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‘Dhak Dhak’ Review: A Tender Film Focused Solely, and Rightfully, on Its Women

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

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Dhak Dhak defines itself by its parts – the four women whose stories we are promised on screen and the comforting lull and mechanical whirring of their motorcycles. Automotive vlogger and influencer Sky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) leads a pack of four determined to bike their way to Khardung La, armed with skill sets of their own and a desire to break out of their cocoons and start anew. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Fatima Sana Shaikh, Ratna Pathak Shah in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

With her sights set firmly on her professional success (and understandably so), Sky meets Mahi (Ratna Pathak Shah), an older woman grappling with the loneliness of having lost her companion and the casual apathy from her family. They’re joined by Uzma (Dia Mirza) who sees the trip as a means to regain her agency and reconnect with her love for automobiles. 

Lastly, they’re joined by Manjari (Sanjana Sanghi), minutes away from finalising her marriage to a stranger and perhaps one bike trip away from her coming-of-age story. 

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Right from the opening scene, the film solidifies its premise – this is the story of four women on a hazardous journey, one made more perilous by their gender identity. This is where the film’s heart lies; in stepping beyond saying, “Why should boys have all the fun?” and actually taking a deeper look into why it’s tougher for the girls to be ‘having all the fun’ so to say. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Fatima Sana Shaikh, in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

From lurking strangers to chance encounters that could’ve gone horribly wrong, Tarun Dudeja’s Dhak Dhak places the center of its focus on the trials and joys of womanhood. The film isn’t interested in showing its women as paragons of (outdated) virtue and that is primarily why it remains heartwarmingly engaging despite not having anything glaringly novel to say. 

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Often, films and shows tend to sacrifice their characters for the sake of the audience; for instance, forced conflicts emerge to create dramatic showdowns. Dhak Dhak doesn’t. Even in its conflicts servicing the need for a ‘hook’ to keep the audience engaged, there is commentary. Even as these women try to shut down the outside world and focus on their journey (and destination), the outside world peeks in, constantly. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Sanjana Sanghi, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

As is expected when four unlikely companions embark on a journey, tempers flare and misunderstandings mount but there are also tender moments of understanding, compassion, and community. There's a sense of community in the way three women united mostly by their gender identity speak of marriage and sex to the younger woman in their group. 

It’s like Greta Gerwig’s Barbie reached Leh. 

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Admittedly, a lot of the characters are archetypes and remain these archetypes for the entirety of the film – they act and behave, and even develop, exactly as you would expect them to. The lack of novelty in the exploration of struggles also seeps into the lack of it in structuring the characters. Philosophical lines enter and exit the stage at their own pace, often spoken by characters that seem artificially placed in the film’s fabric. How these philosophies materialise beyond a ‘gotcha!’ moment isn’t explored. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Sanjana Sanghi, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

It is, thus, the screenplay that holds the film back – despite an interesting and engaging premise, it is bogged down by trying to tread comfortable waters. Some of the scenes feel unnecessarily stretched out and while sharp editing could’ve saved that, it doesn't. 

Instead, the film is saved by its performances and its heart. While handling rather superficially explored characters, the actors excel at adding shades to their character by sheer power of will. Shaikh’s work in Shonali Bose’s Raat Rani (in Modern Love) is a performance I often look back at for the feeling of second-hand joy it inspired and her act in Dhak Dhak has a similar effect.

Shaikh’s strength lies in the way she emotes – forget her joy, even her grief and frustration are palpable and infectious. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Sanjana Sanghi in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Both Mirza and Sanghi churn out fine performances – Mirza gets some of the film’s softest, kindest scenes and Sanghi gets some of the loudest and clumsiest. Mirza as Uzma ably carries both unending compassion for the people around her and a quiet rage for her circumstances. 

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But the film’s shining star is the inimitable Ratna Pathak Shah – I almost feel like a broken record calling her an incredible actor. Mahi is the story’s catalyst – it’s her desires and ambition that drive the film forward – and Shah is the film’s. If Dhak Dhak was a one-woman monologue, it should’ve been Mahi’s. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Ratna Pathak Shah in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

It is perhaps the warmth that spreads across your chest towards the film’s final moments that pushes you to let go of the film’s flaws. To forget to ask how two of these four women actually managed to drive their bikes up a very treacherous road. To forget the exposition heavy scenes of them being inspirational to younger girls. To let go of the fact that emotional conflicts are solved within seconds. 

I did. Perhaps you will too. 

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The film is incredibly shot at picturesque locations – the visual language is reminiscent of Dil Chahta Hai and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara but if the latter took place in the world of Uunchai. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

Ratna Pathak Shah in a still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

I can’t help but wonder if a stronger screenplay would’ve allowed for more focus on the way these women’s lives have been framed by the societal structures they exist in. Conversations around rampant misogyny, consent (a pleasantly nuanced one at that), overbearing mothers and apathetic children, all lurk in the shadows of this film – waiting to walk out center stage and prove their mettle but they are relegated to tertiary roles. 

Not to say that the film’s focus shouldn’t have remained on the women’s journey – that is the hook, that is the point, their need to escape is the crux of the matter – but the execution could’ve been more layered. There are admittedly some scenes that stand out, both for their astute messaging and for their humour. 

'Dhak Dhak', directed by Tarun Dadeja, is produced by Outsiders Films in association with BLM Pictures.

A still from Dhak Dhak.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

As it stands, Dhak Dhak is a film that is all heart and sometimes, that’s all that matters. The film asks a question: “What matters more, the journey or the destination?” For this film, what matters is the women on screen. 

Dhak Dhak hit theatres on 13 October.

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