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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Dhadak, Review: Kiss kiss kill kill

Dhadak, Review: Kiss kiss kill kill

A noun form of the verb dhadakna, which means ‘beating of the heart’, Dhadak re-introduces us to Ishan Khattar and gives us the much-awaited first look at Jahnvi Kapoor. Both have acting parentage, and that comes with a lot of weight. In the first half of the film, the two succeed in captivating the audience with their sheer freshness and electrical chemistry. Then, sadly, formulae and tropism take over, the pulsation of early dhadaks get blocked, and the writing and directorial stents begin to block smooth passage instead of allowing it. That Dhadak still manages to be interesting is due in some part to off-beat cinematography and a few text-book ploys by writer-director Shashank Khaitan.

An acknowledged remake of the Marathi language hit Sairaat, Dhadak is based on the original story by Nagraj Manjule. As it happens, I have not seen the Marathi-language original and that gives me really uninfluenced look at the film at hand. Dhadak addresses the issue of honour killings, which are increasing in India, or, at least being reported more often. For the ignoramuses, an honour killing needs to be defined as murdering young men/women/both for eloping or marrying outside their religion, caste or social class.        

From the moment they set eyes on each other, college freshers Madhukar and Parthavi feel drawn by a magnetic force into their first love, which is pure and sublime. Fact is that Madhu comes from an upper middle class family who run a restaurant where Madhu serves as a chef-cum-waiter, and Parthavi’s father Ratan Singh (Ashutosh Rana) is from a princely family of Rajasthan, that runs a luxurious hotel where there was once their palace. Singh is also contesting the local state elections, and feels no compunction in mudslinging, by telling election rallies that his opponent’s daughter had eloped with an 'outsider' boy friend to Mumbai, and so they should not vote for her.

Madhu has two friends as constant hangers-on while Parthavi has one girl as her companion. Both are aware of their social class, and meet secretly, to avoid attracting the wrath of their families. After meeting at a prize-distribution ceremony, a pond to which Parthavi’s family has claim, in the college and at night at some height, it boils down to a kiss. The motor-mouth and thoroughly modern Parthavi agrees to give the kiss, provided Madhu has the guts and gumption to come to the celebration of her brother Roop (Godaan Kumar)’s birthday, uninvited.

Meanwhile, Madhu’s father learns of his indulgences and asks him to swear that he will never set eyes on Parthavi again, for she is from another caste and class. He swears, to console his father, but goes ahead to take on the challenge Parthavi threw at him. To this end, he lands, with along with his two pals, at the lavish party, in the oft repeated ploy of being a dancing-singing troupe member. A kiss is rightfully his due, and Parthavi is willing to honour word, but little does she know that this one kiss will lead to two deaths, two honour killings.

Producer Karan Johar has backed Shashank Khaitan (Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania) again, to deliver another hit, and played extra safe by going in for a popular film’s remake. While Khaitan manages to introduce some new angles to a college romance, he muddles up things by having at least three other parallel tracks running, without any congruency in the triangle.

Firstly, it is the antics of Madhu’s two inseparable friends (Ankit Bisht and Shridhar Watsar), one of them a midget, that go nowhere, and are mildly funny, except for a couple of funny one-liners. Secondly, he builds Ratan Singh as an unscrupulous wannabe politico, competing against a woman candidate, who will go to any dastardly lengths to win, and who has all the trappings of an arch-villain. And thirdly, he brings in a Bengali Christian character, who gives shelter to the runaway couple, sings praises of rum and wine, and takes his wards to church.

Moreover, the couple on the run meets few obstacles in travelling from Udaipur to Mumbai to Nagpur to Kolkata. Even jobs are waiting for them in Kolkata, albeit modest callings. It does not need very high IQ to guess that by calling her mother (Aishwarya Narkar) often, from her mobile phone in Kolkata, Parthavi is risking being traced quite easily by her father, a man of considerable clout. To add to the possibility, her mother makes no attempt to avoid being caught in the phone act by her blood-thirsty husband. Lastly, by casting Ashutosh Rana and Godaan Kumar as the baddies, he loses the chance to take audiences by surprise, as one look at the two and you know they are up to no good. One critical scene when Parthavi grabs a gun and starts shooting is rendered convincingly, by showing her practicing shooting earlier, as a royal indulgence and sport. Another well-enacted scene is the slapping of the lecturer and the aftermath.

Looking like the boy-next-door, Ishan Khattar makes the most of the early scenes and is highly credible. His movements are graceful and his romantic dalliance fresh as dew. It is in the second half that he begins to show awkwardness, a fault that grips Jahnvi too. Jahnvi is almost magical in the first half, with a rare, regal radiance emanating from her persona. If her voice has not been dubbed, all the more credit to her. But someone must tell her that all her ‘ch’ words sound more English than Hindi. She also has some good punch lines, though some are repetitive. It’s a good debut, admittedly not a superlative one, by the daughter of the much loved superstar, late Sreedevi.

Ashutosh Rana is confident and at home. Godaan Kumar has those characteristic evil looks and a figure to match. Ankit Bisht and Shridhar Watsar contribute the buffoonery quotient. Govind Pandey acquits himself well. Aishwarya Nadkar has little to do. Kharaj Mukherjee as the Bengali hostel-owner was beginning to make an impact when his role seemed to have been shortened, or poorly written in the first place.

Dhadak fares marginally lower than the Majid Majidi film of last year, Beyond the Clouds, which was Ishan’s debut, albeit under a foreign (Iranian) director. In Dhadak, he has a role better suited to his personality, except when his life and that of Parthavi are dealt a body-blow by that age-old nemesis, destiny.

Love stories that progress to elopements and family/community wrath are not new. From Bobby to Love Story, we have seen so many of them. In treatment, Dhadak is closer to Love Story than any other film I can recall.

Some fellow critics found it to be a sanitised, and therefore less impactful, than the original, Sairaat, which has, till date, been remade in five languages. My impressions are entirely on merit, which might be at variance with some of them. But then that is always the case, isn’t it?

Rating: ** ½


P.S. Don't miss the commercial plug for Khaitan fans. Now what did I say was the director's name? Shashank what?


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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