Heart of darkness
Dhadak makes you smile and shed a tear but lacks soul
Sairat, the Marathi film which Dhadak is an official remake of, could have been yet another love story of a young couple on the run if it didn’t pack in a searing commentary on caste conflict and societal oppression. When it released in 2016, Sairat cut across regional and language divides to quickly become a talking point. This was not just because of its shocker of an ending but also for the way in which director Nagraj Manjule afforded a socio-political context to his Romeo & Juliet-styled romance.
Dhadak is a glossed-up version of Sairat with the prickly bits brushed under the carpet. “Oonche log” is mentioned perfunctorily twice in the film, but is shoved aside almost apologetically. This is a film that has been made palatable for mainstream Indian audiences. But this is also an audience that clapped through Anurag Kashyap’s Mukkabaaz — a scathing comment on casteism to cow vigilantism — a few months ago.
Unlike Sairat, Dhadak is mounted as a launch pad for its leads. So the dusty bylanes of Bittergaon, in which the first half of Sairat was set, gives way to the picture-perfect touristy locales of Udaipur. Here, Madhukar (Ishaan Khatter) is besotted with Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor). She’s the daughter of a local politician, he the son of a middle-class businessman (and not a poor fisherman like in Sairat). The first hour — a wide-eyed Madhukar, Parthavi as a tease — is faithful to Sairat, with many of the original’s scenes recreated. But director Shashank Khaitan loses much of Sairat’s magic when he chooses to focus more on technique than emotion. Sairat was visceral, Dhadak is sanitised.
The first half of Dhadak sets up the love story, college campus to pretty haveli. Parthavi dares him to woo her right under the nose of her strict family; he goes against his own to win her over. In Sairat, the social divide seeped through even in the depiction of the male lead Parshya’s close pals. In Dhadak, however, Madhu’s friends (played by Ankit Bisht and Shridhar Watsar) are stereotypes that function as mere props, and in the first half, used solely for laughs.
It’s only in Half Two, when the lovers are forced to run away to Calcutta, does Dhadak show some sign of life. Thrown into a situation where they are forced to co-exist when they have just begun to know each other, the young couple go through a seesaw of emotions — resentment to regret, bitterness to hopelessness. But if in Sairat, Parshya and Archi’s struggle to make ends meet in a Hyderabad slum tugged at the heartstrings, Madhu and Parthavi’s predicament never feels as real to keep you emotionally invested. However, the familiar locales of Calcutta — shot as charmingly by Vishnu Rao as scenic Udaipur — lend tone and texture to the narrative.
Director Manjule’s masterstroke came at the end of Sairat. The climax caught the audience off guard, and he kept it subtle, letting the shock slowly sink into the viewer. In Dhadak, Khaitan takes the opposite route, hammering in the horror. For those who’ve watched the original, it doesn’t have the same effect.
Dhadak scores with its leading man — Ishaan Khatter has a disarming screen presence. He makes Madhu much more than a sketchily written character. In contrast, Janhvi Kapoor struggles with dialogue delivery and though she does well in some of the emotional scenes in Half Two, the performance is a little too raw.
Of the side players, Shridhar Watsar is fun and Kharaj Mukherjee, playing the couple’s affable landlord, is a hoot. What also works are Ajay-Atul’s songs (they scored Sairat too), from the soulful Pehli baar to the peppy Zingaat.
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