These days everyone tends to compare films within a director’s filmography especially if every film made has been critically acclaimed as well as been a box office hit. Rajkumar Hirani‘s filmography is just that. His films have been the darling of critics as well as appealed to a wide audience and they have all done well at the box office. I believe Dunki is an exception. The movie entertains well but fails in the emotional aspect compared to his previous films. Comparisons aside, it is still one of the better entertainers of this year and will surely appeal to family audiences. The first half hits all the right notes from a comedy and emotional standpoint but the second half felt like a drag. The story had no where to go, so random new storylines were created to make the film runtime longer. Dunki is Rajkumar Hirani’s weakest film as the film is let down by a weak script that lacks that captivating feeling. There are a lot of emotional scenes but they mean nothing when the characters delivering those moments hardly have any screen time.
The movie starts with Manu (Taapsee Pannu) in a hospital room in London undergoing some treatment but decides to run away to meet up with an immigration lawyer. She is trying to get back to India but for some reason, her Indian visa always gets denied. She calls up Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan) who is in her hometown in Punjab and asks him to come to Dubai so he can find a way for her to get back into India. She then meets up with Balli (Anil Grover) and Buggu (Vikram Kochhar) who are immigrants as well and invites them to join her. The three of them reminisce about their past as they catch a Qatar Airways flight (not sure if there is even a Qatar Airways direct flight from London to Dubai, but it can be argued that they went via Doha) to Dubai. The flashback story is then narrated by each of the characters. Hardy comes to this small town in Punjab to meet the person who saves his life, only to find out he happens to be Manu’s brother and he passed away in an accident years ago. Meanwhile, Manu, Balli, and Buggu have dreams of going to London to become rich and come back but they are hit with scams and problems with each attempt.
Hardy decides to help them out and finds a way where they can go to the UK on a student visa. The only issue is that they would need to clear the IELTS exam. In the class, we are introduced to Sukhi (Vicky Kaushal) who is trying to clear the exam within 90 days. When even this method fails, the teacher Gulati (Boman Irani) suggests they should try and ‘Dunki’ their way to the UK. Dunki is the term used to illegally cross the border to another country. So, they decided to take this arduous trip through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey to get to the UK. How they get to the UK, the sacrifices they made and why they want to come back to India make the rest of the film. As mentioned above, the first half starts very upbeat, the pacing is good, the dialogue delivery and humor by everyone is spot on. The script also looks to be flushed out way better in the first half. The songs come at the right moments and they are mostly used to move the story forward.
The second half begins to drag after a while. There are few songs right after intermission which are not necessary. As the audience, you want to feel for the characters, you want to relate to them, you want to empathize with them, but the story keeps moving in directions that do not allow you to. Vicky Kaushal had probably around 15-20 min screen time and he was phenomenal. But, the emotional scene with him does not have much of an impact since we just met the character, the script didn’t give us enough time to feel anything for him. It was a big missed opportunity. They should have extended his character a lot more. Individual performances were all superb from the ensemble cast. SRK acted well but Taapsee Pannu stole the show with her honest and simple portrayal of Manu. Boman Irani did not have much screen time in this film. Anil Grover and Vikram Kochhar did an excellent job as well. Technically, the film was well made with good VFX and the music by Pritam was also outstanding.
Rajkumar Hirani’s films are not known for their technical aspects. They are known for their engaging storylines, strong dialogues and strong performances by all the cast members. The main problem is the focus which is on Shah Rukh Khan’s character Hardy every time when the script gets a chance. But Dunki is all about Manu’s story, her dreams to go to the UK and to regain her house back. How can that be possible? This is a SRK film, surely he should be the lead character. Sadly, Indian films haven’t moved away from the big male leads even when the story is not about them. This hampers the film in the second half to some extent. We never feel for Hardy’s character and that is a huge problem. Hardy has lot of emotional scenes but they are not memorable enough to move the audience. There is no scene in this film that I will recall in a few years. The immigration aspect of the film is factual and it is something most people are aware of. But using that and adding humor to make it more digestible does not work out in the end.
For all its flaws, Dunki is a crowd pleaser and will surely do well at the box office. Bollywood did not have many good comedy mixed with drama films this year, so Dunki fills that gap really well. But, by Rajkumar Hirani standards, this film was a missed opportunity.