Back in 2016, Shutu won us over with his piercing gaze and a twinkle in his eyes that didn’t speak of rainbows, but of dark clouds of depression. Those eyes belonged to Vikrant Massey, and Shutu belonged to A Death In The Gunj, a world painted in broad and fine strokes of gloom and despair by Konkona Sensharma. In Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dillruba, we spotted those eyes in Vikrant once again. For dillruba’s husn lies in the eyes of the beholder – those very eyes.
Haseen Dillruba, now streaming on Netflix, is headlined by Taapsee Pannu. Like her character, named Rani, she is the queen of the film. She’s a Delhi-bred girl who describes herself as the ‘full package’ to her newlywed seedha-saadha husband, Vikrant’s Rishab AKA Rishu. But Jwalapur, the place she’s now forced to move to after marriage, isn’t worthy of her. She is still intrigued by this ‘chhota sheher’ – small town – simply because her favourite author Dinesh Pandit writes about bade qatal (big murders) in such chhote sheher. But her intrigue reaches a premature end much like her husband Rishu on their first night together. “Koi jwala nahi bharakne wali Jwalapur mein (there are going to be no fireworks in Jwalapur),” she declares to her mother and maasi over the phone, the two women in her life dedicated to teaching her tricks to seduce her husband.
Watch the trailer of Haseen Dillruba here:
Many ‘arrange marriages’ in India begin this way, and remain this way – kuch aachhe, kuch bure (a little good, a little bad) as Taapsee’s Rani explains to Inspector Kishore Rawat, a very serious, still stuck-in-the-Inspector-Avinash mould, Aditya Srivastava. Rani right now is the prime suspect in a death in this Gunj, but the police are convinced it’s a murder.
There’s no concrete evidence against Rani, but in a spicey case such as this with a bhabhi (sister-in-law) at the centre, public opinion can sway only in two directions. It is either the wife and her lover at the helm of a crime, or the wife’s innocent because she’s a woman after all, and women are a thing of beauty. Sati or slut. Meanwhile, truth watches the whole thing play out sitting on a tree nearby.
Kanika Dhillon, writer, bases her entire thriller on this trope and successfully manages to weave a story that keeps you guessing. There are times when you are convinced Rani is at fault. And Kanika drives that point in harder with the introduction of Neel (Harshvardhan Rane), Rishu’s cousin. While Harshvardhan’s Neel remains unidimensional, there simply to show off his bare chest and equally bare morals, Rani’s character arcs, showing us the loneliness of a sex-less marriage before finally submitting to Rishu’s quiet love.
But that love is anything but quiet – it is full-blown chaos. In Vikrant’s Rishu, Kanika gives us obsession of the darkest kind. His eyes glimmer with hatred, and he knows not if it’s for her or for himself. He gets into physical fights with Neel knowing he’d not win but just to feel the pain. A good man gone rogue is a scary sight. And one should never underestimate the wrath of a common man.
While Haseen Dillruba starts off as Taapsee’s film, midway it shifts gears and becomes Vikrant Massey’s. The actor complements the gear shift with his near-perfect performance. In the first half, as Taapsee shines as the seductress, Vikrant’s performance remains understated, which makes the gear-shift that much more stark. Taapsee, on the other hand, comfortable leading from the front in the first half, seems uncomfortable restraining herself in the second. But, it doesn’t matter, Vikrant’s got his foot on the accelerator now. Even though Taapsee gets more screen time throughout the film.
The supporting cast, though has little to do in Haseen Dillruba, hold their own through the film. Yamini Das as the huggable saas Lata, far from the saas-bahu shows, though she wishes she could be more authoritative, is our favourite. Daya Shankar Pandey as Brijraj, the father-in-law, complements her perfectly. Ashish Verma as hero ka dost Afzar gets some of the quirky dialogues and certainly the quirky hairstyle – almost reminding us of Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, but that’s about it.
The thrill of Haseen Dillruba would have been a little less thrilling if it wasn’t for Amit Trivedi. The man who’s strung a melody for our every mood has done it once again in Haseen Dillruba. Milaa Yun and Phisal Ja Tu have a special place, both for different reasons.
So, what doesn’t work in this Netflix offering? The length certainly is a bummer. 2 hours and 15 minutes are far too long for OTT streaming. Mind you there’s no interval, as is the norm on OTT platforms. And when the narrative gets particularly intense, you crave one. Yet, even with so much time at hand, there seems to be so much more of content just stuffed into one film. Several scenes could have been cut short, very short, and many more could have been chopped off – pun intended – to keep the flow crisp. We understand it is the impact that the director was going for, but an impact can either be achieved in a moment or not at all.
You don’t see the ending of Haseen Dillruba coming until about 15 minutes from it. And when it does, you ask if something else could have been in place of that. Perhaps yes. But then, as Dinesh Pandit writes, “Amar prem wahi hai jisme khoon ke halke halke se chhitein ho, taki usse nazar na lage. (A true love story is that which has a little blood splattered across it to ward of the evil eye)”
We’re going with 3.5 stars out of 5.
(Writer tweets as @NotThatNairita)
ALSO READ | Haseen Dillruba director Vinil Mathew says he would have shot film differently for OTT