Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dilruba elaborately depicts the fragile construct of an arranged marriage but struggles as a thriller.
Haseen Dillruba opens to a disturbing scene. A sudden explosion reduces a home to a war-ravaged state. As a woman rushes in to check, she finds among the charred remains, a severed hand that bears her name. It belongs to her husband. And as it turns out, she’s accused of the murder.
This chilling premise sets us up for a gripping police procedural where clues, evidence and witnesses stitch together a narrative that would hopefully explain the series of events that led to this catastrophic end. But a taut thriller, this is not. Instead of focusing on the investigation, it delves into the back story which sways between an awkward relationship mishmash and one that threatens to slip into the extra-marital territory.
Much like those romantic comedies set in mofussil towns, this one furnishes an arranged alliance between two unlikely individuals. Rishu/Rishabh (Vikrant Massey), an engineer with the bijlee vibhag is a Ned Flanders-type who always keeps to the straight and narrow while Rani (Taapsee Pannu) is a parlour hand whose slew of bad exes have tempered her expectations. Once hitched, Rani’s acid-tongued clapbacks leave his mum in a twist but her besotted beau is too blinded to be bothered. When an unfortunate event tears them apart, he cocoons himself and she resigns to a bored and lonely existence. But then, a much muscular relative (Harshvardhan Rane) drops in for a stay and hopes to woo the bored bhabhi. What transpires between them won’t give this one away and holding your breath for the big reveal in the climax may not be worth the payoff either.
Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dillruba elaborately depicts the fragile construct of an arranged marriage. Wrought with uncertainty, the unspoken discomfort of being tossed together with someone you hardly know and the bumbling conversations that pass for icebreakers seem to be on point. But if you’re hoping for a whodunit that will keep you worried yet hopeful through the proceedings, this may be a bit of a letdown. The film busies itself so much in dressing up the marital discord that what could’ve been a wily exchange between the scorned couple seems trivialised to a domestic dispute stretched under a road roller.
From the handful of comic scenes assigned to take the edge off, most don’t land and often seem laboured. What’s worse, the accompanying score in these scenes seems to be composed on a midi player and does little to complement the mood. For example, the scene where the boy’s mum threatens to end her life if he were to go ahead with the alliance is tiring to sit through. She first threatens to gulp down a bottle of phenol but unable to crack it open, decides to hang herself and when even that seems impractical, she announces that she would throw herself off the roof. Surely, by the end of this scene, you will be inspired to come up with more effective ways of calling it.
That Pannu’s Rani transitions through the various circumstances she’s put through allows the actress enough space to flex her acting chops. Thappad proved that she could lift a film single-handedly and here, she’s restrained yet effective. Massey seems more like a supporting figure pulled in to fill in the gaps despite being assigned a prominent role. Aditya Srivastava, best known for his turn in Indian television’s longest-running crime series CID, plays a relentless cop tasked with getting to the bottom of the affair with much conviction.
While most of the soundtrack is essentially used to convey passage of time in the story, only Lakeeran packs composer Amit Trivedi’s signature notes. Credited for story, screenplay and dialogue, Kanika Dhillion’s contribution here is vital. While some of her lines hit the spot and elevate scenes, the approach to fleshing out the story seems jaded. It almost feels like once all the plot points were covered, the writing team couldn’t care less to make the story sing.
Clocking a bit over two hours, Haseen Dillruba is a victim of its own devices. The slow-burn style of unravelling turns and holding its cards for a bit too long while we’ve already prepared for the worst, makes the eventual reveal seem flaccid.