Set in 1980s Delhi, 'Dil Bekaraar' follows the affluent Thakur family. (Image: Screen grab)
Anuja Chauhan’s autobiographical novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls was first adapted for television as Dilli Wali Thakur Girls in 2015. In its newest version, the book has been developed into a series titled Dil Bekaraar. With Ishaqzaade and Do Dooni Chaar director Habib Faisal at the helm, the 10-part romantic comedy is now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Set in 1980s Delhi, the story follows the affluent Thakur family, in particular the relationship between newsreader Debjani and crusading journalist Dylan, played by Sahher Bambba and Akshay Oberoi, respectively. The cast also includes Raj Babbar, Poonam Dhillon, Padmini Kolhapure and Chandrachur Singh.
Faisal, Chauhan, Singh, Oberoi and Bambba spoke about the book, its screen version and the joy of recreating the 1980s. Excerpts:
Anuja, what is it like for you to see actors take on characters you imagined and described on paper? How different are they to how you envisaged them?
Anuja: It is a little disconcerting, but you have to trust the director’s vision. If you look at Chachiji, for example - for me, Chachiji was a little bulldog of a woman following her husband around but Padmini Kolhapure has played it so differently to how I visualised her but she is cute and has really pulled it off. Sahher is such a revelation and such a good Debjani. All the girls are good. Akshay Oberoi has been given a character arc, so he becomes the Dylan from the book at the end of the book. In the beginning he is a bit of a chalu fellow but he does have a graph, which is something the director has brought in.
Habib, what was it like recreating the 1980s and the world of news television of the time?
Habib: That was one of the things that attracted me to this project. I was a cameraman for NDTV from 1995 to 2000 but before that I had been associated with Doordarshan as a freelancer. And while a student at Jamia Millia (university), I did radio programmes for AIR and stuff. In the show the channel is called Desh Darpan, which is the only channel of the time.
It sounds nostalgic.
Habib: Nostalgia is when something is kind of sepia toned which is why my brief was let’s not do this hazy, sepia toned thing. It's the present time for that story. So we wanted it to be as vibrant and contemporary as it would be in the '80s. It’s retro because it is set in the '80s, but obviously the story is happening for us real time as we're watching it.
How do you then take something that is set in the ’80s and make it relatable for millennials and Gen Z?
Habib: Because emotions are universal and the conflicts are the same. The one big difference is modes of communication, modes of transport, and yes, romance was more of a slow burn.
Akshay, had you read ‘The Pricey Thakur Girls’?
Akshay: I only read it after the shoot but of course I knew about the book. When I met Habib for the show, I knew there would be a whole new take on the story. He didn't want me to read the book either.
Do you have any memories of the 1980s?
Akshay: My memories are mostly of the 1990s. Working with Habib the thing is he doesn't let you go. He reiterates everything and ensures you have got it into your head, sometimes to the point of frustration. But if it wasn't for how hard he works and how hard he worked with us, I am not sure we would have got into that space. Someone like Habib makes it so easy for you to be ready for game day.
In the show people have dinner table conversations. That’s the stark difference between those days and the present - the lack of technology. Nowadays people are constantly on their cell phones, typing away or scrolling Instagram. If you ported the same scene to 2021, you would have to show listening to something with bluetooth headphones or typing on a screen. In Dil Bekaraar, people talk a lot. Also, the love story develops at a different pace because you could not say I will go home and text those feelings out. You have to speak them out. That's captured in the show as well.
Sahher, you are just 22 years old. Did you turn to your parents for tips on that time period?
Sahher: Yes, I spoke to my parents at length about the '80s and watched videos, especially as I am playing a newsreader. So I needed to learn about the clothes, how they articulated, and their body language. Habib sir shared many videos with me.
The main thing I noticed is things were so much slower before. Everything is so fast-paced now.
Akshay, what was it like stepping into the shoes of heartthrob Dylan?
Akshay: Luckily I found out what a heartthrob he is and what a popular character he is only afterwards because I might have botched it up badly otherwise. I look so different from how Dylan has been described in the book. I was instantly attracted to the material and knew the character was very interesting. Also I have not done something like this in a very long time - perhaps not since Isi Life Mein, 10 years ago. And when that didn't work, I ran off and did a bunch of things that were offbeat and different and tried to prove myself in other ways. So when this came along, I got so excited. I hope this one actually works, unlike the last one.
Chandrachur, what did you enjoy most about playing a politician?
Chandrachur: The character is someone who believes he is a patriot. He believes he is doing the right thing but he is probably detrimental to his own country. One is playing a grey character, almost like the antagonist of the show, and it was interesting to do something new. There are certain things you can’t do in real life. I could tap into the dark side and express myself in reel life in a way that I can’t in real life. An actor keeps certain things for the screen, which can be cathartic.
If you could take one thing from the 1980s and bring it into 2021, what would it be?
Akshay: Gold Spot! Come back, Gold Spot. It’s such a good drink. Sahher didn't even know what Gold Spot was, till she saw it on set.
Sahher: For me, it would be reducing dependence on cell phones. Now everyone is so addicted to their phones. And maybe bring back Gold Spot.
Udita Jhunjhunwala is an independent film critic, lifestyle writer, author and festival curator. She can be found on Twitter @UditaJ and Instagram @Udita_J