In Doordarshan, a poor imitation of Wolfgang Becker’s German movie Good Bye Lenin! (2003), the family matriarch Darshana slips into a coma and wakes up 30 years later. Much has happened in between: her school-going son Sunil (Manu Rishi Chadha) has married his childhood sweetheart Priya (Mahie Gill), they have two children who are now teenagers, and they are on the verge of a divorce. The doctor warns Sunil that Darshana (Dolly Ahluwalia) must not undergo emotional disturbances of any kind. So Sunil sets up a charade that involves pretending to still be in school, not yet married to Priya, and certainly nowhere close to fatherhood or separation.
Doordarshan, the only television network around in 1989, when Darshana went into a coma, needs to be resurrected to ensure Darshana that nothing has changed. Sunil recruits his children and their friends, none of whom know anything about the programming on the national broadcaster, to help him carry out the deception.
The premise worked beautifully in the original German movie, in which a woman slips into unconsciousness just as the Berlin Wall is about to come down and wakes up after the reunification of East and West Germany. As her children scramble to recreate a Communist way of living that has been buried under the rubble of the Wall, Good Bye Lenin! raises important questions about the dynamics of nostalgia and the relative merits of capitalism and a state-run economy and society.
None of this insight is evident in Doordarshan, which has been written and directed by Gagan Puri. The production values match the average teleserial, and the device of creating a time machine that serves as a reminder of a gentler era is barely exploited. The recreation of older news broadcasts – one of the highlights of Good Bye Lenin! – is unimaginative and barely amusing. Darshana’s inability to comprehend that everybody is vastly older than when she last saw them breaches the suspension-of-disbelief principle – all she had to do was examine her hair, which has gone white.
The movie attempts to mine humour from other sources – the romance between Sunil’s son Sunny (Shardul Rana) and his landlord’s daughter (Mehak Manwani), Sunny’s deep interest in soft-core literature, the bickering between Sunil and Priya, and Sunil’s ongoing row with his landlord (Rajesh Sharma), who is also his childhood buddy.
The acting is as loud as the humour is broad, with Dolly Ahluwalia overdoing the Punjabi grandmother from Delhi stereotype. Manu Rishi Chadha is the only member of the cast who doesn’t seem to have got the memo ordering the actors to gesticulate wildly and speak loudly. The screenplay is entirely on Sunil’s side in the matter of his divorce, with Priya coming off as an unreasonable shrew. Yet, Chadha plays his role with dignity and subtlety, providing the movie with something resembling an emotional core.