Dunki is a major disapppointment

Anil Grover, Taapsee Pannu, Shah Rukh Khan, Vicky Kaushal and Vikram Kochhar in Dunki. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

To say that Dunki is Rajkumar Hirani’s most underwhelming film is an understatement. Not only does Shah Rukh Khan miss out on a hat-trick after Pathaan and Jawan but this film, sadly, is almost on par with his movies like Fan, Jab Harry Met Sejal and Zero. It is only the Rajkumar Hirani touch of “emotional humor” that saves it from those levels, and from a non-SRK film I could not help finding similarities too in treatment and even themes—Laal Singh Chaddha.

Once again, Hirani takes up a key aspect: illegal immigration to the UK, and focuses on Punjabis itching to go there to get a better life. However, he and co-writers Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon (what is this lady of completely different sensibilities doing in a Hirani film???) take on the wrong aspects of the subject. They almost justify illegal immigration as if it is a panacea—and the only one!—for earning great money!

This money, as per the film, must be earned for a noble purpose of the family’s good (as if wealth is everything). So it is okay if the Indians concerned risk their very lives by going illegally when, as per what a character tells them, they stand a mere 25 percent chance of making it alive to their destinations via Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. And if they are not going to survive, who will earn???

The film also does not answer the key question: if illegal immigrants have no rights unless they claim asylum in UK, thereby also polluting India’s already-besmirched image abroad, and cannot return to their homeland, how and what is the purpose served? Instead, before the end-credits, the film emits gory statistics through slides of what happens to people in real life by the illegal route, called “Dunki”, and never reinforces that such things should not be done in mere quest of Mammon.

Fine, it makes a case for countries that have tough laws for people to legally enter that seem to favor only the rich and English-speaking populace, not just from India. But in that sense, it also gives the contrary message to movies like Swades or Naam that lyricist Anand Bakshi encapsulated cryptically in the cult classic chartbuster Chitthi aayi hai —the line Apne ghar mein bhi hai roti!

Focusing on a small town called Laltu in Punjab, it also, in the final analysis, shows the people of that town (as a representation of Punjabis) to be nothing more than dense people out to get rich without considering even a minimum qualification! For doing this could have avoided most of the tragic contretemps that befall the main characters here!

And mysteriously for characters who make ridiculous attempts to speak even basic English that small kids would, the town is full of shops with descriptions of business and names written in English!

In this ludicrous world of contradictions and gaffes galore that Hirani creates, even the Indian Army is not spared. Shah Rukh Khan plays Hardy, a Punjabi jawan (pun intended here!) who is saved by a tough pathaan (same again!!)-like youth named Mahinder (Suhail Zargar) from Laltu when he was critically injured in war. He comes to Laltu to return the two-in-one tape-recorder and finds his benefactor has passed away in an accident, from his sister Manu (Taapsee Pannu), who he encounters by chance.

The year is 1995 or thereabouts, and which battle was Hardy fighting? No explanations!

Hardy, who presumably has no one else in life, stays on in Laltu for various reasons that those who insist on watching the film will know, but in effect, also does not know even basic English! He also has no scruples about trying fishy tactics in every aspect of life. All he insists on is that he will never claim that his nation treated him badly and he needs asylum in the UK!! He is a fauji, see?

Vicky Kaushal makes a special appearance as Sukhi, who wants to go to the UK “just for a day” to bring back his beloved, who is being beaten by the man her father married her off to even though Sukhi loved her. The rest of the principal characters are Balli (Arun Grover) and Buggu (Vikram Kochhar) besides the NRI lawyer (Deven Bhojani) and a rich yet fraud English coach, Geetu (Boman Irani) among whom the story revolves. Geetu turns noble finally.

Hardy’s and Manu’s love story, which they aim to complete under London’s Big Ben with his proposal, remains unrequited for 25 years. Balli and Buggu are also solo. The film begins with a typically-Hirani whacky hospital sequence featuring Manu in London but becomes an overlong exercise in melodrama, where the humor is occasionally funny but based on unfunny, odd or totally unbelievable situations and premises.

Breathtaking cinematography and VFX in the outdoors (C. K. Muraleedharan, Manush Nandan, Amit Roy and Kumar Pankaj form the bevy of cinematographers) cannot help when the pith of the story is so weak and absurdities flourish. Pritam’s songs come in the background and we miss the Hirani touch even in the great lip-synched music of his classics like Munna Bhai MBBS and 3 Idiots. The songs are not of high-standard either. The background score is very ordinary and cannot salvage the often-ludicrous proceedings that pretend to be emotionally strong. From the script, some lines can be called genuinely witty or humorous, but that’s all.

Shah Rukh Khan is alright as Hardy, but it is Taapsee Pannu as Manu who comes out as very effective in the demanding sequences, especially as the older Manu. Vikram Kochhar and Anil Grover are good in their respective roles, but Boman Irani—I dare say this for this formidable talent handicapped by the script!—just sleepwalks.

Shah Rukh misses the hat-trick of hits and also playing a patriotic Indian hero—for this fauji isn’t anywhere up to the mark. But above all, I feel that this film is to Hirani what Cirkus was to Rohit Shetty. Hirani goes woefully off-track, seems to have become singularly insecure and saddled himself with trendy names and content instead of the well-conceived ideas he would come up with, He was lucky with PK and Sanju, where he was on shaky ground, content-wise, but survived (big-time!) in the way he handled the material at his command. But every day is not Sunday, and the man who was to collaborate initially with both Shah Rukh Khan and Pritam on Munna Bhai MBBS finally does so only on a film he should have not green-lit in the first place.

Rating: **

Jio Studios’, Rajkumar Hirani Films’ & Red Chillies Entertainment’s Dunki  Produced by: Gauri Khan, Rajkumar Hirani & Jyoti Deshpande Directed by: Rajkumar Hirani Written by: Rajkumar Hirani, Abhijat Joshi & Kanika Dhillon Music: Pritam  Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Vikram Kochhar,  Anil Grover, Boman Irani, Jyoti Subhash, Deven Bhojani, Arun Bali, Amardeep Jha, Suhail Zargar, Rohitashv Gour, Jitendra Hooda, Shahid Latief, Mahavir Bhullar, Sapna Sand, Jatinder Kaur, Richard B. Klein, Nikhil Ratnaparkhi, Gurpreet Ghuggi & others









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