Cast: Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khatter, Sridhar Watsar, Aditya Kumar, Aishwarya Narkar, Ashutosh Rana, Kharaj Mukherjee
Director: Shashank Khaitan
If you have watched the 2016 Marathi film Sairat, of which Dhadak is a very dishonest and disturbing copy, you will squirm in your seat for almost the entirety of this film.
And if you have not seen Sairat, then, well, you will sit admiring how adorable and good Shahid Kapoor’s chota bhai Ishaan Khatter is, marvel and gape at how confident and beauteous Janhvi Kapoor is, and while you feel very sad that mummy Sridevi is not around to witness the transformation of her daughter into a Bollywood star, you will also wonder why, despite good actors, inviting locales and a screen grinning with all the primary colours all at once, you are just not able to connect with Dhadak.
Director Shashank Khaitan’s Dhadak tries to seduce us with its scenery and the cuteness of the two leads, but after a while it bores and then fatigues.
That’s because while we know we are witnessing the birth of a star, we feel in our gut that it’s happening in a galaxy that’s forged, fraudulent and jaded.
Dalit writers often speak of erasure. Of how easily upper castes erase them from history, mythology, literature, stories, film scripts.
Dhadak is a 138-minute long jeeta-jagta, bhagta-daudta, nachta-gata illustration of that erasure. And since it is Bollywood at its most banal — Dhadak comes to us from Karan Johar’s production house — it manipulates that erasure like no other.
When Mr Johar came to pay for the rights of Sairat — the highest grossing Marathi film ever — writer-director Nagraj Papatrao Manjule didn’t know that Dronacharya had come asking for Eklavya’s thumb, again.
His Dhadak strips Sairat of all its political, social moorings. It turns the original story — with its sharp and grit caste essence — into a standard Bollywood romance where one power-hungry and mostly angry daddyji loathes the idea of his daughter frolicking with a man beneath their station and of her own choosing.
It’s not just that Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions has done a great adharma. Even on its own Dhadak, directed by Shashank Khaitan, doesn’t stand.
When they remove all the uneasy crimps of caste and characters belonging to the space the original film was set in, they stripped it of not just its spirit but also all its humanity.
Dhadak means heartbeat, Sairat means wild, unrestrained. And so it is.
In sundar-sundar, cool-cool Udaipur, complete with a pretty and robust jheel and royal cenotaphs of the neighbouring districts, Madhukar (Ishaan Khatter), a college-going boy, dreams of the daughter of a local, moustachioed, erstwhile royal.
Madhu wins a local eating contest and, to his delight, though Ratan Singhji (Ashutosh Rana) arrives, he asks his daughter Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor) to hand over the award, which involves a jarring product placement.
While Ratan Singhji is busy delivering a speech about one Sulekha Goenka whom he is fighting in some local elections, Madhu basks in Parthavi’s radiant glory.
Though Madhu’s daddy mentions Parthavi’s “oonchi jaati” twice, his own family looks very brahminical, cultured and civil. They own and run a very cool open-air café that juts into the jheel and serves lal maas.
Parthavi’s daddy and angry brother Roop (Aditya Kumar) run a posh five-star in their huge haveli. They are rich, sure. But Madhu too looks well provided for.
There’s some courtship which uses Sairat’s background score, cinematography and songs generously, but to the same effect.
Soon a rendezvous goes wrong and bad people do bad things to sweet young people in love who rebel and run away.
Sairat, which told the story of Archie Patil (Rinku Rajguru) and Prashant Kale (Akash Thosar), was rooted in Maharashtra. And when it got uprooted to Hyderabad, it tried to find fertile ground to grow roots there.
All its characters — beautifully conceived and acted — were written with a strong political incline.
Archie spoke with the bored, entitled air of a girl whose house — the only brick mansion in the area — is named after her. She comes to college riding horses, bikes, and is brazen in showing her feelings.
Prashant, the son of a fisherman who lived in a small hut on the edges of Archie’s dad’s farms, was in love but diffident.
He was always surrounded by two friends, Salim the mechanic and the bow-legged Pradeep (Tanaji Galgunde). The “gimp”, as Pradeep was often called, was as significant and essential to Sairat as the hero and heroine.
When they run away to Hyderabad, Archie’s her upper caste exerted itself in ways that were powerful and natural. The smell of the garbage pile, dirty water bothered her enough to crave the comfort of her home.
Caste, it said, abides.
The only flavour Dhadak has in picturesque Udaipur is a sprinkling of foreigners and some bandhini dupattas, and mirror-work patches.
And when it moves to Kolkata, it gets even more vacuous.
Sairat’s Hyderabad slum becomes a hostel in Kolkata run by a cute fat Bengali uncleji who drinks wine in a wine glass at night.
In Dhadak the focus is almost entirely on the heroine and the hero with his colourful tippy-tippy tap-what-colour-you-want shirts. Though he has friends, and sweet, short Purushottam (Shridhar Watsa) is given some comic lines, Gokul (Ankit Bisht) is used just to make the scenes look populated.
Sairat’s lovely music, by Ajay-Atul, was lovely and included the song Zingaat with its very strong Maharashtrian lilt.
Dhadak uses this zany party song, but adds a strange crotch-mein-khujli step that totally wastes it.
Worse, Dhadak ends on such an annoying melodramatic note that I felt bile came gurgling up into my mouth.
People who crib about Bollywood’s stupidity must not watch this film. It’ll make them sick.
There is menace Ashutosh Rana’s silence. Here he talks a lot and the bizarrely thick wig that’s been assigned to him makes him look comical.
There is nothing kachcha about newcomers Janhvi and Ishaan. They are spunky, paka hua and natural-born actors who bowled me over with their confidence and freshness.
She has the charm and self-assurance of a petulant millennial, laced with the vulnerability of a very young girl. She has excellent screen presence, is able to hold the camera’s attention on her own, and is not afraid to stop acting and just be.
I don’t know why, but watching her I got the feeling that Bhansali may come knocking very soon.
Watch her carefully in the film’s last scene. It’s a long shot. And though she could be better, but she holds it on her own, with aplomb.
Watch Dhadak to see a star’s daughter become a star in her own right, in her very first film.
But then do yourself a favour and watch Sairat (Netflix). There you’ll get a glimpse of India we don’t often get to see.