Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Dunki is Rajkumar Hirani’s darkest film, but it’s also his driest and dated

Dunki's biggest strength until its release is also now its biggest flaw- Rajkumar Hirani. The faults in his filmmaking were never more apparent, even if the ambition was also never so grand.

Dunki, Rajkumar Hirani, Shah Rukh KhanDunki, directed by Rajkumar Hirani and headlined by Shah Rukh Khan, released on Thursday. (Photo: Red Chillies/Instagram)

What can be the worst moment in a film? A classroom full of characters laughing their hearts out over a joke which is only funny to them. The echo of their laughter gets no response from the audience. Dunki has that moment– and then some more. You know what the joke is setting out to be, but the punch doesn’t land. You are aware of the drama that is unfolding, but it never tugs. You have seen how high Shah Rukh Khan and Rajkumar Hirani can rise yet are merely settling while watching Dunki, a 2 hour 40-minute heartbreak of a collaboration.

Till about last year, all the year-ender listicles had placed Dunki right in the top 3 of the most anticipated Bollywood films, and rightly so, for it was the fruition of two-decade long attempt to unite Rajkumar Hirani, one of the biggest mainstream Indian directors, and Shah Rukh Khan, in his golden phase. Four days after Dunki, there is a silent disappointment that is ringing through. The film will eventually sink, and there are some valid reasons for this.

Hirani was supposed to be Dunki’s biggest strength.But the director is both — mildly present throughout the narrative, as if credited under ‘special appearance’ as a director, and woefully absent in his form. The slips in his filmmaking were never more apparent, even if the ambition was also never so grand.

Hirani in Dunki is reaching for the world, using a story that is essentially rooted in one state, Punjab. Nothing wrong with that, but unlike his take on the Indian education system (3 Idiots), Indian healthcare (Munna Bhai MBBS), self-styled godmen and religious superstition (PK), all very relatable to an audience across any state in the country, turning lens towards the risks of Donkey route and global immigration policies in Dunki meant acknowledging the alienation of a huge part of the audience and then engaging them with nuance, discarding the convenient broad strokes that have worked in every previous Hirani films. In Dunki, the filmmaker and his co-screenwriters Abhijat Joshi, Kanika Dhillon bite more than they can chew, and it is awkward to watch.


It is no spoiler, but in Dunki, at least five characters die. While every Rajkumar Hirani film since Munna Bhai MBBS has played with the theme of death, this was perhaps the first time the count in his film reached this number. This is Hirani going dark, but not without wanting to let go of the sweet.  Everything either feels seen-before, too contrived, ineffective, unfunny or simply stretched. Even when the tragedies are there, there are no setbacks.

One of the greatest Hirani cinematic weapons was his ability to ignite rip-roaring laughter. His gags were superior, his situation spoon-fed, yet novel. There was almost an earnestness, a buffoonery which propelled his humour, which almost always were followed by high-octane dramatic moments. But the humour in Dunki, except for a few sequences, seldom lands. It shockingly (by 2023 standards) hits at low hanging fruits– a bald person setting his hair, a plus sized woman asking for a slimmer trouser. Even the track of Boman Irani, an incompetent English teacher who greets everyone by saying, ‘Burmingham, here I come’, needed a dash of more eccentricity. Imagine Johnny Lever’s UK-loving Almeda from the summer camp of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai in Punjab teaching English to these ullu de patthe?

Festive offer

Dunki could have also been Rajkumar Hirani’s Veer Zara– only if it didn’t suffer from amnesia and remembered throughout that it is inherently a love story. It is a frustrating filmmaking at display because the film is so concerned with the larger world theme that it never bothers to water the desi roots. It is neither a sweeping, call to action tale for immigrants nor a love story that you care about. It is neither Veer Zara, for a love story, it lacks focus, nor a 3 Idiots, for a tale of friendship, it lacks the camaraderie.

Dunki then, quite heartbreakingly, only proves what many had been murmuring: Hirani has not been able to recreate the impact of 3 idiots, which is where the birth of the ‘Hirani type‘ of cinema began. If PK got away with an excellent first half and Sanju benefited from Ranbir Kapoor’s sensational craft married to Hirani’s drama, Dunki is pretty much left to march alone in the journey. Some gags, a few moments, a lot of deaths. There is nothing new, there isn’t anything old either. It just is. Time for some jaado ki jhappi for Rajkumar Hirani. Clearly, all is not well.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 08:07 IST
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