Hitchcockian drama meets pulpy crime thriller — with mixed results — in Haseen Dillruba. Set in a small town and traversing the beats of a murder mystery, an obsessive romance and a tale of lust and passion, the film is ambitious, refusing to be boxed into any one genre. But while Haseen Dillruba scores on account of the spot-on performances of its principal characters who stay strong even when the film doesn’t, the intrigue starts to thin after a while, with Kanika Dhillon’s script failing to justify some of their motivations and actions. As a result, the film — directed by Vinil Mathew — works on some counts, but comes up short in delivering a watertight thriller.
Haseen Dillruba has a few things in common with Manmarziyaan, which was also penned by Dhillon. Taapsee Pannu plays the face of both films, both are set in small towns and an uncomfortable arranged marriage equation, that holds centre stage, is common to the two. Except that while Manmarziyaan was an intense romance, Haseen Dillruba combines love and lust with murder and very often, the macabre.
Taking inspiration from crime pulp — a fictional writer named Dinesh Pandit’s thrillers are the favourite reads of Taapsee’s Rani Kashyap — the film hits the ground running with the death of a key character, and Rani finds herself to be the prime suspect. Flashback to spunky city girl Rani getting married to the mousy small-towner Rishu (Vikrant Massey). The arranged marriage is fraught with awkwardness and subsequent tension from Day One, only to be aggravated by the entry of Rishu’s cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane), a hunk with a naughty twinkle in his eye, very less clothes and lesser morals, who quickly causes a rift between the couple. Passion takes over, so does jealousy and betrayal, and before long there’s a murder and, of course, the need for a cover-up.
Haseen Dillruba, streaming on Netflix, has a premise that could have translated into a thrilling watch, all the while providing social commentary on what happens when a woman demands and then wrests sexual agency. Reckless impulses, a twisted core and characters that quickly shed their outer trappings to reveal their inner selves, could have made for a thriller throbbing with sinister subtext, but the fact that the motivations of the players often veer into dubious, and unjustified territory, is what prevents the film from achieving its true potential.
The writer-director combination of Dhillon and Mathew also doesn’t know what to do with the film’s humour. While the awkwardness between the new couple translates into a few laughs, Rani’s shortcomings in the ‘adarsh naari’ department, brought to light in a series of bickering scenes by her mother-in-law (played by Yamini Das), makes the film feel like a saas-bahu soap, at least in the first hour.
Haseen Dillruba gains agency with the entry of Neel, with Harshvardhan Rane’s screen presence having scenery-chewing potential, giving a fillip to an increasingly drab plot. What unfolds after that is predictable but also confusing, with the film constantly jumping genres and characters jumping personalities, and doing disservice to most of them. The use of both meat and water as running metaphors is interesting, but Haseen Dillruba, somehow, doesn’t see it through to what it could have been.
The film is somewhat redeemed by Vikrant Massey, whose patent unheroic hero with jagged edges, is the real scene-stealer, with the consummate actor in Vikrant almost pulling off what seems implausible, including a ridiculous third act.
Kanika Dhillon’s women characters have always been intriguing. They are feisty and rarely adhere to social and moral norms. Think Bobby in Judgementall Hai Kya, Mukku in Kedarnath and Taapsee’s own Rumi in Manmarziyaan. Rani is intriguing too, with Taapsee giving her shades — 50 and more — and almost always making sense of what is an ultimately confusing character who rarely invites empathy. But is that enough for Haseen Dillruba to be billed as a must-watch? The jury is still out on that one.
I liked/ didn’t like Haseen Dillruba because... Tell email@example.com