Director: Vinil Mathew
Cast: Taapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey, Harshvardhan Rane
Netflix’s latest offering, Haseen Dillruba, has a title which throws you off scent. A murder mystery, it has in one of the first scenes, Taapsee Pannu’s Rani Kashyap asking the guy who has come bride hunting to her house if has read Dinesh Pandit’s thrillers. He is wonderful with the way he spins the most devious of stories setting them in some of the smallest Indian towns. The boy, rather man – Rishu (Vikrant Massey), who works as an engineer in an electricity board at Jwalapur, has never heard of Pandit.
The film has a fairly decent narrative style, give and take a few exaggerations – like, for instance, the bickering of the mother-in-law, who desires a picture-perfect “bahu” (daughter-in-law). But Rani is not that, and what seems scandalous to the older woman is that her son’s wife is not even comfortable making a cup of tea. However, having worked in a beauty parlour, she is remarkable here. She gets her father-in-law looking years younger by colouring his hair, and later, we see Rishu’s mother too falling in line by having a facial. These are hilarious, and scripted with easy finesse.
The Rani-Rishu marriage stumbles along with the wife, stars in her eyes, yearing for a bookish romance, while he is shy to the point of diffidence. And in intrudes Rishu’s cousin, Neel (Harshvardhan Rane), dashing, debonair and macho. He turns out to be quite a cad, and seduces Rani. We can predict the consequences . At least, we think we can.
Haseen Dillruba foxes us with its about turns. Penned by Kanika Dhillon, its seems all real to a point. But where it hits a roadblock is the way it chooses its climax. It just appears implausible – a case of a fairly good story-telling suddenly losing its bearings.
The movie is evenly paced, and fits well into the murder-mystery genre, but what takes the cake is the performance of the two lead stars.
Massey is entirely believable as an extremely shy small-town guy, who secretly admires his pretty wife’s delightfully outgoing ways. He is in awe of her, even when her mannerisms come close to clashing with his conservative ideas. But when she crosses the line, he is anguished and angry.
Pannu is getting better with every work of hers, and as Rani, she just rules with an amazing arc swinging from disappointment to distress to even extreme fear. She is captivating as a woman pushed astray by unavoidable circumstances, conveying her deepest desires with remarkable lucidity.
Certainly, one of the better Indian titles coming from Netflix is recent months, Haseen Dillruba is let down by patches of weak writing, especially towards the end. The police interrogation appears insipid, and the film winds down on a note of implausibility.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a movie critic and author)