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'Dunki': Why Shah Rukh Khan Is a Miscast In This Rajkumar Hirani Movie

Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon just does not work in the film's favour.

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(Alert: The article contains spoilers)

"This is the story of a common man doing uncommon things, for the common good of everybody" – This is how Shah Rukh Khan had described his character in Jawan, one of the biggest blockbusters that he delivered this year. As he then singlehandedly fought an army of bad guys, solved half of India's problems, and moved us with a powerful monologue in the climax of the movie, SRK lived up to the description and all our expectations in Jawan.

Enough has been said and written about Pathaan – which combined with Jawan, gave SRK a hero's welcome and helped him reclaim his throne.

While riding high on the success of Jawan and Pathaan, SRK announced his third movie of the year – Rajkumar Hirani's Dunki – a completely different kind of film with a filmmaker whose storytelling technique is diametrically opposite to directors Siddharth Anand and Atlee.

The plot, about illegal immigration of Indians, had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, the casting of Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon, did not work at all. Let me explain why.

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The Saviour Complex

Set in the mid 90s, the film follows three friends – Manu (Taapsee), Balli (Anil Grover), and Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), and a lovelorn Sukhee (a near-perfect cameo by Vicky Kaushal) – from a small town in Punjab. They are financially disadvantaged and desperate to move to England because they believe that a better life awaits them there.  

They are joined by a soldier Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan), who visits the town to return a favour to someone who saved his life, but stays back as he is charmed by Manu.
Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon just does not work in the film's favour.

A still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Hardy becomes the group’s de facto leader as the others are shown to be utterly clueless about how to make it to England. It’s not that Hardy is fluent in English, has connections, knows the ropes or is sitting on pots of money, but still he manages to talk his way into people’s hearts.

Therein starts the problem of the ‘saviour complex.’ A character in the film says, ‘Kaand hoga toh Hardy sambhaal lega’ (If something goes wrong, Hardy will fix it), and Hirani goes out of his way to ensure that people make mistakes only to let Shah Rukh descend to get them out of their miseries. 

Let’s look at a few examples. If you haven’t watched the movie, read no further. Spoilers ahead.

There’s a sequence where Manu and gang enroll themselves in an English speaking course, but struggle to grasp the language in such a short span of time. Lo and behold, Hardy sir has a solution, albeit bizarre, ready. 

Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon just does not work in the film's favour.

Shah Rukh Khan in a still from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube screengrab)

When his tactic fails and a tragedy strikes, the group loses all hope. But who is given a second chance to come up with a plan? Hardy! He arranges the money for everyone to take the ‘donkey route,’ he saves Manu from being sexually assaulted (she really didn't need to be a bystander damsel in distress when she had learnt some wrestling techniques), he shields the illegal immigrants from the police and he gets to deliver the most impactful monologues. 

The film is so eclipsed by its star that often it fails to give equal importance to the other characters.

Agreed, that Taapsee has a solid character and there are scenes where Hardy takes a backseat and she shines, but what about the others? Both Balli and Buggu have grown up in equally challenging circumstances, so why not give them opportunities to stand up for themselves?     

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Shah Rukh The Superstar Overshadows Shah Rukh The Actor

It’s not just the saviour complex, there are times when the lines are completely blurred between Shah Rukh the star and Shah Rukh the actor. When a harrowing incident grips the town, Hardy points out how unfair the immigration laws are. He says how countless people die by suicide when their visas are rejected and how nobody had pointed a finger at the British when they started ruling India without knowing a word of Hindi or the other native languages. 

Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon just does not work in the film's favour.

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

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

In another scene, when Hardy and his companions are arrested in London, they are advised by a lawyer to seek asylum in the UK by claiming that they face persecution in India. Hardy refuses to give in and launches into another monologue about the discriminatory nature of the immigration laws. 

In both these instances, it feels like a meta moment blurring the line between the actor and the character. This was repeatedly done during SRK’s two biggest blockbusters of the year – Pathaan and Jawan – but we rejoiced then because the scripts called for a larger-than-life hero who was capable of taking an army down with his bare hands. 

In Dunki, this backfires because Hardy is no messiah. He is as much a part of the community as the others are.

Remember Chak De India!? The director completely stripped Shah Rukh of his star persona and created a character who we could empathise with, whose fight seemed so real that it drove us to tears. I didn’t feel a thing when Hardy’s eyes welled up, when he almost died crossing the treacherous terrains to reach the UK. Because I didn’t see Hardy in those scenes, I saw Shah Rukh Khan the superstar, the “demi-God” who can’t do anything wrong.

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Hard To Empathise With Hardy

Dunki claims to relate the plight of people who are so hungry to get out of their dire situations and who are so socially conditioned that they don’t think twice about what happens when you emigrate without planning.

Hardy, Manu, Buggu, and Balli put themselves in harm’s way, go without food for days, almost freeze to death while undertaking the ‘dunki’ passage. But the film neither encapsulates their desperation nor is able to build the tension.

One of the most glaring things is Shah Rukh’s wardrobe. He doesn’t have water to clean himself, walks through a desert for days, but turns up in a crisp black kurta. In England, the group is barely making ends meet, but they somehow manage to get expensive tuxedos and a bridal gown during a staged marriage scene. 

Shah Rukh Khan as a common man who wasn't required to do anything uncommon just does not work in the film's favour.

A scene from Dunki.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

If that’s not enough, Hardy turns up in court wearing an impeccable ensemble, while trying to convince the judge about the dire situations of the economically disadvantaged in India.     

The obliviousness to reality of aspiring immigrants was captured with searing empathy in Deepa Mehta’s Heaven On Earth. Agnieszka Holland’s 2023 film Green Border, depicting the conditions of migrants caught in the Belarus-European Union border crisis, was haunting. Dunki fails to capture the emotions, especially of Hardy, because the character is far removed from reality.

Be it Mohan Bhargava or Kabir Khan, we have seen Shah Rukh disassociate himself from the star he is to blend in with the worlds that were created in Swades and Chak De India! If Dunki needed a superstar to pull the audience to the theatres, it also needed that star to strip bare of his stardom and truly become Hardayal Singh Dhillon who lives in Laltu, Punjab.

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Topics:  Shah Rukh Khan   Members Only   Dunki movie 

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