A 50-something Manu Randhawa (Taapsee Pannu) is homesick, and desperately wants to go back to India along with her two friends Buggu Lakhanpal (Vikram Kochhar) and Balli (Anil Grover), but they won’t get a visa from the British embassy. With no option left, she dials up Hardy aka Hardayal Singh Dhillon (Shah Rukh Khan) in Punjab, who she is sure can help her find a way.
As they embark on this journey back home, we are told how it all began in 1995 in Laltu, Punjab when this trio, along with Sukhi (Vicky Kaushal in a cameo) dreamt of settling in London for a better life. And a soldier names Hardy enters their life, pledging to help them realise their dream. Now, 25 years later, they are all reunited, once again, to fulfil another dream.
Laced with director Rajkumar Hirani’s signature style, Dunki rides high on emotions, with humour peppered in quantity that at times get too much to digest. Since the trailer made it clear that Dunki has SRK playing a young and an aged man, it’s no spoiler to know that the story mostly runs in flashback. We see how Manu met Hardy, how they got attracted to each other while taking the Donkey flight (illegal immigration) to reach London, and face several adversities on the way. Hirani, who returned to direction after five years since Sanju, makes sure that he engrosses us in his world full of love, heartbreaks, laughter, tears, hope, failure and topping it all with music that soothes the soul. Several portions in Dunki just rely purely on the lyrics or the background music for an impact, and it hits hard.
Humour and heart
However, Dunki isn’t just a boy meets girl love story where he helps her realise her dreams. It makes for a compelling storytelling with a rather significant subject of illegal migrants from India who resort to dangerous routes to land in countries abroad, and often end up sacrificing their lives. You have to give it to Hirani for beautifully blending a pertinent issue of illegal migrants, with a love story at the core. I loved how Dunki resorts to a lighter tone to make a strong point about why the poor and non-English speaking Indians are not allowed visas in several countries. The sequences showing the actors undertaking an arduous task of crossing difficult locations and borders risking their lives, have some extremely heart-wrenching moments and a few that leave you with a lump in your throat.
The story co-written by Abhijat Joshi, Hirani and Kanika Dhillon, is flawless but the execution definitely demanded a lot more. Definitely not one of the best works from Hirani, yet Dunki effortlessly manages to keep you hooked. The slow-paced first half makes you wonder if you’d actually be able to sit through the entire film. But the 20 minutes before interval promise a better and more engaging second half.
The jokes don’t always land
The whole IELTS exam preparation scene is the highlight of the film. With English speaking teacher Gulati (Boman Irani) telling everyone to mug up templates to clear their speaking exam, and Sukhi feeling helpless for not being able to pick nuances of the language. However, the writing flawed majorly on this front. There’s nothing organic about the humour and neither do the jokes land well. You miss the genuine laughs and subtlety that Sanjay Dutt’s Munnabhai and Aamir Khan’s Rancho brought. In Dunki, everyone is seemingly struggling to make you laugh and even the one-liners and punches look so forced.
SRK is the star attraction in Dunki and the film presents him in an avatar that we have seen earlier as well, in fact, multiple times over. As the young clean shaven hero falling for the first girl he met in Punjab where he had come looking for someone, he is endearing and sweet. But, he gets better in the second half, when that stubble grows and the gang is on their way to London through paths and routes that are as difficult as it gets. Be it crossing the desserts in Iran or snowy mountains of their next destination, Khan doesn’t fail to charm you. Of course after action packed Pathaan and Jawan earlier this year, Dunki is a total contrast and in that sense, it’s refreshing to see SRK doing what he is best at. Taapsee as Manu is so natural, and her Punjabi genes definitely make her accent and body language way more authentic than any other female lead portraying a Punjabi woman’s role. In the emotionally charged scenes, Taapsee showcases a strong grip on her character, and in the funny ones, too, she holds her ground.
Sparks (don’t) fly
If you expected some sparks on seeing SRK-Taapsee chemistry, it’s just about okay and doesn’t give you any fodder to talk back home. The portions with Taapsee and SRK with their grey hair and wrinkled skin will instantly remind you of Preity Zinta and Khan in Veer Zara. While no complains on the prosthetic front, I quite didn’t understand Hirani’s understanding of the timeline. Even if Manu and her friends were 25 when they started their journey from India, how have they turned so old 25 years later!
Among other cast, Vikram and Anil are pretty convincing and lend a great support to the script. At no point, they look burdened by SRK’s stardom or Taapsee’s screen presence. Vicky’s special appearance perhaps can be called the high point of the film. He delivers an exceptionally well and leaves a lasting impact in his few scenes. The main cast aside, the whole casting including the family members of these protagonists give you ample heartwarming moments.
Overall, Dunki is a film that leaves you with a tearful smile. And if you couldn’t watch Animal with your families for the glorified violence, you must check out Dunki for it’s an absolute family entertainer and will be an emotional riot.