Dhak Dhak is pleasant saga of women who break barriers

Sanjana Sanghi, Dia Mirza, Ratna Pathak Shah & Fatima Sana Shaikh in Dhak Dhak Photo: Trailer Video Grab 

You can even call it the gender flip version of Uunchai. Of course, the characters, their backdrops and their motivations are all different, as is their manzil (destination). This time, it is Khardung La or Khardung Pass, which also is used to carry supplies to the Siachen Glacier in Leh Ladakh. The temperatures in summer alone range from 1 degree to -9 degrees Celsius!

Studded with picturesque views of the stunning, real locales, Dhak Dhak (signifying the accelerated heartbeats as well as revving bike engines) engages also with its warm, identifiable interactions between the four women who have embarked, for different personal reasons, on a biking expedition from Delhi.

Essentially a road/adventure genre film, Dhak Dhak gets its substance from the pasts and presents of the lead characters. Mahi a.k.a. Manpreet Kaur Sethi (Ratna Pathak Shah), middle-aged and widowed, wins a motorbike in a contest and decides to learn it and achieve a rare feat by traveling to the highest motor-able road in India.

Egging her on is Shashi Kumar Yadav a.k.a. Sky (Fatima Sana Shaikh in her best role since her debut in Dangal), who is a travel blogger and has to live down her reputation after her nude pics have created a furor on social media, because her boyfriend-cum-partner’s phone was hacked. She thus has her own agenda—of reinventing her image.

Joining them are Uzma (Dia Mirza), owner of her father’s motor garage managed by her husband, Shabbir (Dheerendra Dwivedi)—Uzma also needs money for her daughter’s superior education—and Manjari (Sanjana Sanghi). Manjari, hailing from small town Mathura, has been so cocooned by her mother that she has never stepped out alone in the world even at her young adult age!

Her friend Martha (Kallirroi Tziafeta), who stays in Leh, persuades her to come to visit her before her arranged marriage and goads her into doing so on a bike: Here, I have a nitpick wonder: How come such a pathologically overprotected girl is able to ride a bike? When was she “allowed” to learn it? You can’t learn a bike sitting at home or with your mother accompanying you!

The four women come together, Uzma even lying to her domineering and orthodox Muslim husband that she is going on a religious tour (Nitpick #2: how can she do that in these days of smartphones and video calls?), and set off with a deadline of seven days for a near-1000 kilometer turbulent mountainous journey given by her sponsor. Nothing is mentioned also of a compulsory 2-day break in Leh that is legally needed to acclimatize the body with the reduced oxygen in the environs.

The rest of the film is about adrenalin-pumping adventures, crises and more and the resultant realization of what true freedom means, shown in the ways Uzma tackles her husband and Manjari her mother. Most importantly, Mahi overcomes her inhibitions of fear and achieves what she has set out to do, and ditto Sky, who overcomes her internal demons and succeeds in changing perception about her.

There are parts of the film that seem tepid, and these could have been a shade curtailed with a brisker edit or a script-level weeding out. The music is extremely intrusive, with songs cluttering up many a sequence that needed the right feel in background scoring instead. The cinematography by Sreechith Vijayan Damodar is magnificent and needs to be included in DOP nominations for this year, though he has the natural advantage of fantabulous locales.

Director co-writer (with Parijat Joshi) Tarun Dudeja makes a skilled debut, negotiating the tightrope walk between realism and entertainment expertly. There is subtlety in the conversations, even when the four women are discussing sexual matters in fun. And there are so many messages to take home, not all subtle, but important and relevant nevertheless.

The add-on characters, Moshe the Russian (Benedict Garrett) and the caring Bernett (Ozgur Kurt) are very effective. Poonam Gurung makes a charming cameo as a Hindi film-obsessed nun in a monastery, who finds nothing wrong in thinking movies in her chosen way of life. And the actor who played the Sikh truck-driver (whose name is not available on any site) was outstanding in his brief role.

Ratna Pathak Shah is fantastic as Mahi, getting every nuance and pitch right, and providing much of the wit and humor. Fatima Sana Shaikh is excellent as Sky, with every emotion depicted so well and her instant mood changes superbly done. Again a nitpick: if her character’s aim is to outlive her nude pics image, why is she always shown in revealing outfits, especially when she is traveling in cold climes?

As Manjari, Sanjana Sanghi gets out of the rut of mediocre performances (Dil Bechara, Rashtra Kavach—Om and last week’s Kadak Singh) and gives a sensitive and sensible performance. Dia Mirza’s turn as Uzma is also very identifiable for women who are living her kind of life, and gives out a clarion call of awakening. Always a woman who is a part of many causes in real life, Dia gets the meatiest role in many ways from among the four and delivers her career-finest performance.

This is one of those few remarkable theatrical releases this year (Jogira Sara Ra Ra, Bad Boy, Sajini Shinde Ka Viral Video, Dono, Farrey) which one sensed had no potential in the cinema halls. A combination of its face values and the multiplex culture has sadly ensured that. And so one has to thank the culture of quick streaming that can ensure a deserving viewership for such movies. Taapsee Pannu deserves credits also for co-producing the film. However, due attention to (easily) iron out the few but significant nitpicks (and a few more tiny ones that are best watched and realized) could have earned this film a higher rating from us.

Rating: ***1/2

BLM Pictures’, Outsider Films Productions’ & Viacom18 Studios’ Dhak Dhak  Produced by: Ajit Andhare, Aayush Maheshwari, Kevin Vaz, Pranjal Khandhdiya & Taapsee Pannu  Directed by: Directed by: Tarun Dudeja  Written by: Tarun Dudeja & Parijat Joshi  Music: Jasmine Sandlas, Rishi Dutta, Osho Jain, Mohan Kannan, Anurag Saikia, Ishan Das & Raghav–Arjun  Starring:Ratna Pathak Shah, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Hriiday Malhotra, Harshpal Singh, Dheerendra Dwivedi, Kallirroi Tziafeta, Ozgur Kurt, Poonam Gurung, Benedict Garrett, Maahi Jain & others










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