Going into a Rajkumar Hirani film, you’re at least assured that for the next odd couple of hours, you’ll be entertained enough to overlook the flawed plot and overwrought performances. Sadly, that’s not the case with his latest, much-awaited collaboration with Shah Rukh Khan, Dunki.
After a massively successful year with Pathaan and Jawan, SRK fans were waiting for him to close the year with a bang with the eagerly anticipated movie with Hirani. While the previous two movies were big on action and massy thrills, Dunki promised to be lighter and more focused on pulling the heartstrings than the others. And while the movie does succeed in doing that in bits and pieces, it falls short on keeping you hooked throughout its two-hour forty-minute runtime.
The story follows a group of misfits who want to immigrate to London at any cost for different compelling (and some baffling) reasons. Since they’re uneducated and poor, they don’t have many options to score the elusive visa that would allow them to migrate abroad and fulfill their dreams. After exhausting all options, that included marriage scams and corrupt sports quota inclusions, they have to resort to using the ‘dunki’ (or donkey) method of immigration. The illegal and dangerous form of crossing borders to reach the favoured destination often involves navigating dangerous routes through extreme methods that put the travellers’ lives at risk.
The trailer made it clear that we would be getting two timelines, one in the present and one as a flashback. So we meet the misfits, comprising of Manu (Taapsee Pannu), Balli (Anil Grover), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), and Sukhi (Vicky Kaushal in a lovely extended cameo), who dream of earning in pounds and chilling by the Big Ben. They are led by Hardy (SRK), a soldier on the mend who fell head-over-heels for Manu and decided to help her get to London at any cost.
The premise is promising and the screenplay, co-written by Hirani, Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon, fleshes out these characters well enough to stand out against the mighty screen power of SRK (whose towering stardom often dwarfs his own characters). However, Hirani’s trademark lightfooted treatment of heavy subjects, illegal immigration in this case, doesn’t land like it did with his previous works like Munnabhai MBBS or PK.
The humour seems to be lifted from the Whatsapp forwards your dad chortles over in your family chat groups and the few that land only manage to elicit weak chuckles. The director’s other strength is skilfully manipulating the viewer’s emotions and keeping us on our toes as we find ourselves laughing uproariously one minute and then quietly sobbing the next. That, sadly, is missing here as well.
The narrative drags and feels contrived more often than not and you’re left confused and wondering if you, perhaps, snoozed for a few seconds and missed a few plot points that could explain the lack of logic in the scenes you are watching.
The saving grace comes through performances. The supporting cast, especially Kochhar and Grover, are a delight to watch and Vicky Kaushal’s extended cameo is the high point of the film. The actor proves yet again that he is one of the finest performers that we have in the country at the moment. Taapsee Pannu is a joy to watch onscreen and manages to hold her own in the many (and there are many) emotionally-charged scenes throughout the film.
SRK is SRK. He was SRK when he was ramming a helicopter through a warehouse’s wall with the bad guy hanging off of it in Pathaan. And he was SRK when he was lighting a cigar in slo-mo using the sparks from his motorbike in Jawan. He remains SRK when he is wading through a river with a makeshift breathing tube while dodging bullets from above in Dunki. His larger-than-life persona remains intact from the first time he appears onscreen in the movie till the last but, while it was enough to shift our focus from the glaring flaws in the former two movies, it fails to do it this time.
All in all, the movie is not a terrible one. You can still have a good time, making a day out of going to the theatre with your friends or family and spending a few hours watching SRK’s turn as a silver fox (enough to give you pleasant Veer Zara flashbacks). But lower your expectations if you don’t want to come out of the theatre reeling in a mix of disappointment and mild anger like I did!