A hilarious situational comedy with moments of important social messages is the kind of niche that Ayushman Khurana has aced and Dream Girl is one of them. Ayushman Khurana’s movies are real entertainers but with transcendent concepts and messages. His recent hit Dream Girl, has already earned 100 crores in revenue, it is yet another “different” movie that widens the scope of Bollywood by addressing varied social and personal issues that are normally ignored or hushed. Besides, the way the actors have portrayed their characters, adds to the realistic effects of the movie that is very much drawn from the issues of everyday lives.
The Plot of the movie
The movie portrays the double and contradictory life of Mr Karamjeet Singh, played by Ayushman Khurana, who has a talent of impersonating women. To earn some money, he plays the role of Sita and Radha in the local plays during festivals. However, his widowed father, played by Anu Kapoor, wants him to take up a “real job” and Karamjeet agrees with him. But, he ends up at a call centre where he is hired as a caller named Pooja who entertains her listeners through sex talks. The double life of Karam, as a romantic man with a fiancé, Mahi (Nushrat Bharucha) and a caller named Pooja with a sexy voice that has driven her listeners eager to either meet or marry her, brings issues to Karam’s personal life. Neither does his father nor his fiancé Mahi are aware of his double life and what would be their reaction when they come to know?
Within the plotline of youth desperate to earn money ends up doing a job that is not “real” and acceptable in the society, the movie addresses many issues and slips in subtle comments and messages of gender roles, sexuality, ageism, inter-caste marriage and loneliness and social media.
The subtle comments on gender roles
The title of the movie, “Dream Girl”, immediately reminds us of Hema Malini’s beauty in her movie Dream Girl years ago. The idea of a dream girl takes us to the fantasy of that perfect girl who is beautiful beyond reality. This idea has a radical shift when the “Dream Girl” in the movie is actually a man impersonating a woman’s personality. It is from here that the movie tries to blur the gender boundaries and gender roles prescribed by society for a particular sex.
A dream girl that has been the fantasy of many callers/lovers of Pooja is actually a man dealing with the real world crisis of career and money. This overturns the concept of beauty and tenderness always assigned to a woman. The beautiful and dreamy voice of Pooja is the modulated voice of a man. This underscores the subtle message that a man and a woman cannot be judged only on the basis of their sex and gender. Their individual choices define and differentiate their identity. A man behind a woman’s voice doesn’t mean he is less masculine or vice versa. It is his choice, talent or in a far-reaching perspective, his transgender identity. The fact that Karam plays the role of Sita does not change the mythological virtues of Sita. The Ramayan still remains the same because Sita was known for her loyalty and bravery and not for her gender.
The switching of gender roles need to be normalized and this is what the movie tries to portray. The way Karam fears the fact that Mahi would break up with him or his father would not like his job shows the real picture of society. Had the gender-switching been normal in society, whether for livelihood or forever, Karam would have excelled in his job with his exceptional talents without any hesitation.
Though the movie brings out this sensitive yet important perspective, the theme of gender-switching resides in the background to some extent. The movie that dealt with the situational comedy based on gender-switching themes, which is a common trope of comedy used in movies like Aunty No.1, Chachi 420, could not go beyond the comic effect of it. It rather has a flat or generalized ending about loneliness and social media. The movie could have furthered the debate of gender roles by making it more visible and not lost in the various other issues the movie deals with. The concept of Pooja being a man is suddenly mystified by the fact that modern people are lonely and are trapped in their personal issues.
Ageism and intercaste marriage
The movie to some extent seems to be ageistic, stereotyping and making fun of the fact that old man too can have desires. Karam’s Father played by Anu Kapoor is a lonely widower and one of the callers and admirers of Pooja. When Karam gets to know about this, he is shocked and tries all ways to discourage his father to let go his feelings as he is old and not fit for Pooja, a woman of his son’s age.
However, it cannot be ignored that Karam was never against his father’s remarriage and rather encouraged him. He expresses his concern for his father when he feels sorry and proud that his father managed to live his life alone, without his mother, and never complained about it. In fact, Karam’s anxiety and efforts to discourage his father is more from the fact that this union was not possible and that his father will be badly disappointed.
In an effort to curb the feelings of a father for Pooja, Karam tries to bring in the taboo of intercaste marriage as a barrier. Belonging from a Brahman’s family, his father would have never agreed to marry a Muslim girl. Interestingly, the way Karam tries to explain his father about the issue of inter-caste marriage is actually confusing because his small speech about inter-caste marriage was about how it is not a barrier in love. Paradoxically, Karam ends up convincing his father to accept inter-caste marriage despite his staunch religious beliefs. The movie hence proves that inter-caste or inter-religious marriage should never be an obstacle in love.
The movie presents both subtle and clear reference to homosexuality. The anti-men feminist, who had a bad experience of three failed relationship with men, is attracted and finds solace in Pooja. The journalist even confesses that she loves Pooja. Besides this direct reference to homosexuality, which however does not work out as Pooja is not real, there is a subtle idea of male homosexuality also. When men get attracted to Pooja, they are attracted to a man who can fake a woman’s voice. Besides, when Karam reveals that Pooja is a man, there is at least an exposure to the idea of a man falling in love with another man. The feelings do not just go away though it might change tracks after the revelation. At least the possibility of a man admiring another man who is compassionate and ready to listen is slightly opened and this is a big step for Bollywood movies that conform to stereotypes.
Loneliness and social media fake friends
The multiple issues that the movie addresses, a message on loneliness and fake social media identity gives it a rather flat and generalized ending. However, the message kind of fits into the plot and does not seem so much out of the blue. The very concept of the existence of a call centre that talks needed and lonely people into sublime happiness, is a sign of loneliness and stress in modern life. All the callers/admirers of Pooja are of different ages tackling with their own issues in the modern world.
There is a prodigal son of rich parents, who despite every sort of happiness at his disposal, is unhappy and lonely. He finds a friend and lover in Pooja who listens to him and understands him beyond his material life. The police official (Vijay Raaz) who is not happy in his marriage and has no listener for his shayaris, stuck in the desk of the police station which he might not even like doing, finds a compassionate listener in Pooja. He even considers to exit out of his marriage and start a new life with Pooja, whom he has not even seen or know much.
Similarly, other callers of Pooja find a companion in her who listens to them, beyond their faults and heal their loneliness. At the end of the movie, Karam rightly says that people today are dealing with loneliness and stress from personal life. They use social media to fake an identity and make fake friends to pretend that they are not alone. But, all they need is to improve their personal life, find a friend and a listener.
The movie as a whole meets the expectations
Overall, the movie is a platform on the very ground of the reality that shows the same reality but with a possibility of change. The movie is grounded in everyday reality and shows a mirror to the deep-rooted issues that were hidden or ignored. Even though the movie leaves some debates hanging, the excellent cast, a realistic plotline shown artistically, and to some extent a relevant closure as far as modern and stressful life is concerned, justifies the movie. In fact, it can be said that had the modern world be happier, destressed and satisfied with their personal life, the matter of invisible Pooja would not have stretched till utter confusions. Then, people might also be more considerate and open to new ideas like exchanging gender roles. The movie compels the viewers to accept the ending because it hits a very sensitive thread of loneliness and fake identities prominent in every individual today.
Hence it cannot be denied that ‘Dream Girl’ is one-of-its-kind of Bollywood that addresses facets of issues “forbidden” in India. The movie deserves the credit of bringing the idea of gender-switching to the forefront with a new perspective. More such transcendent concepts extracted from the ground reality is awaited in Ayushman Khurana’s next works.