Haseen Dillruba movie review: Taapsee Pannu's new Netflix film is a hot mess; illogical and ill-conceived

Jul 03, 2021 01:16 PM IST

Haseen Dillruba movie review: Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey and Harshvardhan Rane's talents are wasted in Vinil Mathew's romantic thriller that is neither romantic nor very thrilling. The film is out on Netflix.

The first 10 minutes of Haseen Dillruba are so hectic that a part of me almost wanted some sort of an interval. A guy dies, there’s a wedding, Kanika Dhillon gets an unconventionally flattering credit. And it does’t get any better from there. Netflix India acquires bad films on an almost monthly basis, but this — a cartoonish cautionary tale about the perils of arranged marriage — is among the most disappointing. And I’ve seen (scratch that, survived) The Girl on the Train and Sardar Ka Grandson.

Haseen Dillruba movie review; Taapsee Pannu and Harshvardhan Rane in a still from Vinil Mathew's Netflix film.
Haseen Dillruba movie review; Taapsee Pannu and Harshvardhan Rane in a still from Vinil Mathew's Netflix film.

Directed by Vinil Mathew, Haseen Dillruba is, it can be argued, a bigger blot on star Taapsee Pannu’s post-Pink career than even Judwaa 2. You knew what you were getting into with that film, but Haseen Dillruba has the nerve to promise something more meaningful — under the pretence of pulp thrills, it has aspirations for prestige.

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There isn’t a single minute of straightforward storytelling in Haseen Dillruba — it’s an assault on all senses, including that of the common kind. The film clocks in at a little over two hours — conventional, you might say — but don’t let that fool you. It feels like four.

Three intensely unlikeable people come together in this strange cocktail of romance and revenge. The overall experience, however, feels like someone’s slipped you a roofie. Haseen Dillruba is hardly the homage to Hindi pulp fiction that had been teased. Even by the standards of something you might pick up on a railway platform, the characters in this film behave like no human being you're ever likely to meet.

Taapsee Pannu’s performance as a bored housewife named Rani is all over the place. In one moment she’s the standard Taapsee Pannu-type — brash but somewhat endearing — and in the next, she goes stunningly off-brand, and literally begs a man to accept her. It’s a jarring shift, considering how Rani had been presented to us. The issue here isn’t the change of heart — these things happen — but the film’s indifference towards its own internal logic.

Normally, it would be up to the writer and director to make the evolution of the character graceful. Not the actor. But because there’s no middle-ground between these drastically different sides to Rani's personality, it feels as if you’re watching two entirely different people. Where’s the Taapsee who displayed such remarkable command over her character in Thappad? What has Haseen Dillruba done to her? Tonal creases like this can only be ironed out if the creative minds behind the operation are on the same page. It doesn’t seem like they were here.

Taapsee Pannu in a still from Haseen Dillruba.
Taapsee Pannu in a still from Haseen Dillruba.

In the film’s opening moments, Rani is introduced to Rishu, the latest in Vikrant Massey’s seemingly unending streak of playing toxic young men who hide behind a veneer of innocence. Like his co-star, Massey's a good actor, but severely let down by a script that alternately empathises with Rishu and then points fingers at him.

After being emasculated by Rani in an early scene, Rishu has a hissy fit that lasts a fortnight or something. And we're supposed to care about him? Why?

Needless to say, they don’t hit it off immediately. It’s a marriage of compromise, and director Mathew devotes far too many minutes of screen time to their goofy attempts to get comfortable with each other. You will cringe at the comments Rishu’s mother passes at Rani — and not for the reasons that the film probably intends.

Virtually nothing happens until the script hurls Harshvardhan Rane into the mix almost exclusively to propel the plot. He plays Neel, who is designed as a polar opposite, personality-wise, to Rishu. Neel isn’t a character, he’s a set of character traits; a manifestation of an inciting incident; and a complete waste of Rane's considerable screen presence. He happens to be everything that Rishu is not; essentially the male equivalent of the stock ‘strong female character’ that many screenwriters cluelessly create to appear woke. Neel doesn’t have a conventional job, he is sexually adventurous, and he does drugs. He’s got trouble written on every inch of his chiseled body. But this ain’t no paradise.

Haseen Dillruba, continuing producer Aanand L Rai’s obsession with making small-town dramas with sinister subtext, is based in the hamlet of Jwalapur, on the banks of the holy river Ganga. I suppose this is an attempt at dramatic irony, considering the many immoral activities that happen in the film. Nothing is more dubious, however, than the disregard Haseen Dillruba shows for the language of cinema.

Also read: Mrs Serial Killer movie review: Jacqueline Fernandez’s Netflix India film is more torturous than lockdown; one of the worst movies of 2020

The film comes across as a compromise, as if it was wrenched away from the team behind it, and severely edited until all of its faux-edginess had worn off. This is not ideal, considering that being edgy was probably its mission statement. Tonally, Haseen Dillruba takes such a drastic swerve around the halfway mark that it never recovers. Although, in fairness, it was barely limping along before it decided to drive off a cliff. Everyone involved is capable of better.

Haseen Dillruba

Director - Vinil Mathew

Cast - Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey, Harshvardhan Rane

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

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