Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sadder but no wiser: Dil Kabaddi and Mixed Doubles

After my post on Konkona Sen Sharma I realized that there were a number of her films that I'd never seen. Trolling through Netflix I discovered that she has appeared in not one, but two comedies of marital infidelity: Mixed Doubles (2006) and Dil Kabaddi (Game of Hearts, 2008).

Dil Kabaddi (written and directed by Anil Sharma) is the story of two married couples, both of which are thrown into crisis when one of the couples decides to separate. Samit (Irrfan Khan), freed from his "too intellectual" wife Mita (Soha Ali Khan), wastes no time in starting a torrid affair with his airheaded (and much younger) yoga instructor, Kaya (Payal Rohatgi). This causes their friends Rishi (Rahul Bose) and Simi (Konkona) to re-examine their own relationship in the light of their friends' dissatisfaction. It soon becomes clear that Rishi and Simi have been together long enough for the initial romantic impulse to have worn off and for boredom, routine and irritation to have settled in.

Both Rishi and Simi, it turns out, are conducting mild flirtations with people they know at work. Simi has been giving her handsome coworker Veer (Rahul Khanna) her poems to read (though she won't let her husband look at them because he's "too critical"), while film professor Rishi finds himself attracted to his (much younger) student Raga (Saba Azad). Meanwhile, Mita decides that what's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, and allows Simi to set her up on a date with Veer. Of course, no sooner does Samit catch wind of his wife's activities than his jealous possessiveness is aroused.

There's a certain amount of comedy wrung from Samit's ludicrous affair, Rishi's shocked titillation by Raga's sexual openness, and Mita's disastrous date. But there's a strange shift in tone that starts to occur about three-quarters of the way through the movie when we come to realize that our sympathies for every character have been called into question. By the end, the same patterns that led to the couples' crises have been re-established in both old relationships and new, and we recognize that the characters are doomed to repeat the same mistakes (or resign themselves to perpetual dissatisfaction). In the final moments of the film the only compatible couple is made up, we're told, of "predator" (her) and "prey" (him). These characters have been left sadder, but no wiser; we're left with a pretty sour taste.

If Dil Kabaddi starts out as a bedroom farce and turns into a bitter portrait of male-female relationships, Mixed Doubles (2006) follows the reverse trajectory in a way, but ends up at the same place. Thanks to the pressures of work and raising their son and the dullness of routine, Sunil (Ranvir Shorey) and Malti (Konkona) are facing a loss of desire in their eight-year marriage. Helped along by fanciful stories of the sexual escapades of his friends and coworkers, Sunil starts pressuring Malti to try partner-swapping. Of course, she's bewildered and hurt, but Sunil adopts a series of outrageously underhanded and manipulative tactics until Malti gives in. By this point Sunil is so repellent that I found myself thinking that he was going to deserve every bit of the disaster that was so clearly looming—and just as clearly, this is exactly what writer/director Rajat Kapoor wants us to feel.

The movie starts to hit its comic stride during the "date" that Sunil and Mita have with a more experienced couple, Vinod (writer/director Kapoor) and Kalpana (Koel Purie). Sunil's interaction with the wildly capricious (and capriciously wild) Kalpana is especially appalling; this is bedroom farce with a vengence. The morning after, as Sunil and Malti tentatively settle back into their former routines, their regard for one another seems to have been permanently damaged by their supposedly liberating adventure. This couple is sadder and wiser, but the wisdom has come too late.

Konkona and the other actors are excellent in both films, but I find myself unable to recommend either one. Unless, that is, you enjoy the spectacle of people who should know better causing unnecessary pain to themselves and to those that they ostensibly love.


  1. I'm with you, the fictional relating of the harm humans can inflict upon each other within and without marital bonds is far too depressing to want to sit through. I've seen Mixed Doubles on Netflix Instant Viewing but never wanted to make it all the way through--the concept's pretty distasteful despite the excellent cast.

  2. Ajnabi, "distasteful" is exactly the word. For me what makes Mixed Doubles especially so are first, that Malti is unwilling, and second, whatever damage Sunil does to his marriage by persisting with his plan is going to affect not only himself and Malti, but their child. Neither circumstance is comic in the least.

    In Dil Kabaddi, the problem is that neither couple seems much interested in improving their stale marriage. We come to feel that every character is either self-serving, exploitative, or self-deluding, and so ultimately there's nothing at stake. Again, not the best recipe for comedy.

    Infidelity, or the threat of infidelity, is the basis of some of the greatest comedies ever written, including Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. But neither Rajat Kapoor nor Anil Sharma has figured out how to make us simultaneously care about their characters and find their sexual and emotional travails to be funny.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Wow, so many good actors and we don't get a decent, light-hearted and sensible comedy without any added stress just thinking of the themes?! Not fair. :(

    Thank you for your reviews, by the way. Definitely agree with you and with Ajnabi here, nothing funny about the consequences and permanent scarring, especially.