Sharada Iyer

DUNKI is the story of four youngsters from a fictional village in Punjab, India, who dream of going to England in the hope of getting a better and more rewarding life than their dull life in the village. How they set about realizing their dream, why do they decide to become illegal immigrants, and how they end up facing painful and grueling circumstances to reach their destination forms the crux of the story. Indeed, on paper this must have sounded great, but on-screen the narrative sadly lacks the emotional connect to engage us for 2 hours and 41 minutes. The film looks jaded and there are no take-away performances, scenes or dialogues…

The story of illegal immigration is a grim reality and every year lakhs of Indians try to take this route in search of a better life across the shores of our homeland. The story did seem great for a film script and it had all the ingredients for a terrific blockbuster and SRK could not have asked for a better way to end the year with a bang…

However, the film just could not achieve what it set out to, and the narrative lets down the actors in a big way. Firstly, except Vicky Kaushal, the backstory of the other 3 protagonists- Vicky Kochhar, Anil Grover and Taapsee Pannu is not established adequately for us to feel their need to take this journey. Since we never quite understand their desperation to take this illegal route, the emotional tug is missing.

There are some light moments infused with some comical scenes related to their visa procedures but no laugh-out-loud moments. At times the scenes with their teacher Boman Irani who conducts their English-speaking classes seem contrived and superfluous. Pre-interval, an emotional twist in the story results in Shah Rukh Khan, who plays an army jawan, pledging to help his friends (‘jawan ka waada’) across the ‘Dunki’ route or the illegal route to England without any proper visa.

The journey scenes were okay but all that emotional speech by Shah Rukh in the court somehow did not gel and understandably, the judge in question had to follow the legal rules and procedures. Once they reach their destination, there are no scenes showing how they lived and what they did for 25 years during which time they even become British citizens. Did they face any problems? Did they feel it was worth making that journey? Or did life treat them nicely? These missing pieces were a big minus point.

The film starts with an aged Taapsee Pannu reminiscing the days gone by and the film unfolds in a flashback. Why she never bothered to contact her dearest friend Shah Rukh for 25 years did not make any sense but one day she just calls him out of the blue to take his help in returning to India with her old pals.

Shah Rukh Khan is good but at times tries to be too earnest in his role and somehow, he seemed more comfortable playing the aged avatar towards the end rather than in the AI generated youthful version. He does retain his charisma in conveying romance and his pairing with Taapsee was great. He gets to dance to a nice foot-tapping Arijit Singh number- ‘Main lut put gaya…’ but by releasing the full videos of all songs beforehand, the filmmakers do not realize that they take away the novelty and excitement of watching them on screen for the first time!

Taapsee acts very well. Boman Irani has very few scenes and sails smoothly. He is so talented yet does not get roles justifying his talent and that is sad. Vicky Kaushal in a small role stands out and he remains with us when we walk out of the cinema hall. The acting of the other two protagonists played by new faces Vikram Kochar and Anil Grover (comedian Sunil Grover’s brother) did not somehow measure up to the demands of the script and they were the weak links in the film.

Songs were fine and suited the storyline. The main disappointment was the lack of emotional connect with the protagonists and the linear and predictable narrative. The director fails to get us engrossed in this journey and the narrative should have been spruced up with more thrill, more laughter, and more heart-tugging scenes to get the point across to the audience.

Riding on the super success of two monumental hits at the box-office this year- PATHAN and JAWAN, Shah Rukh Khan managed to create a frenzy at the booking counters for his third release of the year DUNKI directed by Rajkumar Hirani. The PR team had gone overboard with their promotional strategy to create hype around the film and the gimmicks have paid off as the money collected from the initial booking alone is a mind-boggling amount.

The hype created gives rise to expectation which in turn translates into big money for the makers and distributors. However it is the coming weeks which will decide the final box-office fate of the film. Meanwhile, the reviews coming out from the critics and the viewers seem to range from ‘Masterpiece’ to ‘flop show’ !!! Well, you too can watch and take your pick…

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