at its most uncreative, and we are fortunately spared the dialogue because it is Russian (with no subtitles, thank god). Truly, there is nothing cinematic about it.
The first half is not all bad. With news of his impending death changing Amarís perspective on life, the director Shashant Shah employs a series of characters and sub-plots, masked as the list of 10 things he wants to do before his death. In trying to break free from the shackles of his mundane lists and chores, he follows this list to the tee, and this plot irony is one of the rare moments of wit the film shows. But while Amarís character is bound by this obedience to his list, the filmmaker need not have been. Unfortunately, he ends up being trapped in it as well. It would have been ok to use the first few items that Amar ticks off as setup for the second half, and one would have really hoped that the director would break away from this treatment and avoid the predictability to the proceedings, which eventually seeps in and eats away all possible interest and anticipation as the film labors to its obvious end. But the narrative stays unflinchingly linear, the graph stays perfectly flat, and the film unfolds exactly in the fashion and with the events that you had guessed in the first 20 minutes of the film. And this may even have been acceptable if the treatment of the narrative could have been fresher, but it isnít. It is no doubt a difficult ask for a first timer, but the sad fact is that even an attempt is not made to do anything about it. Situations like this demand creativity and original thinking, and a great deal of insight to overcome, and Dasvidaniya seems bereft of these most of the times.
Similarly, it has to be said that though not entirely successful in its execution, the plot did demand a very delicate handling of the primary emotional strand Ė it couldnít be mawkish, and it needed to use comedy very subtly to elevate the underlying sadness of Amarís track. That the film stays shorn of high emotion all the way through, and relies a great deal on humor to traverse through the narrative is credit to the director. But he often misses the obvious emotional high points in trying to balance this, and this takes away from any empathy that could have been built with Amarís situation. An example of this is when his mom discovers the truth about Amarís condition, at the very point where he and his brother have overcome years of bitterness. This was an obvious situation for a film to hit an emotional note, but it is followed up by a supposedly funny scene where she takes him to a tantrik who beats him up in an effort to get rid of his cancer. The director missed an obvious trick at this juncture to redeem the film of its blandness, and it is in these and other such instances that you feel a more experienced director could have handled it much better.
Technically, the film is below par on most counts. But the most noticeable letdown, especially in a film like this, is the lead performance. Vinay Pathak has been a phenomenon in the independent film business, and has been a very natural and convincing actor in his recent films, be it as a lead role or as a support character. But his portrayal of Amar Kaul in his own production is an affected, almost artificial performance, and is a let down by his own standards. You always feel he is trying to act too much, trying to put too much in his character, and this takes away from the easy charm that he has always lent to his roles. Whatever may be the reason, his Amar Kaul fails to move you consistently through the film, and is a major reason why the film doesnít work. Sarita Joshi as his mother, and Gaurav Gera as his brother do their bit, as do all the many other support characters in the film. But it is ultimately Vinay who is present in every scene of the film except the last (physically, at least), and for once he is not able to support the weight of this responsibility.
I am not sure why the film was called Dasvidaniya. There is absolutely no reference to Russia Ė literally, in the plot, or any contextual, oblique reference of any sort. Sure, the protagonist Amar Kaul visits a ďforeignĒ land, but since you see more Korean people on the trip then any other, and the name of the country is neither mentioned nor any attempt is made to indicate what it could be, we are sadly left to our own mechanisms to take a dart at it. To top it all, the trip isnít even a turning point or significant part of the film, making you wonder even more whether the name was an arbitrary decision, probably a marketing gimmick to draw audience. At the end, it just adds to the irritation.
Inspite of its weaknesses, one would hope that the film does well, and that the honest nature of its appeal connects with enough people for it be considered a worthwhile investment Ė in money and vision. For it is important that filmmakers and films like these be encouraged, because while one may criticize the film, the effort needs to be applauded, as do the intentions. It takes many wrongs to make a right, and even with its shortcomings, it will hopefully contribute to yet another step forward for Hindi cinema.