Dhak Dhak review: Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanjana Sanghi's epic bike adventure trip is all heart!
Co-produced by Taapsee Pannu, Dhak Dhak is directed by Tarun Dudeja with a lot of conviction and belief in the quartet of women that lead the way and make the film a heartwarming watch
- Tarun Dudeja
- Ratna Pathak Shah,
- Dia Mirza,
- Fatima Sana Shaikh,
- Sanjana Sanghi
- Hindi (and a bit of Punjabi)
Shashi Kumar Yadav aka Sky (Fatima Sana Shaikh) is a travel vlogger who’s trying to erase a scandalous incident from her past that has become a part of her existence in the present, and forge a new identity for herself that is defined by her brilliance at work. She happens to cross paths with a grandmother, Manpreet aka Mahi (Ratna Pathak Shah), who’s learnt to ride a bike at an age when she should (ideally) spend time singing hymns and prayers to the Almighty. Instead, Mahi wants to conquer the Khardung La pass on a bike since it is supposed to be nothing less than a pilgrimage for bikers.
Sky finds a means to redefine her identity in the wish of Mahi and decides to fulfil the same via an all-women’s road trip from Delhi to Khardung La in Leh. They are joined by a jugaadu on-road mechanic Uzma (Dia Mirza) who feels stifled by her regressive and careless husband, and Manjari from Mathura (Sanjana Sanghi) who’s engaged to be married to a stranger her mother has picked for her.
How these four women from completely different walks of life and society, embark on an epic trip of (mis)adventures to one of the highest motorable passes in the world, end up finding themselves in the middle of nowhere, tasting freedom and living a little without the fear of judgement, forms the crux of the film.
Ochre yellow, dusty, and uneven terrain, close up shot of the rolling tyres of a motorbike followed by three more in the backdrop, four women (whose heads aren’t covered by dupattas but tightly-clasped helmets) riding those heavy bikes – the opening shot of Dhak Dhak is enough to tell you that this is not just another regular road-trip film. So, leave your expectations behind. This is no Dil Chahta Hai or Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. The very fact that it has taken the film industry decades to present an all-women’s road trip film, and that too with protagonists as diverse as Sky, Mahi, Uzma and Manjari should be enough for you to give it a chance.
Writer-director Tarun Dudeja sincerely attempts to do justice to the task at hand. Along with co-writer Parijat Joshi, Dudeja tries to craft a compelling narrative that not only gives its protagonists believable backstories, but also heartwarming moments to the viewers by means of some cleverly written dialogues and scenes. While the first half of the film focusses on introducing the quartet of women who will be carrying the story forward, the second half is where their bonds thicken and self-realisations happen.
Dudeja’s well-meaning intentions are perceptible in the way the story has been written and narrated. There’s quite a lot that works in Dhak Dhak. The coming together of four women who are poles apart from each other, much like the four directions, in ways more than one – would not have been easy. Add to that, giving each of them a backstory, bringing them together and venturing into the uneven terrains that await their approximately 1000km-long road trip from the plains of Delhi to the mountains of Leh. But Dudeja manages to cover all these tracks (and more), peppering them with some valuable life-lessons while packing in a few pleasant surprises on the way.
Even though, the 139-minute-long film feels a bit too stretched, especially in the second half, it’s the intent and the conviction of the cast and the helmer that help you power through and overlook some of the jarring bits. What also helps is the fact that the screenplay, although a little bumpy, is sprinkled with quite a few genuine moments of laughter. Sample a scene where a street-side food vendor goes on a rant about how Indian men feel when women give more attention to foreigners. Or the scene where Sky is explaining their trip route which turns unintentionally funny because of the constant interjections of the other three women. Delightful scenes like these ensure that you’re smiling throughout the run-time of the film. As for the scenes that are devoid of them, there’s always a shot of the slogans and writings on the walls that comes to the rescue to drive a point home.
There are no “villains” or “bad men” that have been force-fitted in the story, in order to make the women look good. Neither is the film trying to make the point that they don’t need to villainize another gender, in order to make a film about women. It seems that there aren’t any men posing as antagonists, because the story probably didn’t need any. The few that we do see in the film – Sky’s ex-boyfriend, Uzma’s husband, a friendly truck driver, or a helpful elderly fellow traveller – seem to intrinsically inhabit the world. What also stands out is that the film never becomes preachy at any point, nor does its characters scream slogans like, “Smash patriarchy,” in a desperate attempt to salvage it. The messaging is subtle, but effective.
Another aspect that works for Dhak Dhak is the notable performances by its cast members. Ratna Pathak Shah is such a treat to watch on screen and it’s such a pleasure to see her taking up roles that are challenging (physically) yet emotionally charged. She portrays the vulnerability of a widowed grandmother, who wants her children to see her as somebody who’s good at something beyond her incredible dahi-bhalla making skills ,with nuance. Even minute character traits, like the way she reaches out for her dupatta before answering the doorbell, have been picked up so organically. She nails her Punjabi diction in most parts and carries the film on her able shoulders. This all-women’s road-trip to Leh wouldn't have been the same without her.
Fatima Sana Shaikh plays Sky with aplomb. She’s fiery in her conduct and demeanour but frail when it comes to matters of the heart. You feel for her when she has a breakdown, and smile with her when she embraces the odd ways that bind her to her fellow travellers on the trip. Dia Mirza shines in her portrayal of Uzma – the timid housewife waiting to break free from the shackles of a rigid, orthodox, and negligent husband. Though, we wish a little more insight into how she learnt to ride a bike was given, Dia never once feels out of place. She brings a lot of calculated restrain to the way she plays Uzma – knowing just when to hold back, and when to let go.
Sanjana Sanghi does a fair job as Manjari and essays a coming-of-age role effectively. However, in some scenes it seemed as if she wasn’t given enough time to get the required accent right. Her character hails from Mathura which is known for its distinct Brij bhasha and she mostly misses the mark when it comes to getting the diction and intonation right. This gets highlighted especially, since she’s sharing the screen with Ratna Shah who’s aced her Punjabi accent to the T. Other than that, in the character of an overprotected girl who just wants to make her own decisions in life, Sanjana has done a decent job.
The cinematography by Sreechith Vijayan Damodar deserves a special mention for beautifully capturing the scenic valleys and the mountains along the winding roads throughout the journey. At some junctures, the use of green screen is quite evident and the visual effects too are sub-par, but those are minor hurdles that you’d want to overlook. The film has about eight tracks and it relies heavily on the songs that mostly play in the background during the trip but sadly none of them manage to impress. The only one that stands out is the title track Re Banjara in the powerful vocals of Sunidhi Chauhan.
What cannot and should not be ignored though, is the choppy editing, especially in the second half by Manish Sharma. It is because of the uneven pace and certain sequences that stretch way beyond their welcome that the film ends up losing its momentum. However, the convincing performances more than make up for it and you do leave the theatre feeling a little liberated, much like its characters.
While you wait patiently, manifesting Farhan Akhtar’s ambitious take on the women’s road trip film - Jee Le Zara to happen soon, give Dhak Dhak a chance at a theatre near you. It’ll take you on an unexpected journey of epic (mis)adventures and bring a smile to your face, while (not preaching, but) teaching you a thing or two about life. After all, neither the journey, nor the destination are important. It's actually the company and the experiences that matter.