One of the memories I will cherish forever is what my initial reaction was after coming out from the cinema hall after watching Swades exactly nineteen years back. It was a cold day in Delhi. Indeed so cold, I could find only three more people at the PVR Priya multiplex screen 2 watching the movie. In fact, Swades got only one screen at that time at that multiplex. That left hardly any impact on my experience with the film. I left the cinema hall in tears after realizing what a masterpiece it was. I immediately rang my friend to share my emotions. Back in those days, there was no social media war over a movie. Shah Rukh Khan was a name but that was not sufficient to salvage a sinking ship. If he delivered, it clicked. Otherwise, it bombed at the Box Office. He was also fresh from the success of the romantic saga Veer Zara. Unfortunately, Swades was rejected by the audience and critics alike. I still remember critics at that time snubbed it calling it a wasted opportunity. Many of them later on though made U-Turn and called Swades one of the finest movies of SRK’s illustrious career.
Why I have brought the reference of Swades in the review of ‘Dunki’? Many people, I believe have already left the page thinking it is my tribute to Swades. It is not. I have deliberately brought the reference to highlight my emotions after watching Dunki. I am feeling the same today, even though the hall was almost packed up, in contrast to what I had experienced while watching Swades.
Dunki is a film to be hailed for its soul being at the right place. It is an effort to be lauded for daring to overlook the gloss of a mainstream movie. It is a choice of Shah Rukh Khan to experiment something different even after the monumental success of Pathan and Jawan. It is the world of Rajkumar Hirani ji where your soul is brought back to the beauty of mundanities, where you are transported to a different world and end up realizing how beautiful life is if we start admiring the sweet little things that life offers on our platter. It is a signature Rajkumar Hirani film where the stardom of Shah Rukh Khan is in hibernation only to dig out the actor in him. Many of the critics will lambast it for not having a set piece entry scene, or for not having some whistle wallah revenge scenes. Heal guys, this is not Pathan or Jawan and there lies the victory of Shah Rukh Khan. Being the change he has always been, be it his movies as anti-hero characters, or Swades, or Paheli, or that sweet little Kabhi Ha Kabhi Na, or the now ‘Iconic’ Ra-One, or My Name is Khan or even Dear Zindagi where for the first time in Bollywood someone had the guts to talk about mental wellness.
Dunki is a social drama based on the real-life incidents of the Donkey flights where people from the developing or underdeveloped ones take the illegal route to give shape to their dreams, to take care of their families financially. In signature RKH film style, this story has been presented in a comic way. However, in a contrast to his earlier films, Hirani ji this time deviated his path a bit. He emphasizes more on the gravity of the issues rather than presenting them in a comical way. Comedy is definitely there and very much opposite to many reviewers , you will find those moments to be true-blue fun moments. But this time the emotional quotient is what is driving the film along with that sheer and subtle sense of patriotism. When the character Hardy is unmoved even when his belongings are being pilfered because the national anthem is being played, you get goosebumps. The Courtroom scene which definitely is a high point of the film is a message of subtle patriotism that hits your heart. The climax which many so called fans of SRK found to be dud and dull is a true tearjerker if you love good films, if you value true love.
Cinematography of this movie is amazing. The shots, zooming out from close angles like the socks of a student or the feet of a dead body to the entire scene is something never experienced in our cinemas. The songs are amazing. I have listened to the song’ Nikle the kabhi hum ghar se’ at least a hundred times but when that song was being played in the movie, I was leaning on the shoulders of my wife to hide my tears. Every other technical aspect has been taken care of brilliantly. The under-water scenes are amazing cinematic experiences hitherto never explored in Bollywood or better to say in Indian cinema.
Shah Rukh Khan as Hardy is a winner. When Zero released and I was yawning right from the beginning, I had a grievance why this man does not yield himself to the director and be less SRK more the character in the movies especially after My Name is Khan? Star power is good but at least he should have some films to be proud of in the last lap of his career. Pathan or Jawan were those movies which won because they catered to what the front seat fans love. Grand entry, whistle inviting dialogues or dhoom dharakka action scenes. But here he is just an actor, not a star. I think many SRK fan will have a problem with this image of SRK. But this is where I think Hirani ji is the baap of all Bollywood directors. He could take away the stardom of SRK and make him dance to his tunes. And there lies the victory of Dunki. And this is perhaps SRK’s most powerful film after Chak De. Unfortunately, the star who has actually made most experiments in India has always been accused of being steriotyped.
The story, even though told from the perspective of illegal immigrants, will touch everyone living outside his home. Even a student residing in a hostel can connect the emotions, a housewife living in London uprooting her memories because her husband has to live there will connect to the story. This has a universal appeal.
Many are hailing the role of Vicky Kaushal. I found that to be incomplete. An author backed role like that could have been nailed by anyone. In fact, in certain moments he was a bit superficial. So was Boman Irani. These two characters could have been given more attention. Tapsee Pannu henceforth can be renamed as Tapsee Mannu as she lived in that character. Her chemistry with Hardy has been criticized by many. But I found it to be the highest pint of the film. In an age where commitment means nothing to the young individuals, the chemistry between Hardy and Mannu can be perceived only when you do not go by the trends. The last scene of Mannu is out of the world. Vikram Kochhar is an asset and his one liners can be valued only when you watch it for the second time. Anil Grover is brilliant as Balli.
The lyrics of the songs are to be felt , researched and worshipped. In the days to come, some of the songs especially the one ‘Bade Door Se’ by Sonu ji is going to be a cult.
Overall it is a brilliant Rajkumar Hirani film you have been waiting for so long. I did not allow my senses to be influenced by what others say and was rewarded with a masterpiece. Do not make it like Swades, a cult a decade after. Feel the movie and reciprocate the love Hirani ji and SRK are trying to convey through this film. A true masterpiece. A definition of what Alpha Males should be in an age of dying values. Hats off to Hirani ji and SRK Sir. We still emote because you exist.