It’s Vicky Kaushal who brings the haunting tragedy that triggers Dunki in a good direction, but his absence makes Shah Rukh Khan and the team go haywire
The year is 1995, and four friends in a small village in Punjab dream of migrating to London to build a world of their dreams but have nothing in their pockets at the moment. Hardy, a soldier, comes to their village and promises to help them fulfil their dream. A tragedy hits, and they opt for the illegal Donkey route as their visas are rejected. How life unfolds after that is what Dunki is about.
It is the year of Shah Rukh Khan. He is the man who is busy saving the nation (Pathaan); he is the one who wants to fix the problems in his country by being brave (Jawan); and finally, he is the man who traces back his roots to help people fulfil their dreams (Dunki). A standalone figure selling suspension of disbelief in abundance, and we as the audience surrendering to his magic without any questions. Dunki comes in to wrap up a year that has been supremely successful for the star, who made his comeback after 5 years. But does it live up to the expectations?
If there is one filmmaker in the current times who knows how to build a world that resonates with the masses, even if the majority of them have never lived in any part of it, it is Rajkumar Hirani. The world he creates in his movies is about the detailing in the writing. His idea is never to write a hero and branch out other characters from him or her. It is always to build the world first, where his hero can then enter and spread his magic. Reuniting with his long-time collaborator Abhijat Joshi and bringing in Kanika Dhillon for writing, he fleshes out the world of Dunki really well. In a time when runtimes are cut short, blaming the attention span of the audience, and stories are rushed because the same audience is again blamed for having no patience, here is a filmmaker who invests his entire first half in establishing what is to come and also does it quite interestingly.
There is a girl who wants to buy back her legacy home, Manu (Taapsee Pannu), a boy who wants to let his mother retire, Balli (Anil Grover), and another who aspires to a good life for him and his family, Baggu (Vikram Kochhar). And a boy who only wants to go to London to get back the girl he loves and free her from an abusive marriage. There is so much the first half holds. The heart is in the right place and the actors are in full form. Dialogues are top-notch, emotions are heartfelt, and tears are shed. The first half is a roller coaster ride with a haunting end in itself.
What happens beyond that is what punches Dunki in the gut. The world is now established, motivation is served, and a trigger is placed, but what next? The film is about Dunki, the Donkey route. The desert you saw in the promotional content, the extremely difficult route that was teased, and the constant mention of how haunting and tough it is—everything boils down to 10 minutes and the group is in England. We are never allowed to be on that side of the story for long enough to look at it as the hook. It vaguely comes back in the narrative and does nothing because there is no connection that has been formed with it. I get it that the filmmaker wants to show what happens beyond that. How immigrants are reduced to pests who can survive on leftovers. But the writing and direction aren’t committed to that either.
What it is also not committed to is showing the love story, which stands unattended at the centre of it all. In the second half, Manu and Hardy are separated for decades only to meet in the next scene, which doesn’t even let us process the longing. They are never emotionally established enough to root for their reunion, which should have been a grand event in the course of the film. The depth in this love story is lacking because the way the climax is built is also so random that what is equipped to make you feel a jolt leaves you feeling bizarre.
Speaking of performances, barring the heavy prosthetics and VFX used for Shah Rukh Khan’s face, everything about his performance is heartfelt. He is indeed the loverboy we have fallen for over and over again for the past many years. He doesn’t fail his audience, even in the weakest moments of this film. Vicky Kaushal is the best thing to happen to Dunki. Only a few in the current generation can cry as convincingly and movingly as he does. As Sukkhi, he brings tragedy to this drama.
Taapsee Pannu is natural, and she sells Mannu like she was always meant to play this part. You believe in her intention to build a home by going away from it, and the actor makes sure you stay on board. But it is her chemistry with Shah Rukh Khan that is made to take a backseat and that doesn’t let it grow and shine like it is supposed to. Vikram Kochhar is a brilliant actor and is finally getting his due. Anil Grover could be one of the surprising discoveries of the year. Boman Irani, in a cameo, does what he is expected to.
Speaking of direction, Rajkumar Hirani knows how to place his characters and what to evoke at which juncture. Even his grammar remains the same. He is a filmmaker who has made films on the same blueprints his entire career, but the magic is in how he decorates that blueprint every time. Even in Dunki, one can see him cleverly dividing the movie into two halves and using the first to only establish the build-up. But the second half seems like he has nothing else to tell but some scribbled notes that were shaped as a story with predictable twists, some bizarre ideas to take things forward, and an end that is emotional and romantic but also too convenient.
The music department has really worked hard on Dunki. Pritam’s background score is interesting, and the songs are indeed well composed. The need to justify lip-syncing songs is finally taking over mainstream commercial cinema, and Lutt Putt Gaya’s video is proof and it lands so well. He is a man dreaming in love and watching himself fall in love—not a novel thought but still so good. Aman Pant’s background music is good, especially at the highs.
Dunki Review: Final Verdict:
Dunki sets out to be a movie that has a concrete world to establish a moving story on but ends up being a bizarre product that doesn’t know what to do with the base it establishes. Shah Rukh Khan and Vicky Kaushal are the highlights.