Synopsis – Under investigation as a suspect in her husband’s murder, a wife reveals details of their thorny marriage that seem to only further blur the truth.
My Take – While generic goody romance has continued to be the go to genre for Bollywood filmmakers for decades, in recent times some have expanded to theorize the usually unseen dark side of love. Similarly in this latest Netflix release, director Vinil Mathew (Hasee Toh Phasee) and writer Kanika Dhillon (Manmarziyaan, Judgementall Hai Kya) suggest that love isn’t exactly love unless it is driven by madness, passion and recklessness.
Mashed with elements of a murder mystery, and Taapsee Pannu in the driver’s seat, the current go to actress for all kinds of thrillers, the film sounds and looks solid, and barrels on as well with newer twists and turns, to keep one completely engrossed in a messy love story.
However, though the proceedings are always intriguing, the film isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. Backed by a narrative that is consumed by an overarching theme of revenge on the lines of enjoyable pulpy B thriller, the trouble begins when it starts taking itself too seriously leading into a territory that is quite convoluted and frankly problematic on the lines of the 2019 blockbuster Kabir Singh (2019).
It also doesn’t help that the big reveal is easy to figure out, all due to the trail of loopholes the film leaves behind while wildly oscillating between diabolical goading and questionable sentiments. Leaving the logic aside, while the actors manage to turn the film into a thrilling and passable watch, one does hope it wasn’t backed by a somewhat flawed execution.
The story follows Rani (Taapsee Pannu) and Rishu (Vikrant Massey), an unlikely couple brought together through an arranged marriage. While Rishu is the straight-laced stereotypical electrical engineer without a hair out of place or a crease in his formal clothes, on the other hand, Rani, who has had her fair share of broken relationships in the past is a fan of lurid pulp fiction written by Dinesh Pandit, and is a firm believer in sexual adventure.
With their contrasting personalities restricting them from coming closer, their life turns upside down when Rani falls for Neel (Harshvardhan Rane), Rishu’s visiting cousin, a man straight out of her lusty fantasies, who proceeds to bed her and leaves immediately, further tearing the newlyweds apart. A fact that doesn’t help Rani, when a blast in their home leaves behind only Rishu’s hand with her name tattooed on it, making her the prime suspect in the eyes of Investigating officer Kishore (Aditya Srivastava) who remains unimpressed by her moist eyes and tremulous declarations of love for Rishu.
Throughout the film goes back and forth unfolding the events leading up to the blast, as Rani tries to prove her innocence. What starts out as a shy boy-meets-sassy girl resulting in a quick marriage and breezy episodes on domestic lessons, the story unfolds rather quickly with things appearing increasingly twisted and warped as Rani’s unreliable narrator goes on telling her side which is structured quite like The Usual Suspects (1995).
Based on themes shared by many popular Hindi pulp fictions novels, the story uses the tropes of small towns in northern Indian to weave an intricate story of love, crime, passion and a classic scenario of protagonists giving into their reckless impulses.
While the film’s first half is quirky and well written, the second half is an anticipation of these sinister events and revels in pushing Rani and Rishu to unpleasant extremes in the name of passion. Instead of focusing on the supposed murder, the film surprisingly shifts on exploring how dormant emotions can completely take over one’s personality and transform them to the extent that they are hardly recognizable.
Both Rani and Rishu’s personalities undergo a dramatic flip and it is to the credit of both Taapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey, who effortlessly settle into the changed pace. The whole segment of how Rani looking for redemption and realizes that she loves her husband despite him attempting to kill her in every possible way, from intentionally making her fall from a flight of stairs to leaving the gas knob open to let her hand burn, is obnoxious.
While they may be in a make-believe universe where passions run high, the treatment from director Vinil Mathew and writer Kanika Dhillon feels like they endorses these twisted tricks. Putting any kind of toxic relationship on a pedestal and calling it as the supreme example of love and sacrifice is without a doubt completely unacceptable even for the sake of entertainment.
The only reason it doesn’t feel as absurd at the exact time is because Taapsee and Vikrant are in complete sync with Rani and Rishu’s staggeringly volatile personality, ensuring we get quite willingly sucked into the pulpy story.
With every passing project, Taapsee Pannu continues to mark a longer stay in the industry. As Rani, with her actions and expressions she sells her character’s turmoil beautifully. However, it is Vikrant Massey who walks away with a bigger piece of the cake, especially as he handed the best character arc of all. Massey’s layered exploration of Rishu’s sadness and cruelty easily eclipses his co-star’s efforts.
Sadly, unlike his recent triumph in Taish (2020), Harshvardhan Rane gets the weakest character of three, and isn’t allowed to make much of an impact. In other roles, Aditya Srivastava, Daya Shankar Pandey, Yamini Das and Ashish Verma are good. On the whole, ‘Haseen Dillruba’ is an odd yet riveting unpredictable film that deserves a watch for its performances.
Directed – Vinil Mathew
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 135 minutes