The Hindi film Dunki is directed by Rajkumar Hirani and stars Shah Rukh Khan, Vicky Kaushal, Boman Irani, Taapsee Pannu, and Vikram Kochhar.
In the initial few minutes of Dunki, Boman Irani’s character Gulati wonders whether Hardyal Singh Dhillon, aka Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan), can make it a hat-trick in the running race for oldies. It sounds deliciously third wall breaking as after the success of Pathan and Jawan this year, there is also the question of whether Shah Rukh can score his third success on the trot in reality too.
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Dunki, as it happens, doesn’t provide easy answers. It is, as the title suggests, the Punjabi lingo for the hard-assed route that many who are denied visas to foreign countries (in this case, England) are forced to emigrate in search of riches.
On the face of it, it is a subject that is straight up Raju Hirani’s alley- a sensitive theme that can be sugar-coated and baked with his brand of breezy humour, like he’s done with elan in PK, Munna Bhai and 3 Idiots.
If anything, Dunki starts off in a 3 Idiotsque fashion. A bunch of friends, without revealing their backstory, gather up frantically and set out in search of another friend who means everything to them but have had no real contact for many years now.
Hardyal Singh Dhillon alias Hardy is funny and backs his friends like Rancho did in 3 Idiots, but somehow Hardy doesn’t quite end up as endearing and heart-warming as Rancho. And for that, you have to blame the screenplay (the film’s writers are Abhijat Joshi, Hirani and Kanika Dhillon) that not only meanders but also doesn’t throw up moments you can relate to.
Hardy arrives in the Punjabi small town of Laltu from where the three, Mannu (Taapsee Pannu), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar) and Balli (Anil Grover), are trying to emigrate for the assumed riches in London. Aside from Hardy, there is also Sukhi (Vicky Kaushal in a cameo), who becomes part of the gang at Gulati’s English classes that they attend to crack the IELTS exams.
As it happens, in the circumstance that he is in, Sukhi takes his life after his visa attempt is rejected. The rest of the gang then decides to take the illegal route to reach the shores of London. These are the portions that should have either provided the film with its thrill or the emotional heft but falters.
Once in London, the bed of roses that it seemed from away proves to be a mirage. And they are all caught as illegal refugees. But Hardy is deported back while the other three stay back for reasons that are contrived, but one that allows Shah Rukh to play to the gallery.
Twenty-five years later, the friends don’t get a visa to return to India. So they again tap Hardy, who is now back in Punjab, to get them back to their home soil. Woven into this is the love angle between Hardy and Mannu. But there is hardly fizz in the romance between the two, and it all feels tacky, like the artificial backdrop that we are to believe as the streets of Laltu.
Shah Rukh Khan, as always, is intense, and his comic flair works in the initial parts. But the jokes are stale and don’t do justice to his skill. Raju Hirani’s own talent for humour is also what saves the film in the first half. But the freshness wears off quickly.
Vicky Kaushal has an interesting role. But once his cameo ends, the film returns to its less-than-flavorful ways. Taapse, Vikram Kochchar and Anil Grover are energetic and diligent. But the Punjabi shticks in Bollywood cinema have started to wear thin.
There is a Tamil movie named Nala Damayanthi (2003) that also dealt with the same theme of visas and illegal immigrants (in Australia) and approached it through humour. But that had more heart because it came across as more sincere.
To be fair, Hirani does not attempt to tailor the movie in service of the star. But this border and visa issue movie falls in a no-man’s land.
Where can you watch Dunki in the UAE?
An engineer-turned-journalist, K Balakumar’s career began in print publications as a sports writer. That also opened doors for other journalistic avenues like films, music, finance, technology and politics, which nobody can escape in India. After 30 yrs in mainstream journalism, now a freelancer for various digital publications.