Under investigation as a suspect in her husband’s murder, a woman reveals details of their thorny marriage that seem to only further blur the truth.
The first thing that caught my mind as I learnt of this film was, “Who is this novelist Dinesh Pandit?” Believe me. We see these Hindi pulp fiction books in bookstores in the local markets or on train trips across northern India. These usually have a cover with a black background and a catchy, saucy picture to go with it. Stories of adultery, murder etc. abound. In fact, if I remember correctly, Ved Prakash Sharma is one of the biggest-selling authors in India, and his books span the whole range of Hindi pulp fiction. Anyway, as it turned out, Dinesh Pandit is a fictional author, and the novels in the book don’t exist in the real world either. Sad, because I’d have loved to pick up one of his books.
Haseen Dillruba draws you in from the very beginning. If you pay attention, there is enough in the story right from the start to tell you the whodunnit, the howdunnit and the whydunnit of the mystery. The story, though, takes its own sweet time. It takes you meandering through the twists and turns in the relationship between the two main characters – Rishu (Vikrant Massey) and Rani (Taapsee Pannu), because that’s central to what happens. I think this is where the film hits the high mark. Rishi is your standard boy-next-door. He’s the good boy who does well in his studies and gets a stable job. But, as Rani puts it to his face, he has had no girlfriends, and it’s only his job and an arranged marriage proposal that fetch him a beautiful wife. The wife in question wants much more from her dream man than what her husband is. She wants someone dashing, good-looking, and rough. Rishi ticks none of the boxes. This makes up the first 30-40 minutes. Rishi is awkward around Rani and doesn’t have an idea of how to impress her or even get close to her. It’s performed extremely well by the actors. Credit to the writer-screenwriter Ms. Kanika Dhillon as well.
You might have noted that I called the above-mentioned part as the high mark of the film. The reason? The central mystery of the film is weak, and no amount of cover-up with other distractions helps mask that. This would have been fine for a rom-com or romance drama. But for a mystery, this is a bit of a problem.
The film draws from the aforementioned Hindi pulp fiction books as well as the erotic-suspense thriller and film noir genres of Hollywood. It evokes both Gone Girl and Roald Dahl.
But stripping all the references and mystery aside, Haseen Dillruba is an exploration of the effects of love gone rogue. It examines what can happen when trust is broken. Fleetingly, it examines the darkness that can creep and take hold when love turns to hate, but for better or for worse, it doesn’t delve too deeply into that.
The music of the film is decent, but nothing extraordinary. I felt the runtime could have been 10-15 minutes tighter. In particular, the opening half hour could have been trimmed. The film acquires an urgency after the introduction of Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) that is missing prior to that point.
I was most impressed by the production design. The on-location shoot helps here, but so do the numerous tiny things that are done right. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about the accents though. Granted, Rani is from Delhi. And so probably is Neel. But the rest of the characters are from Uttarakhand, and yet the accents are hugely different. The most radical one seemed to be of the woman constable, who I thought sounded Haryanvi more than anything else. I’m no expert on accents, but it didn’t seem all right to me.
I am aware of the controversy surrounding The Indian Express’ reviewer Ms. Shubhra Gupta calling Taapsee Pannu’s performance repetitive and reminiscent of her work in her prior films. I hope I’d watched more of her films, because as it is, I’m unaware of how Ms. Pannu’s performances have evolved (or not). What I do know is that calling an actor as being repetitive doesn’t mean the critic/reviewer is attacking that actor personally. For a reference – and I’m not comparing myself to seasoned film critics – I said the same thing about Akshay Kumar in my review of Rustom. I wasn’t attacking the actor there, merely pointing out what I perceived was a flaw in his work. That’s that.
In conclusion, if you are a crime buff, you’d probably solve the film long before it’s 2 hrs 16 minutes runtime is over. But even then, or otherwise, you can watch the film for the character portrayals, and for its depiction of the levels to which people go to in the name of love.
Have you watched Haseen Dillruba? What are your thoughts on the film and this review? Do share in the comments section.