With Do Dooni Chaar, Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhi's middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

“I’ve been conscious that my Delhi should be accessible to all,” says filmmaker Habib Faisal. “It should not be an inside joke between me and the characters in my head.”

Devansh Sharma January 22, 2022 09:21:33 IST
With Do Dooni Chaar, Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhi's middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor in Do Dooni Chaar

In the limited series #DilliDelhi, Devansh Sharma talks to scriptwriters and filmmakers who have explored the city of Delhi, in all its eccentricities, intricacies, and complexities, through their films.

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A curious thing happened in 2010: Delhi — whose depictions in Hindi cinema were hitherto restricted to romanticised versions of the old city — had a different side exposed. Two films, both produced under the same banner, showcased a Delhi that was at once brash, edgy, and borderline outlandish.

Habib Faisal’s Do Dooni Chaar and Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baaraat had characters and worlds that were instantly recognisable, yet had remained strangely unexplored by Hindi cinema till then. Prior to 2010, only Dibakar Banerjee could project Delhi with all its quirks, in Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Khosla Ka Ghosla. Yash Raj Films then paved the way for the ‘small town Delhi’ template with its two 2010 blockbusters.

With Do Dooni Chaar Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhis middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma in Band Baaja Baarat

“I think the fun part about making Band Baaja Baaraat, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl (2011), and Fan (2016) was that I was working with someone who was equally in love with Delhi. Maneesh and I were both clear that we didn’t want our characters to be caricatures, and that we wished to go beyond the Delhi of yore on screen,” says Habib Faisal, who made his directorial debut with Do Dooni Chaar, a film that revolves around a Delhi school teacher’s dilemma over accepting a bribe from a student in exchange for granting grace marks in the Class 10 board examinations. 

“My dad was a teacher in Bhopal. When we moved to Delhi, he started working at the NCERT. He is a co-writer of the NCERT Medieval History book. He was a product of Bhopali fursat. He had socialist leanings, and he loved having ‘bourgeois vs proletariat’ conversations with his peers,” says Faisal. “We led a life of needs, more than aspirations. Like every child of a middle-class family, I took his simple life as lack of ambition.”

Fursat’ is what Faisal misses the most about Delhi. The luxury of time. Time to access information. Time to keep an eye on what one’s peers were wearing. For eating. For driving. Or to learn more about how society functioned, or to educate oneself of the evils of consumerism. 

In the consumerist jungle that was Delhi, Faisal grew up to be a non-conformist. He attributes his socialist leanings partly to his education in Kirori Mal College and partly, his father’s political orientation.

“The idea of Do Dooni Chaar was actually triggered by a newspaper report announcing the arrival of the Tata Nano car. The headline was something like, 'Now, the car is in everyone’s reach.'

I just wondered what this compulsion of buying a car was. It took me back to my childhood when my father bought our first Fiat car,” recalls Faisal.

With Do Dooni Chaar Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhis middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

Still from Do Dooni Chaar

Economic realities (albeit of a booming economy) are reflected in Band Baaja Baaraat as well, which Faisal wrote and Maneesh Sharma directed. While remembering the 2008 financial slowdown, Delhi’s now-recovering upper middle-class was once again willing to invest in weddings and other social affairs. “This shift was shown through just one line in the film. When Bittoo (Ranveer Singh) and Shruti (Anushka Sharma) propose to plan the wedding for a Janakpuri family, the customer argues, ‘Yahan toh sab gharwale hi mil ke kar lete hain’, to which Bittoo says, ‘Arey jitne paise lagaoge usmei, wo humey de dena’. My only question is — why? You can teach 500 underprivileged children with that much money!”

Despite their message, Faisal’s films have not been preachy. Rather, they are peopled by memorable characters. Bandra boy Ranveer Singh turned into a Dilli ka launda overnight in the minds of millions who watched his uninhibited act in Band Baaja Baarat. Catchphrases like ‘bread pakode ki kasam’, ‘karchhitod khaana,’ and ‘binness’ had an instinct connect.

“I think it was also because Ranveer approached his character with a lot of fursat. He went on the recce with us in Delhi University. He befriended a student called Dahiya, and spent days with him, even sitting with him during classes!” says Faisal.

For Do Dooni Chaar, Faisal wanted his Mr Duggal to have a "pleasant grumpiness." "Since the account was semi-autobiographical, I had a visual of my father riding a scooter, while casting Mr Duggal. He was as roly-poly, or perhaps a little less so, as Rishi Kapoor. The Duggals could’ve easily been Khans but then I would’ve had to place them in Old Delhi, and revisiting the ‘romance of Purani Dilli’ was what I was trying to avoid," Faisal says.

Since he spent his formative years in Jangpura, Faisal was surrounded by a lot of Punjabis. “The texture of the Punjabi language always fascinated me. There was a teacher in Delhi Public School that I had a massive crush on. Her name was Mrs Duggal. And that is how the name (for my characters) stuck,” he shares.

With Do Dooni Chaar Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhis middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

Neetu and Rishi Kapoor in Do Dooni Chaar

It was a challenge for him to get Rishi Kapoor and wife Neetu Kapoor, who had spent all their lives in Mumbai, to become familiar with the quintessentially Delhi characters he had in mind. “I insisted that we do script reading sessions on the set in Delhi right before we start the shoot. Since they were surrounded by a huge crew of Delhi people, they picked up their mannerisms and nuances, and used them in their performances. When I’m in Delhi, my Dilliness erupts! I’m sure they picked a thing or two from me too,” Faisal says, laughing.

Faisal has to be responsible in giving life to the chaotic characters that crowd his mind, in as authentic a manner as possible. At the same time, he must ensure they are familiar to viewers who are not well-versed with the milieu. “I’ve been conscious that my Delhi should be accessible to all,” he says. “It should not be an inside joke between me and the characters in my head.”

Read more from the Dilli-Delhi series here.

With Do Dooni Chaar Habib Faisal captured the spirit of Delhis middle class bouncing back from 2008 recession

Dilli-Delhi. Illustration by Poorti Purohit

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