Director Vinil Mathew’s “Haseen Dillruba” starts with a bang…literally…a gas cylinder blows up…but loses its dhamaka, resulting in something that looks cluttered and inconsequential. There’s your timid, seedha saadha worker Joe/Ramu Rishabh aka Rishu Saxena (Vikrant Massey). There’s your good-looking, brassy, outspoken gal Rani Kashyap (Taapsee Pannu). And then there’s the hunky homewrecker…the macho and sexy cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane)…but more about him later.
Rishu is the stereotypical electrical engineer, the kind who are the butt of jokes of stand-up comedians, who haven’t had any sexual encounters in his college days, lives at home with his adoring yet tough mama, and ends up married to the first girl he sees. Rani has had her fair share of relationships in the past, but with her advancing age and unmatchable kundli (horoscope), she finally decides to settle down with simpleton Rishu in an arranged marriage and move to Jwalapur, much to her chagrin. Rani is seen asking her maasi, “Who wants to move from Delhi and live in Jwalapur?”
An ardent fan of mystery-erotica writer Dinesh Pandit, Rani, gets too bold to handle by the innocent, pseudo homeopath Rishu, whose idea of love is this: getting his wife’s name tattooed Rani hails from Delhi from an affluent, ‘modern’ family with whom she shares everything including her sex life or the lack of it. Rani believes that she is way too good for her self-effacing engineer-husband. She has no qualms about keeping tabs on an ex-boyfriend on social media. Being a professional beautician, she even gives her reticent father-in-law (Daya Shankar Pandey) a makeover, much to the chagrin of the mother-in-law. In a classic case of someone marrying outside their ‘status’, issues crop up between miyan-biwi. And it seems like five-foot eight-inch engineer banda Rishabh Saxena can fix anything…electronic that is, but he can’t fix his marriage.
Rani and Rishu are unable to consummate their marriage (not for lack of Rani’s seduction tactics) and things get increasingly awkward, physically, what with dropping pallus, heaving cleavages, and well-meaning advice from family and friends. And just for a minute, the movie drifts into B-grade territory.
Rani, not quite the “homely” bahu type in an arranged marriage, doesn’t participate in the daily chula chokhi. The usual saas bahu mut bhed follows, with hapless Rishu caught in the middle, you get the drift. All the drama between Rani and her in-laws is written around the very idea of arranged marriages, which is a yay, but not sure it serves any purpose for this thriller. The friction between the newlyweds, the awkwardness when it comes to getting it on, the sarcastic comments about men like Rishu being ‘phooski’ (damp squibs) in bed, all come rolling out, and the situation is ripe for transgression.
Enter cousin Neel Tripathi. Neel is everything Rishu isn’t and there’s a running commentary on masculinity, which is irrelevant. Rani is instantly taken by Neel and she takes it a step further. There’s an extramarital affair. And then a guilt-stricken Rani implodes her life, turning it upside down when she confesses her liking for Neel to Rishu. Naturally, he doesn’t take it well. He’s not quite so evolved. Then there’s a massive blast, a badly-mutilated body, and a suspect on whom the local inspector (Aditya Srivastava) has his sights trained on. Did Rani kill Rishu? Was it the lover? Will the culprit be found? Will the survivors live happily ever after? You will have to see it to believe it.
All this is fine but the main issue with “Haseen Dillruba ” is its inconsistency. The tone of the film — from a domestic comedy to a raunchy B movie, to a sinister plot, a cartoonish cautionary tale about the perils of arranged marriages, and even a passionate love story— seems just too chaotic, without any seamless transition. You never, not even for once, get inside any of the characters’ heads and it is truly laughable (comedy not intended) when we see Rishu’s sinister intentions manifest themselves. The entire plot around Rishu’s murder — which is the opening scene — seems like an afterthought on writer Kanika Dhillon’s part. The way scenes cut between the past and present murder investigation (of course, with Aditya Srivastava playing an inspector) sometimes leaves a jarring effect.
There’s enough meat in Dhillon’s story to give us a story full of sex, lies, and a smutty video, however, in the execution, it becomes a Debonair poor cousin. What’s missing is energy and a sense of thrill that needs to be such a crucial part of films like these. Each emotion is in your face, spelt out. And what you are left with is a flatness. Definitely, we were expecting more from the director who gave us the impactful rom-com “Hasee Toh Phasee.”
Dhillon has indeed borrowed heavily from Satyajit Ray’s ‘Charulata” in her story about a bored ‘ardent reader’ wife falling for a cousin of her good-at-heart-yet-lacking husband. After penning movies like “Manmarziyaan”, and “Judgemental Hai Kya”, writing about these dark and slightly off-kilter relationships seem to have become Dhillon’s trademark. The characters are tropes. There’s your hero’s BFF (Ashish Verma, a good actor stuck in these side roles), who only shows up to underline things. Then there’s the bad-tempered, loud mother-in-law, and jokey father-in-law.
This film is an even bigger blot on Taapsee Pannu’s post-“Pink” career than “Judwaa 2” and that’s saying something. Her performance as a bored housewife named Rani is all over the place. One moment she’s the standard Taapsee Pannu — brash but somewhat endearing — and in the next, she goes stunningly off-brand and begs a man to accept her. It’s a jarring shift.
And because there’s no middle-ground between these drastically different sides to Rani’s personality, it feels as if you’re watching two entirely different people. Desperately missing the Pannu, who displayed such remarkable command over her character in “Thappad.” But it is Vikrant Massey who steals the show. Despite being ladened with a thick beard and nerdy glasses (trope for engineer), he speaks volumes through his face and eyes, and ekes out a decent performance despite the paper-thin script.
Aditya Srivastava, Indian television’s longest-surviving detective, makes a perfect investigating officer. Yamini Das is a treat to watch as Rishu’s amma. Apart from the ‘bubble burst’ joke, she is the comic relief that definitely deserved more limelight. You could’ve taken anyone else other than Daya Shankar Pandey, Ashish Verma, for their roles and it still wouldn’t have mattered. But it’s Harshvardhan Rane who gets the prize for the weakest character of the three. He is one of those actors I believe could do wonders if he gets placed in the right film. And this isn’t it. He still, however, manages to make his presence felt on the screen, no matter with whom he shares it.
So, in finality, “Haseen Dillruba” involved what could have been a novel idea; an okay twist, but had the nerve to promise something more meaningful — under the pretense of pulp thrills, and failed to deliver. Epic fail!
“Haseen Dillruba” is streaming on Netflix.