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Dunki: A tale of tears, love, Pardes and Swades

27 Dec 2023 By ANIRBAN RAY

Genre: Family Drama

Starring: Shahrukh Khan, Boman Irani, Tapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal, Anil Grover

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‘Birds from Russia migrate thousands of kilometres away from their homelands in search of warmer climes, and regularly come to India. Do we ever question, bar, or seek visas from them?’

This monologue from Hardy (aka Shahrukh Khan) reminds us of the harsh realities of immigration in his new film Dunki directed by Rajkumar Hirani. For a third time this year, Shah Rukh Khan plays a member of the armed forces, that actually arouse a yawn instead of patriotism. It seems to give a forced reminder that only army men are loving, gullible, and emotional – essentials of a real macho man.

Dunki is a shockingly inept film, probably Hirani’s worst after Sanju, though the saving factor in the latter was Ranbir Kapoor’s excellent performance. With a pathetic de-ageing VFX that gives King Khan a weird, uncanny look, it makes people wonder if he is crying or laughing. Also, his newly induced forced baritone with long preachy patriotic monologues reminds one of scripts a decade back – the kind Big B would deliver during his fleeting ‘angry young man’ stage.

It is evident that Hirani with his excellent writers did not venture out from their cosy studio to the new India where Indians, even in small towns, are smart enough to surf, speak English, and get visas online. Is he out of touch with modern India?

The 3-hour film narrates the tale of three ‘losers’ in the village of Laltu and their army friend Hardy who helps them take on a dangerous route to the UK called Dunki. Most of the actors and their crisis are very superficial except for the character of Vicky Kaushal, in a spirited special appearance as Sukhi. After failing to clear their IELTS exams, Hardy convinces the others to migrate illegally through Dunki.

Laced with director Rajkumar Hirani’s signature style, Dunki rides high on emotions, there are few doses of humour that, at times, gets too much to be digested. Hirani’s films are all about flashbacks, strict parents, a world full of love and heartbreaks and topping it all with music that soothes the soul.

As the film sprawls across continents and changing landscapes, they dodge bullets, get submerged in wadis, risk their lives and more, only to realise that their dream destination doesn’t hold the gleam they imagined. There is a naivety in their dream oblivious of the reality of living as an illegal immigrant.

The film paints a realistic picture of the plight of illegal immigrants but more could have been done with the topic as it relates to many parts of the world including the Arabian Gulf. Scenes of the illegal immigrants living in constant fear of the police, and in cramped indecent settings, is, indeed, touching.

After two back-to-back blockbusters, Jawan and Pathaan, Shah Rukh Khan served out Dunki with great expectations and the audience, too, were expecting to be delighted with a third hit. However, this maiden collaboration between Hirani and King Khan, with a flimsy script, messy screenplay, worn out humour, and, above all, SRK’s AI generated ‘youthfulness’ is painful to watch.

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