A campus story set in Delhi amongst the hullabaloo of impending college elections, the film primarily deals with the friendship between Apurv (Imaad Shah), a rich 18-year old Delhi kid and Sanjay Mishra (Shreyas Talpade) who is a student leader aspiring to be the President of the college union. Between the two value systems a 'no-strings-attached' look at life as represented by Apurv and strict conservative middle-class values as represented by Sanjay who hails from Bihar and brings his attendant moral baggage, the film packs in a gallery of characters and themes and sub-plots that pep up the main plot and offers up an extremely colourful palette. Different characters are introduced in deft and swift strokes, and the director keeps on adding layers to the different relationships and main plot in an unassuming manner to the point that it looks as if nothing apparently is happening till the interval point. As a result, the first half has a rambling quality to it till the gauntlet is thrown at the interval point: Sanjay asks the libertine Apurv if he could sleep with three girls in one single day and Apurv takes up the challenge; he has just eight days till the day of the election to fulfill his challenge.
By this point the film has already introduced all the key female players - Vaishali (Smriti Mishra) a sex worker with whom Apurv spends his nights, Kintu (Ishitta Sharma) a delectable high school girl whom Apurv wants to bed given the chance, and Prerna (Nikita Anand), Sanjay's love interest and a student of the college where Apurv and Sanjay study. The three girls represent three different social strata of Delhi: the jaded sex worker inhabits GB. Road while Kintu is the quintessential middle-class Delhite caught on the threshold of adolescent confusion regarding matters of sex; Prerna is an aspiring model who has the full support of her super-rich father who has no qualms if his daughter happens to be locked inside her room with a friend. Apurv the ultra-cool dude shuttles between Jean Paul Sartre and single-minded quest for unadulterated sex. The conservative Sanjay develops a liking for the fresher from the first day when he joins college and saves him from ragging; despite his conservatism in matters of man-woman relationship he has no issues with the libidinous fresher and the two of them begin to bond.
Within these five main characters the story moves in small but sure strokes: the casual manner in which Kintu and Apurv meet at a bookstore and immediately hit off; Apurv's courting of the girl through chemistry formulae and the tension that emanates from the love triangle involving a classmate of Kintu that leads to some serious scuffles later in the film are set off against scenes inside the college where Sanjay becomes close to Prerna who is the female counterpart of Apurv in terms of social background. But unlike Apurv, Prerna is focused in life and wants to be a super-model, much to the chagrin of her conservative boyfriend who is hesitant to sleep with her during a party at her house; and when she flaunts herself to him in a designer two-piece inside his hostel room, he is offended, takes out his katta (country revolver) and holds it against her stomach and threatens her that she will not be allowed to take part in competitions where girls parade around in semi-nudity. Prerna realizes Sanjay is not up her street and finds a soul mate in Apurv who tries to comprehend if this latest development could lead him to bed her and fulfill his promise; he has ultimately managed to 'make love' to Kintu after masquerading as her private tutor and is desperately looking for the third kill of the day.
Peppered with punchy dialogues and witty one-liners, the director sprinkles an assortment of other characters that add colour to the picture and layer the main story: collegians like Sonu (Dinesh Kumar), Sanjay's disabled sidekick, Deepak a blind student and an American student whose love interest extends beyond his girlfriend to her maid as a result of which she breaks off with him. (Apurv does not fail to take advantage of this split and tries to lay his charm on her too, but is promptly repelled.) Other characters who fill up the canvas are Apurv's mother (Soni Razdan in a cameo role at a party) who introduces her current beau - her personal fitness trainer to her son, Feroze Gujral in a special role as the singer and dancer in the party, and a young female journalist who takes a liking for Apurv at the same party but their attempt at love-making inside the bathroom is thwarted when Sonu comes to take a leak; they nevertheless plan to make it some other time. Then we have the ubiquitous ragging sessions, post-ragging bonding (through the infectious Dum Laga song as they go to watch an adult fare in the college bus at night), intra-college gang rivalry and attendant fights and election preparations and dadagiri that spice up the whole campus ambience. We are also offered vignettes of a public school where Kintu studies (the lady teacher who yells even during roll calls is a brilliant touch) and amusing English lessons and Biology practicals in the college which are attended by indifferent students.
Dil Dosti Etc is like a rich mosaic that traces the journey of different characters in bits and pieces that gradually fall into place and coalesce seamlessly. There is no single strand around which the sob-plots are built, but parallel strands that are woven intricately without getting into each other's path. All the characters are well balanced out against each other and are given a fair play. Therein lies the strength of the screenplay that slowly gets into your system without creating any confusion as it gradually inches towards its climax that belies predictability. All the characters are well etched out and have a warmth that make them immediately recognizable and immensely likable despite their flaws and drawbacks. There are no good or bad characters here; only simple human beings with their dreams and aspirations who think that the 'possibilities are endless.' The director does not take sides or pass any value judgment, but is compassionate to all the characters. He packs in a lot of wit, and a sense of joi-de-vivre pervades the film that lightens and elevates the story. It is a film about sex and politics, friendship and bonding, trust and betrayal of trust, and sometimes the lack of it. It is a buddy film that truly deals with dil, dosti etc.
But the film does have its share of negative points. If the film traverses the path, amongst other things, between sex and politics, it is the path of politics that seems to get repetitive and drawn out without adding any relevant information or depth. In its depiction of college politics and election, that too in a city like Delhi where it is a big deal, the film fails to address the real issues and takes a non-committal and superficial view of the problematic and resorts to artificial creation of tension between the rival political gangs. We are not aware what the two parties stand for ideologically; neither do we smell any big money that goes into funding such elections and the corrupt lifestyle of its leaders. The infectious charm of Shreyas Talpade acts counter productive to the image of a college leader; his character is defined only by his friendship with Apurv and his affair with Prerna and less by his role as a political leader where he comes across as too soft despite his grand posturing and the occasional fights that he leads.
Imaad Shah in the role of Apurv, however delivers an absolutely understated performance to the point that he literally lives and breathes the indifference that he harbours towards anything in life. If he can't have sex with a woman, cool, let's move on, some other time maybe, some other woman, let's not get upset and he moves on to his next prey with the same nonchalance that he shows when he gets roughed up by his rival in sex. Inspired by Ray films and particularly the Apu Trilogy, the director has conceived him as a transformed Apu set in contemporary urban Delhi from a rich family who has lost out his soul to anything that is remotely libidinous. The homage to a scene from Apur Sansar (1959) is elliptical but relevant: in the original film the play that Apu had gone to see with his wife dissolves into the rear rectangular window of the buggy that carries them back home; in this film the movie that Apurv goes to see with the sex worker dissolves into the rear windscreen of the taxi in which they are traveling back to the brothel! Apu indeed has come a long way!
Debutants Nikita Anand and Ishitta Sharma were selected through extensive auditions; so were all the students that comprise the college crowd; they are all real students. Nikita delivers a commendable performance and is extremely effective as the ambitious no-nonsense college girl who will not take any shit from anybody. But Ishitta Sharma as the high school girl fails short of expectations despite trying hard; she just looks pretty in checked skirts. Feroze Gujral in the party song somehow fails to add the necessary chutzpah and looks incongruous despite the lively number that she lipsyncs. But Smriti Mishra as the worn-out sex worker gets into the skin of the character and gets all her moves and diction right.
No discussion of the film could be complete without the mention of its debutant music directors - the duo of Siddhartth-Suhas and Agnee, a Pune based rock band. The peppy bus song (Dum Laga) composed by Siddhartth-Suhas and the party number by Agnee are the highlights of the film. Siddhartth-Suhas' background score for the film and sound designing by Kabir Singh raise the film by several notches, thanks to the brilliant mixing by Aloke De. It's a long time since we have heard this kind of a soundtrack and it marks the arrival of a talented duo with a bang.
Written through nine drafts over a period of nine working months, the film which had 220 scenes to begin with was shot within a schedule of 37 days in real locations in Delhi. Art direction by Sunil Chabra and Costumes by Priyanka Munduda get the correct feel of the settings and the characters of this modern tale. Brilliantly shot by Arvind K and edited by Hina Saiyada, Dil Dosti Etc does indeed mark an impressive enough debut by Manish Tiwary.