Dunki movie review: Far from a Rajkumar Hirani - Shah Rukh Khan masterpiece



    Hardy Singh (Shah Rukh Khan) along with his group of three friends from Punjab embarks on an illegal journey via the ‘Dunki route’ to the seemingly greener pastures of London. Years later, they yearn to return to their homeland.

    Director :
    • Rajkumar Hirani
    Cast :
    • Shah Rukh Khan,
    • Taapsee Pannu,
    • Anil Grover,
    • Vikram Kochhar,
    • Boman Irani,
    • Vicky Kaushal (special appearance),
    • Deven Bhojani
    Genre :
    • Drama
    Language :
    • Hindi (with a bit of Punjabi)
    Platform :
    • Theatres
    Dunki movie review: Far from a Rajkumar Hirani - Shah Rukh Khan masterpiece
    Updated : December 23, 2023 10:24 AM IST

    Hardayal Singh Dhillon or Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan), an ex-army officer from Pathankot lands in Punjab’s Laltu and stumbles upon four bumbling bumpkins who wish to reach the seemingly greener pastures of London. Somehow, they feel that’s the only way to end their miseries and provide for their respective families. While the five of them form an unlikely friendship and try their luck to get a visa for London, after a few failed attempts and a tragedy that befalls them, Hardy makes it his mission to help Manu Randhawa (Taapsee Pannu), Balli Kakkad (Anil Grover), and Buggu Lakhanpal (Vikram Kochhar) reach London via the “Dunki route”. The film chronicles their journey to and from London, while teaching us a thing or two about friendships, love, and life, dipped in nostalgia and longing for one’s home.

    The much-awaited Rajkumar Hirani collaboration with Shah Rukh Khan is finally out as Dunki. There’s no doubt that both Hirani and SRK are among the finest in the industry. So, when two masters in their respective professions (like them) come together, the expectations were skyrocketing. But did the film deliver on those very expectations? Probably half as much. Hirani’s trademark filmmaking style – one that revels in conveying complicated emotions with ease – isn’t one that follows set templates. He’s known for breaking them. While you’d think that Dunki will be replete with Hirani’s magical touch that will leave the audience in awe with scenes of emotional turmoil sprinkled with a generous dose of laughter, the film lacks the emotional depth that we expected.

    In a year where action and violence ruled (courtesy films like Pathaan, Jawan and the more recent Animal), Hirani’s Dunki does come as a breath of fresh air. An interesting subject, five interesting characters - driven by their own motives (that aren’t always convincing), a touch of nostalgia, longing for home, sprinkled with a tragic incident and an incomplete love story – makes for a compelling concept – at least on paper. These very elements land to a great extent in the first half where Hirani concentrates on his characters and carefully crafts the world around them while highlighting their aspirations. What works in the film’s favour is Hirani’s strong storytelling which doesn’t need the crutches of loud and excessive background scores to “make you feel” a certain way. Instead, Hirani lets the screenplay and the actors do their job – and it works well initially.

    The first half is where you’d see glimpses of the genius of Hirani in translating complex emotions with ease on screen, hitting the audiences right in the gut when they least expect it. There are quite a few scenes that evoke genuine laughter. The one that stands out is one involving the visa interviews of the principal characters – brilliantly written and executed. Watch out for another scene involving an intoxicated Vicky Kaushal as Sukhi and an equally inebriated Shah Rukh Khan as Hardy where he delivers a monologue about NRIs taking their pind-di-kudiyaan as their brides – an absolute gem! The sequence right before the interval block will leave you in shock and wanting to look forward to the second half.

    Unfortunately, Dunki falls prey to the curse of the second half, where the writing by Abhijat Joshi, Kanika Dhillon and Hirani, becomes too convenient and lacks the emotional depth that one would expect from this talented trio. The plot starts going a bit haywire and the twists involving Taapsee’s Manu become too predictable. There’s little to take back here. The scenes where the plight of the immigrants in a foreign land is portrayed, work well but fail to leave a lump in your throat or a tear in your eyes. For a film that’s titled Dunki and is supposed to be based on the donkey route taken by the illegal immigrants, there’s very little that you get to know about their journey and the risks involved. It seemed as if Hirani was in a hurry to wrap up the journey, as much as he could, in a song rather than tackling the issue head-on by focusing on the hurdles. The predictable climax leaves you a bit underwhelmed, rather than on a high.

    The main drawback of the second half is that the intention of Hirani doesn’t get translated well on screen. There are some heartfelt moments, of course, but one ends up being confused with multiple questions in your head – What was he trying to say? Is it about the donkey route? Is it a love story? Is it about friendships? Is it about the longing for home and ghar-waapsi? You never have a definitive answer as it seems to be a half-baked concoction of all of the above but not even one of the above elements lands convincingly. The entire time taken by Hirani for his world-building preps you and gives you the hope to know about their journey – which hasn’t been delved into, in as much detail as one was expecting. This is the reason why the homecoming doesn’t leave the kind of impact it should have otherwise. There are moments when you see glimmers of what this Hirani film could have been, but those moments never realise their potential well on screen.

    Shah Rukh Khan is in his element, especially in the first half where he plays the younger Hardy. His dialogue-delivery, expressions and emotions are on point. There’s an effortless nonchalance with which he portrays even the most complex emotions on screen and it’s a treat for his loyal fans to watch him doing what he does best. Whether it’s his drunken monologue, his meltdown in a courtroom or even when he’s simply running to win a race – it’s a delicious delight to watch him on screen that one can never get enough of. Even where the writing doesn’t give him enough material to play with, he tries his level best to uplift the scene with his superior act.

    Vicky Kaushal is a pleasant surprise in his special appearance. As Sukkhi, he brings his A-game and shines in the limited screen space that comes his way. Vicky’s scenes with SRK are easily among the highlights of the film. The commendable manner in which he switches between emotions to portray anger, helplessness, hope and dejection is something very few can pull off in this generation. Taapsee Pannu is effective as the spirited Manu. She plays her part effortlessly, especially in the portions where she’s speaking Punjabi. Her chemistry with SRK isn’t among the best, but works just fine. Boman Irani delivers well as Geetu Gulati – the English teacher. Vikram Kochhar shines as Buggu and Anil Grover is fantastic as Balli. Deven Bhojani too is good in a short and sweet appearance.

    The music composed by Pritam is one of the strong points of Dunki. While Lutt Putt Gaya has a simplicity that is instantly likeable, Nikle Thhe Kabhi Hum Ghar is leaves you with moist eyes at the juncture in which it plays in the film. O Maahi is breezy and hummable. The best one in the music album is undoubtedly Chal Ve Watna. The cinematography by C.K. Muraleedharan, Manush Nandan and Amit Roy is apt while the background score by Aman Pant is subtle and effective. The makeup department could’ve done better, especially in the second half when the story takes a time leap. The prosthetics for both Shah Rukh and Taapsee look too unconvincing and amateurish. Special shoutout to Red Chillies VFX for the commendable de-aging visual effects in the first half. 

    Rajkumar Hirani’s first collaboration with Shah Rukh Khan deserved a better written script and screenplay. Dunki is far from being a Hirani masterpiece. However, you can watch the film in theatres with your family for the brilliant performances, some genuine moments of laughter, and Vicky Kaushal’s solid special appearance.