Synopsis – Set in Rajasthan, this love story explores how the protagonists deal with issues like differences between castes and honor killings.
My Take – Bollywood has a knack of remaking regional cinema in order to bring a more wider appeal to a story well told previously, as a result it doesn’t come as a surprise when Karan Johar brought on one of his protégées Shashank Khaitan (Badrinath Ki Dulhania) to direct the Hindi remake of Nagraj Manjule‘s critically acclaimed and commercially successful 2016 Marathi film, Sairat, whose thumping soundtrack and heart-wrenching climax, had already resulted in a number of remakes. Set in the interiors of Maharashtra, Sairat on paper might seem like just another love story of a young couple on the run, but it’s the searing commentary on caste conflict and societal oppression, that caught everyone’s attention off guard.
However, for this Hindi remake, the story line’s socio-political context in the Romeo & Juliet-styled romance isn’t the sole focus here, as the film has been mounted as a launch pad for its leads, Janhvi Kapoor, daughter of late actress Sridevi and producer Boney Kapoor, and Ishaan Khattar, son of character artists Rajesh Khattar and Neelima Azeem, and younger sibling of Shahid Kapoor, hereby raising the curiosity to an infinite level. On a personal front, I never got around watching Sairat, but had read and heard enough to understand the impact the film made upon release.
And there is no doubt about the fact that Sairat was a much more powerful and beautiful film than its remake in Hindi, but like the original, amidst the oft-repeated story-line of innocence and love, this Shashank Khaitan directorial manages to bring in its own set of interesting factors to keep you any Bollywood romance fan engaged. Thankfully, the film is also not loud and melodramatic like most tragic love stories, but who cares right when you get to witness the birth of two immense talents on screen?
Set in the serene city of Udaipur, the story follows Madhukar Bagla (Ishaan Khatter), the son of a middle class restaurateur, who falls head-over-heels in love with Parthavi Singh (Jahnvi Kapoor) from an upper-caste family. Though her clan runs a hotel, and is from the royal lineage in Udaipur, her father Ratan Singh (Ashutosh Rana) is a powerful feudal lord and politician, who stands for and wins elections by foul means.
While Madhukar is warned by his father not to go ahead with any relationship with her, Parthivi persists. However, their romance is soon disturbed by Ratan Singh and Parthavi’s brothers, who owing to their caste difference are hell bent on dividing them. But love always finds a way as the couple manage to run away from their homes to first Mumbai and then Kolkata, where they try to start a new life, concealed from the tragic fate which awaits them.
The story of the film is quite simple. While the film doesn’t strum a string in the heart, neither does it drone you down to sleep. It just happens and you accept it happening to you, mainly because director Khaitan’s sanitized drama manages to work on its strengths. By making the film reasonably lighter and brighter (even if a tad superficial) and tweaking the nauseating climax of the original, here, writer-director Khaitan spins the tale that is fairly engaging and, in the end, shocking. While the first half of the film sets up the cliché filled love story, from the college campus to pretty mansion, where Parthavi dares him to woo her right under the nose of her strict family; he goes against his own to win her over. Here, director Khaitan both adapts and directs the story and tries to Bollywood-ize the source, written by Nagraj Manjule for his 2016 path-breaking Marathi-language film Sairat.
The cheesy ‘Dulhaniya’ vibes take the front seat in this remake as Madhukar regards the affection towards his vanity-filled classmate as the only aim of his life, not even heeding to his father’s warnings about hobnobbing with the upper caste or paying attention to his studies or the family restaurant business. While the film will test you at times on the writing front, as director Khaitan takes a lot of time to open a new chapter in the story of Madhu and Parthavi, it’s the second half when the lovers are forced to run away to Kolkata, the film picks up heavily. The darkness of society and cruel politics inflicted on the naïve youngsters, keep the audience engaged. The romance has a sensitivity and the emotions run high. Thrown into a situation where they are forced to co-exist when they have just begun to know each other, the young couple go through a seesaw of emotions, resentment to regret, bitterness to hopelessness.
What makes this one an important film, is that it takes an emotional toll in its viewer while highlighting the plight of men and women who find themselves at the center of caste politics. Madhukar and Parthavi are a naive lot fighting the tyranny of a society led by a generation that puts caste above natural human features of love, relationships, and emotions. Watching the film, this embarrassment keeps haunting that even in 21st century, it’s so difficult for a young boy and a girl to fall in love in India. One has to first think of one’s caste, religion and economic status and then fall in love. The question reverberates in mind constantly– what legacy are we leaving our youngsters with, a hate-ridden society where it’s almost impossible to love? While the public is keen to acknowledge that they have accepted cultural change in modern India and are ready to send girls to colleges to study, but yet no one wants them to be self-dependent, no one wants them to love and marry according to their own choice; they should learn to speak in English, but should never speak up.
While the film at times slackens the universal theme of a man and a woman trying to live together despite all the oddities of life (not society), it keeps the grip all through. The social intricacies add to the difficulties, they have to face. And, undoubtedly, the most impactful part of the film is its climax, which will leave you gutted, as director Khaitan adds enough drama to leave the audience with goosebumps. Although what’s going to happen becomes fairly obvious as the last act of the film kicks off, it still gets to you. Also, what makes the film well knitted is the music by duo Ajay-Atul. Every song has a right placement and does the job of adding more feel to the story. Not only Zingaat, but each song in the film strikes a connection.
However, I do wish director Khaitan had not stopped short of going all out, which in the end makes the film feel like a superfluous effort. The language kind-a sort-adapts, the clothes adapt, but the story does little to reflect the change in social structure. Just a couple of lines from the protagonist’s father to indicate the caste difference is all – there is no depiction of a power equation between Madhu’s family and Parthavi’s – not caste-wise at least. Sure, there is an attempt to indicate a distinction in class and political power, but that too comes across as functional. Also the characters don’t seem well fleshed.
Through the first hour, I wondered what exactly attracted Madhu to Parthavi as a person or Parthavi to Madhu. That he pursued her, that she was out-of-reach? That she was haughty, that he was persistent? Through the decades we have been asked to take the lead couple’s falling in love, as a given. The problems they face is the focus. And I have always struggled with caring about their problems because I am hardly convinced of their love. Also, the film feeds us the information that Ratan Singh, Parthavi’s father, is a fearful patriarch who acts and scares off with his eyes, but the film does not give him much screen space, even though he plays a major role in its proceedings directly or indirectly.
Yet the film rises about being just ordinary, that too because of the film’s powerful leads, without them, this would have been a mediocre watch. The new faces of Ishaan and Janhvi bring freshness to the film and their innocence seems natural enough to reflect the narrative. Ishaan Khatter was already impressive in Beyond The Clouds and here he is a natural, an expressionist and on a way towards achieving critical acclaim in everything he is going to choose to star in. As Madhukar has some really quirky antics to show off in the first half and has his brother, Shahid Kapoor’s smile. I was instantly taken back to the time I saw Shahid on the screen for the first time. There’s inherent goodness and innocence in Ishaan, which he brings to Madhu. Ishaan also proves that he can make any newly-learned language sound like he has been speaking that since forever.
Janhvi Kapoor is a delight! A true-blue star in the making, if not already one. She is confident but vulnerable and carries herself very well throughout the film. With her acting chops and the ability to emote, she has proven that she can very much be the institution of acting like her mom as her eyes are remarkably and extraordinarily expressive as well, though she could work a tiny bit on her diction. Watch these two in their initial exchanges as well as when they fight and patch up in Kolkata and we know that these are the latest bright stars to shine in the crowded Hindi film industry. Ashutosh Rana has always been an underutilized actor, and once again is exceptional. In supporting roles, Godaan Kumar, Shridhar Watsar, Ankur Bisht, Ishika Ganeja, Aditya Kumar, and Kharaj Mukherjee are good. On the whole, ‘Dhadak’ is a decent one-time watch, which despite its shortcomings, works due to its honest performances, soulful music and shocking climax.
Directed – Shashank Khaitan
Rated – PG
Run Time – 138 minutes