If recreating period detail is one of the big reasons to set a show in the past, the makers of Dil Bekaraar clearly didn’t get the memo.
Either that, or an adequate budget. The limited series, which is out on Disney+ Hotstar, has shoddy production values and fails to transport us to 1988, the age of telegrams, landlines and cathode ray tube television sets that had only Doordarshan on offer.
Indeed, in terms of its look and feel, Dil Bekaraar sometimes resembles the tacky serials that the national broadcaster aired in those years.
The nostalgia-on-skint conceit is delivered in other ways – by casting movie actors from the 1970s and 1980s, using classic Hindi film songs, and evoking a self-contained and mostly trouble-free world where the biggest headache is finding a romantic partner.
Adapted from Anuja Chauhan’s Jane Austen-mould novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Dil Bekaraar follows the Thakur clan: retired Supreme Court judge LN Thakur (Raj Babbar), his wife Mamta (Poonam Dhillon) and their daughters Debjani (Sahher Bambba), Anjini (Sukhmani Sadana), Binodini (Anjali Anand) and Eshwari (Medha Shankar).
There’s a fifth daughter, who has eloped and grievously wounded her mother, and who isn’t seen or heard in the series.
It begins when Debjani is hired to read the news on Deshdarpan (modelled on Doordarshan). Instant celebrity follows as surely as the fan mail. But Debjani’s stilted delivery irks her neighbour Dylan (Akshay Oberoi), who pours his thoughts into an anonymous column at the newspaper where he works. However, whenever he runs into the feisty Debjani, Dylan cannot help melting like Nirula’s ice cream.
Anjini is married but craves attention, while Eshwari has all the attention she needs at school, perhaps too much of it. Binodini has an inferiority complex about her Hindi medium education and is obsessed with moving up the social ladder.
The extended family includes the judge’s corrupt and lecherous brother AN Thakur (Pankaj Kalra) and his long-suffering wife Bhudevi (Padmini Kolhapure), who likes paan and profanity.
The 10-episode series has been written by Suhani Kanwar and Ruchika Roy and directed by Habib Faisal. Dil Bekaraar is always good with the light touches and intimate moments but clumsy in its portrayal of the reality that lies beyond the ex-judge’s Hailey Road bungalow. If the aim was to do little more than deliver breezy sketches that raise a smile and tug at the heart-strings, Dil Bekaraar lands right on target.
The makers do wake up every now and then to the show’s fundamentally frivolous tone. There are pointers to the present in the mutterings about media freedom, the condemnation of truth-seeking reporters as “anti-nationals” and Doordarshan’s role as a propaganda arm of the government.
Dylan, who wants to be a “serious journalist”, gets a career-defining lead into the Bhopal gas leak tragedy from 1984. Although Dylan’s investigations lead to the minister Hardik Motla (Chandrachoor Singh), this sub-plot serves at best as a distraction from the main act: will Debjani and Dylan marry?
Akshay Oberoi and Sahher Bambba work up a convincing chemistry as lovers destined to be together forever. Among the older actors who stand out are Raj Babbar, Poonam Dhillon and Padmini Kolhapure. Tej Sapru, frequently cast as a villain in 1980s films, has fun playing Dylan’s supportive father Sahas. Medha Shankar and Anjali Anand stand out in the younger lot.
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