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‘Dunki’ Review: SRK’s Latest Tells You What to Feel but Doesn’t Help You Feel It

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

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At first sight, Shah Rukh Khan’s latest Dunki fits the Rajkumar Hirani formula – to take seemingly grave themes and put them in a lighter package. But as the film continues, you start to realise that the packaging, this time around, is more hollow than it is light. 

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

A still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

In a fictional village in Punjab, three friends namely Manu (Taapsee Pannu), Balli (Anil Grover), and Buggu (Vikram Kochhar) decide to travel to London for a better future. Manu wants to regain ownership of her house and Balli and Buggu are both driven by a desire to give their families a more comfortable life. The film also points out this version of the ‘American dream’ has been drilled into their minds, even subconsciously. Posters promising a better future abroad are on every wall and pillar, people have cement planes on their ceilings, and agents are dime a dozen. 

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This trio then meets Hardyal Singh Dhillon aka Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan), an army man who comes to their village looking for a stranger, and Sukhi (Vicky Kaushal), their fellow student at their English classes. Sukhi’s story is Dunki’s highlight and so is Kaushal. The desperation to go to London, even if just for a day, is palpable in his eyes. Your heart goes out to him. 

He really is one of the finest actors we have.

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

A still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

And that is a feeling missing from the rest of the film. The route that the gang chooses to take or the ‘dunki’ essentially makes them illegal migrants and the journey is beyond arduous. For many who choose this route in real life, return and failure are both rarely an option. While we also watch the film’s characters take on this journey, it feels like we’re watching one set piece after another.

As they wade through deep waters and struggle to survive in abysmal living conditions, you feel for them but it’s because you are capable of empathy, not because the script is designed well.

For the most part, Dunki’s script is lackluster. Even when it comes to the nuanced conversation that is immigration laws and the discrimination that underprivileged people including those from lower-income backgrounds face in the process, the film is woefully superficial. Even the comedy, something Hirani has earlier excelled at, often feels forced. The jokes don’t land and have clearly not evolved with time. 

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

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Dunki’s biggest problem however is that it feels like it is chasing its own tail. The movie clutches onto the emotion of ‘returning home’ for dear life. But it never questions why people decide to choose to endanger their lives this way. It never tries to actually tap into the desperation and dejection it must take for someone to want to leave their home for a foreign land. The real world societal issues that actually lead to immigration, even beyond persecution or war, don’t make their ways into the film’s fabric. 

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

Anil Grover in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

To its credit, the film does make some interesting arguments – at one point Hardy proclaims that borders are only technically ‘closed’ to the poor. In another, Pannu tells a distraught Hardy she doesn’t actually have a ‘home’ to return to. If Sukhi’s story keeps you hooked in the first half, Hardy and Manu’s conflicting opinions reflecting their circumstances and motivations keep you engaged in the second. 

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Dunki also points at the need to look at colonialism and its history while dealing with matters of migration and immigration. It is in these moments where nuance peeks through the curtains that you feel the potential the film has. 

Perhaps this film is supposed to be a romantic movie. There, Shah Rukh proves yet again that he is still the ‘King of Romance’. The tenderness in his gaze, the selfless need to stay by the side of the person he loves, all translate to a story that makes you root for Hardy and Manu to work out. 

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

Taapsee Pannu in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

As for the performances, Shah Rukh’s charm keeps you hooked to his character even when the accent comes off as a caricature in bits. Pannu as Manu is instantly likable; her gait and accent are more convincing, and Grover and Kocchar are fine additions to the cast.  

The cinematography and the editing don’t disappoint as much as the execution does but they’re nothing to write home about. What about the music, you might ask. I don’t remember any of the songs and I don’t think I am going to go looking either. For instance, while Sam Bahadur’s music didn’t blow me away, I have been listening to ‘Itni Si Baat’ on a loop – that won’t happen here. 

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Dunki is, in a way, eclipsed by its star. Shah Rukh Khan’s character just feels like a mask ‘The SRK’ has put on for a new film. If something goes wrong, the hero is going to swoop in and fix it. ‘Kaand hoga toh Hardy sambhaal lega’ (If something goes wrong, Hardy will handle it) could’ve been the tagline for the film. 

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I almost feel bad for not liking the film because of the subject matter. Dunki is a film about people constantly stuck in limbo between their lives at home and the lives they once envisioned. Their dreams and their aspirations all rest in the hands of strangers they might not even be able to trust. Even after all that, an easy life does not await them and there is often nothing left to return to. Dunki’s premise is one about finding the strength to keep fighting in the hope for greener pastures.

'Dunki', starring Taapsee Pannu and Shah Rukh Khan, hit theatres on 21 December.

Shah Rukh Khan and Taapsee Pannu in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

But Dunki is not the film for those stories. It leaves you feeling almost dissatisfied, thinking about what could’ve been. Before I shut down my laptop and step out to record my review, I want to leave you with this (consider this a recommendation maybe): For the entire runtime, images from Poher Rasmussen’s Flee kept returning to my mind in flashes. Even though it is told through the lens of a single refugee, Flee’s gaze remains both hopeful and disquieting throughout. 

It makes you shudder, it makes you think. Dunki does neither.

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Topics:  Shah Rukh Khan   Taapsee Pannu   Dunki 

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