Dear Janhvi, Sridevi Would be Proud
“Is Dhadak as good as Sairat?” is the question that’s raging across social media. “Is Janhvi as awesome as her mother Sridevi?” comes a close second.
While the answer to the first question is a “hell no,” the latter deserves some discussion.
The Age-old Nepotism Debate
The immense pressure on debutant Janhvi Kapoor at this point is unfathomable. People are scrutinising her every action and expression in every scene of the film, which is perhaps not that fair. No actor can come out unscathed from that level of scrutiny, least of all a debutant. But then again, it was doubtless her filmi background that helped her land the role in the first place.
So, if you enjoy the perks of nepotism, you have to be prepared for such close inspection as well.
The Character: Weak Writing
Parthavi is the rich daughter of a politician and hotel-owner in Udaipur. Apart from being a brat, she is bold and assertive. Parthavi takes sh** from no one, and can be seen putting people in their place in the beginning of the film. When her misogynist brother tries to stop her from riding a bike, she is quick to rebuke him.
It was very refreshing to see such a strong female character in a Bollywood film, especially opposite a more submissive and naive male counterpart. But why does she fall in love with the innocent, happy-go-lucky Madhukar (essayed spectacularly by Ishaan Khatter)?
In this sense, the writing itself lets Janhvi down. We do not connect with her because we do not understand why she loves Madhukar so much and why she was so willing to sacrifice everything she has for him.
Even in the second half, Khaitan waters down the harsh and gritty reality of the lovers having to fend for themselves. We don’t experience the extent of their struggle and trauma, because it is made more palatable and less raw.
Too Much “Dharma-fication”
Dhadak also doesn’t let you forget that it’s a Dharma Productions film. Everything from the scenes to the sets and Janhvi herself, it is quintessential Bollywood.
In the first half, Parthavi dons the most gorgeous outfits, designed by none other than Manish Malhotra, and has heavy-duty makeup on, with perfectly straightened silky hair. Her face too looks airbrushed, and the number of close-ups on her pouting, intricately made-up face is as overwhelming as it is off-putting.
Don’t get me wrong. Janhvi looks absolutely stunning and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this indulgence and glamour butchers the soul and simplicity of the story, which was the whole USP of Sairat in the first place. Either you go all out with glamour and indulgence in a Student of the Year type film, or you stay true to the simplicity and rawness of Sairat. You can’t do both.
That sometimes sticks out like a sore thumb through the film, though less so in the second half, when she loses (some of) the high-tech makeup. But even then, while the characters are struggling to survive, she still manages to look as prim and unruffled as ever.
It is therefore no surprise that her co-star Ishaan Khatter delivers a far better performance in the film. The focus is not on his appearance, but on his performance. So he goes all out with his wide eyes and immense vitality, while Janhvi is inhibited by an overt emphasis on her prettiness.
Janhvi Still Shines
Despite these obstacles, however, Janhvi still delivers an earnest and endearing performance. In the beginning, she evocatively captures Parthavi’s innocence and conflict between being deeply into Madhu and wanting to play hard to get.
Her graph remains consistent even as she powerfully portrays Parthavi’s transition from an infatuated teenager to a wife and mother. She has a great presence on screen, and delivers the kaleidoscope of infatuation, love, joy, grief, struggle and finally, shock and horror, with honesty and flair.
Her eyes are most expressive, and expressions evocative. It is almost like acting runs in her blood...
Much has changed since her mother made her debut as an adult actor in the late 1970s: the circumstances were entirely different, the stakes lower, and leeway to fail higher.
Dhadak does not do justice to Janhvi, but she manages to shine regardless. If Alia Bhatt could be where she is today after debuting with Student of the Year, who knows where Janhvi can go? She is extremely lovable and watchable on screen, and looks like she has has a bright future in Bollywood.
No doubt, Sridevi would be proud.