2023 might have been one of the best years for Indian cinema, but it surely isn’t for Rajkumae Hirani. Dunki is disappointing, period. And it is disheartening to see that even the lucrative duo of Shahrukh Khan and Hirani couldn’t keep such a promising film afloat. The film’s only crutch is its actors, and some bits of comedy here and there.
Dunki is based on the Dunki illegal migrant route, which people use to enter Europe in extremely dire situations. A group of 4 friends set out on this journey after finding no hope for their future in Punjab. The film also addresses migrant life in Europe, and the blood and sweat these people have to put in to secure a life for their families back home. Led by Hardayal Singh Dhillon, aka, Hardy (Shahrukh Khan), Manu (Taapsee Pannu), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), and Balli (Anil Grover) set out on the journey of their lives, to put an end to their problems.
The first half of the film does a good job of setting the stage for the most important part of the film. Hardy arrives in the IELTS-obsessed town of Punjab, to meet a friend who saved his life. He befriends the illusioned trio. They set out to earn a student visa at an IELTS prep center run by Geetendar Gulati (Boman Irani). Here, they befriend Sukhee (Vicky Kaushal), who wants to go to the UK just to bring someone back immediately. They devise a plan to crack the dreaded IELTS, but only one of them passes. A moving incident in the group makes Hardy adamant on helping make all of the other’s dreams come true, and sets his mind on Dunki-ing to London. The second half, unfortunately, fails everything that the first half builds for it.
Dunki claims to be many stories in one, but loses track of the main premise in the midst. This isn’t an origin story, but a telling of human suffering – or at least an attempt of it. The problem is that Hirani doesn’t dwell much on this aspect of the film. Comedy is Hirani’s strongest strength, and he uses it in the most beautiful of ways in all of his films. They are all harsh truths of the country, but sugarcoated with comedy – which makes Hirani the best at what he does. But Dunki does not attract sympathy, and neither does it make you question things. One questions if comedy is the right spoon to deliver the disastrous truth of migrant crises, and if Dunki is the right way to do it.
The movie dwells on the troubles each character wants to better in their home, but does nothing to show the harrowing journey afterwards. The comedy only seems like a good match for the story right in the beginning of the Dunki. The best parts of the film lie in the first half only. The latter only sticks up because of the Shahrukh charm.
One thing the film stands out in is the acting: the cast did not disappoint, and lived up to its name. Shahrukh Khan has been Hirani’s most coveted actor, no doubt. But either Hardy was not made for Khan, or Hirani undermined the true potential of the character. Hardy seems like a knockoff of Rancho from 3 idiots, who would choose the craziest of methods to do the right thing. Hardy doesn’t, however, have a personal crisis to solve. The best parts of Khan are again in the romantic aspect of the film, which soothes the unsettledness caused while watching the film. Dunki will struggle to be amongst Khan’s best performances, unfortunately. But what Hirani has surely achieved in dissociating the ‘SRK’ factor from Khan’s character. He forcibly takes away the heart-eyes you go put on everytime one watches a Shahrukh Khan film at the theatre.
The surprise performance was from Vikram Kochhar. He nails his role as Buggu, the dimwit amongst the trio. Each joke cracked by him cracks up the viewer; Buggu seems to be the primary source of comedy for Dunki. A very taxing visa test is a genius scene written by Hirani, and wonderfully enacted by Kochhar. Taapsee Pannu also lives up to the expectation, in probably the biggest film of her career. Pannu doesn’t usually frequent comedy, but was a welcome watch as Manu. Vicky Kaushal, however, steals the limelight with his limited presence on screen.
All of Hirani’s movies challenged the existing status quo of the country. 3 Idiots is a revolution in Indian Cinema, in its full right. Every single one of them has resonated across every single Indian who watched them. That challenge is what is absent in Dunki, which makes the film bleak. Because there are no points in the story that strike a chord in you, or moves you. Dunki asserts the freedom to choose a better life, for all of humankind – irrespective of social status. The genius behind a Hirani film is missing here, which fails to deliver the punch that has the audience reeling the blow in. An issue like this brings in startling facts to the table, but none of this is present in the movie. The struggle for international immigration is no joke, but neither were the foci of Hirani’s previous films. Dunki lacks depth in a lot of ways, and perhaps comedy is a reason behind it. The only savior of this film is unfortunately, the talented star cast, and the usual Shahrukh Khan charm. Had it been simply a Khan movie, he would’ve been the movie’s everything. But being a Rajkumar Hirani film, Dunki does not meet its expectations.
Dunki is airing in theatres worldwide now.