Tapsee Pannu as Rani Kashyap in 'Haseen Dillruba' (screen grab).
Rani Kashyap (Tapsee Pannu) is susheel (well brought up, cultured) in Haseen Dillruba. Everyone says so, and she insists she is that too. But why is this good girl in a hell called Jwalapur? And why is she married to someone who’s not exactly Surinder Sahni who could turn into ‘Raj’ (from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi)? Indeed, her husband Rishu (Vikrant Massey) is so boring, you wish that like Eilish's song, Rani would burn the whole establishment down and fly away with those evil wings...
But writer Kanika Dhillon has a wicked plan. She offers Dinesh Pandit. A prolific writer of murder mysteries that are lurid and sexy, and offer a wonderful spin on real life. But will the police get the truth out? Did Rani kill Rishu? Actor Aditya Srivastava is perfectly cast as the police officer who knows Rani Kashyap has killed her husband, and needs to get that confession.
Now Vikrant Massey is a decent actor, but I’m tired of ‘nice’. As a small town engineer who works that job, Rishu fixes appliances for neighbours on weekends and has but one friend (Ashish Verma) who gives him advice on everything. Rishu’s attempts at being ‘the man’ in his marital life are shown rather sweetly. But you are tempted to fast forward the moments because this ‘control your bride’, ‘control your man’ thing is so trite. Just that Rani Kashyap getting advice from her mother and aunt to ‘drop that pallu’ to shut him up before he makes demands on you is a little funny. If only I hadn’t been reminded of the very funny ‘bend and snap’ scene in Legally Blonde.
The arrival of a cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) interrupts this game of one-upmanship between the newlyweds, and suddenly Rani finds herself being seduced by brawn. I found that sudden attraction rather odd. Rani so far doesn’t come across as easy to seduce or so young and sex-starved that Neel could be a crush. Plus, she reads so much. She should’ve seen through a cad before any one of us did.
They’ve started referring to Rani as ‘Bhabiji’ at the police station. And the way everyone is eager to know what exactly happened with Rishu and Neel and Bhabiji, you begin to enjoy the grilling and the stories she spins.
Is there any truth to the stories? One thing’s for sure: the moment she says, ‘That’s when I really got to know Rishu!’, the film comes alive. This is where I wish the filmmakers had spent a lot more time than the earlier silliness. Just one-sided violence does not sit well with an audience who expects some retaliation from a woman who reads lurid murder tales, no?
Is violence some sort of kinky thing between Rani and Rishu? Could Rani and Rishu be Jolie and Pitt of Jwalapur, aka Mr and Mrs Smith trying to kill one another? The possibilities seem endless, but the scriptwriters and filmmakers take the easy way out by laying the blame of the seduction on Bhabhiji. And I thought Rani was modern and cool. Turns out she’s still singing, ‘Kitne bhi tu kar le sitam, hans hans ke sahenge hum…’ from an 80s movie...Sigh.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying the film as much as you will. But I want to push pulp fiction a tad more. Hindi pulp has some gruesome murders, some creative escapes and daring robberies and adventures. This film does take a page out of pulp and keeps the interest alive, but you do feel a little let down because the ending seems far-fetched and gruesome for no reason. A simpler solution could have been to show Neel taunting Rani and Rishu with a sharpie tattoo…
You hear Billie Eilish sing, ‘My Lucifer is lonely’ many times in your head as the film captures jealousy in Jwalapur… This film is delightful and different from the usual ‘Indian Originals’ fare we get to see on OTT platforms like Netflix. Perhaps, if there are men like Rishu out there, they will learn to read more instead of fixing appliances for aunties. Perhaps this will encourage more women to not pretend to be the ‘susheel’ bahu who makes ‘khasta kachoris’ only, but something more. Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.
Vikrant Massey as Rishu in 'Haseen Dillruba', streaming on Netflix.
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.