Dunki Review: Buoyed By Flawless Performances With Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu Leading The Way

Dunki Review: Buoyed By Flawless Performances With Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu Leading The Way

A still from Dunki.

The principal strength of Dunki, directed and edited by Rajkumar Hirani, springboards from the fact that it does not rely solely on Shah Rukh Khan’s phenomenal star power. There can be no denying that without the lead actor’s singular charisma this would not be the film that it is. But its charm stems equally from a slam-dunk solid screenplay.

Dunki, written by Hirani, Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon, deals with the perils of illegal immigration with infectious jollity, piercing drama and a clear-eyed awareness of the ethical and legal questions surrounding the act of entering a foreign country without a visa.

The circularity of the story evokes all the confusions that stalk the prodigals as they dangle between their aspirations and the realities of the path they have chosen. It is at the same time informed with near-perfect structural roundness as it examines the fears and misgivings of those who deign to flee their land and seek a new life surrounded by strangers in a faraway country.

The first half of Dunki – the film kicks off with an old woman giving a London hospital the slip and landing up in an immigration advocate’s office with a plea for help – is consistently lively and frequently funny. The second segment of the 16o-minute film anchors itself in a more solemn tone.

A dangerous voyage without maps across a river, a desert, a snow-covered mountain and a wilderness that extends all the way to the horizon brings death and disaster in its wake. All this transpires after the hero and his mates have tried every trick in the book to hoodwink their way through the IELTS system.

Dunki is buoyed by an array of flawless performances, with the lead actor and Taapsee Pannu, playing a woman who is far more than just the hero’s romantic interest, leading the way through the ups and downs – more of the latter really – triggered by the characters’ repeated leaps of faith across unknown terrains and into an equally alien land.

At the core of the plot is a love story that springs many a surprise. But in doing so it does not have to labour overly hard. It strikes a neat balance between heart, head and soul, crafting an emotionally engaging tale with its fair share of twists that do not strain credulity beyond reasonable limits.

Dunki, co-produced by Red Chillies Entertainment, carves out distinct (if not equal in terms of screen time) spaces for the four pivotal characters – a never-say-die ex-soldier Hardayal “Hardy” Dhillon (SRK), Manu Randhawa (Taapsee Pannu), Buggu Lakhanpal (Vikram Kochhar) and Balli Kakkar (Anil Grover).

Each of them has a story, and every story counts for more than the footage that is accorded to it because all of them contribute substantially to the tapestry of experiences and impulses that constitutes the storyline.

Buggu’s mother works as a security guard in a factory to keep the home fires burning. Balli’s mom does odd tailoring jobs to feed the family. And Manu has had her home taken away from her as a result of an unrepaid debt.

The film moves between the present and the mid-1990s and revolves around a trio of young and restless residents of Laltu, Punjab. Manu, Buggu and Balli dream of winging it to London no matter what. They are determined to get away from the poverty that they are trapped in.

One of the three has to literally break the bank to fund his aspiration, another has to learn the rudiments of wrestling to apply for a visa in the sports category and all of them have to enrol in a spoken English academy run by Geetu Gulati (Boman Irani), who claims that a passage to England would be “a piece of cake”.

Their attempts backfire pretty badly. A couple of lives are lost, money is squandered and moves learnt in a wrestling pit come to naught when it really matters.

Fortunately for the three drifters, an exceptionally enterprising Hardy Dhillon of Pathankot lands in their midst with a specific personal purpose and then proceeds to become their go-to man for everything except English speaking skills.

Their plunge into a wild scheme brings them face to face with a world in which trigger-happy border guards have no qualms about snuffing out lives in the line of duty.

While dwelling on the trials and tribulations of undocumented immigrants and addressing how departures, destinations and displacements play out in the lives of the illegals, the film delivers an entertaining yet sobering take on what doing the “dunki” (a colloquial term for an unlawful border crossing) to get to Europe in search of a better life entails.

If parts of the film articulate known truths and come close to striking contrived notes, Dunki also has passages marked by commendable insight coupled with just the right mix of emotion and intelligence. These attributes prevent even the somewhat pat patterns of the story from undermining the overall impact of the journey that Hardy, Manu, Buggu and Balli undertake at grave risk to their lives.

One might quibble that Dunki tends at times to not only make light of the urge of some to flee their village and country for what, from a distance, looks like greener pastures but also romanticize the misadventures of people desperate to bypass the visa system and sneak into the UK as a specious revolt against what the British did to the Indian subcontinent for a century. Mercifully, the characters – and the film – come full circle and hold out no false hopes.

This is out and out a Rajkumar Hirani film. It revels in seeing the funny side of the predicament of people grappling with a world where the rule book matters more than the feelings and needs of humans, where fences erected by nations put the poor who have little access to education and wealth at an insurmountable disadvantage that leads to desperate and often fatal measures.

The persona that Shah Rukh Khan assumes in Dunki is a far cry from the men he played in his previous two releases of the year. He dons the garb of an altruistic trouble-shooter who risks death and deportation for the sake of the truth.

Both as a young man left high and dry by the quirks of fate and an ageing villager who has been there and done that but has not lost his zest for life, he delivers an act shot through with oodles of charm and cheeriness. Taapsee Pannu is pitch-perfect. She matches SRK’s flair move for move with impressive elan. No mean feat that.

In a memorable special appearance, Vicky Kaushal – he is cast as a man who has a pressing reason to seek a visa for travel to the UK – makes a strong impression.

Vikram Kochhar and Anil Grover make the most of their roles in a film that (unlike average star-driven Bollywood vehicles) does not relegate them to the background.

Dunki does not exactly break boundaries but the route that it takes leads it in the right direction.


Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal, Boman Irani, Vikram Kochhar and Anil Grover


Rajkumar Hirani

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