Director: Shashank Khaitan

Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Janhvi Kapoor

It shouldn’t be surprising that Dhadak is a film that is produced more than directed. It is filled with motifs that aim to address a nation rather than a region. 

A high-profile remake of Nagraj Manjule’s iconic Marathi film Sairat, Dhadak does away with caste politics in favour of literal politics – the girl’s father is an aspiring minister, not an upper-caste landlord. “Election” is mentioned often enough to prove that the man will be very angry if an errant daughter stops him from winning votes. The story is rooted in a State that allows it to, again, pivot on the frailties of Rajput pride – the perennial poster-child of classism in popular Hindi cinema. It has two newcomers roped in to capitalize on the unfailing poor-boy-rich-girl legacy – from Aamir Khan to Hrithik Roshan to Alia Bhatt to Tiger Shroff, almost every major industry-kid breakthrough has followed this pattern.

Its music, Ajay-Atul’s readjustment of their own Sairat score, is more of a soundtrack than a feeling. The characters can be seen hearing it rather than imagining it. Its two-paced theme – the first half is a movie, the second half is real life – allows the actor and actress to showcase their range across different conditions. Basically, Dhadak is calibrated to make careers rather than statements.

Also Read: I’ve Done As Much Justice To Sairat As Possible: Shashank Khaitan

Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor) and Madhukar (Ishaan Khatter) fall for each other against all rhyme or reason, like only movie heroes and heroines can. To be fair, infatuation is blind; what makes Sairat, and by extension Dhadak, an interesting portrait of human psychology is that the girl and the boy are forced to stick together because they eloped out of sheer fear. At gunpoint, under the threat of death. Not because they want to live together; they haven’t even reached that stage yet. If they hadn’t been caught, and if their little tryst had been allowed to run its course in the shadows of their existing environment, they might have quickly realized the incompatibility of the equation. 

When Parthavi notices that Madhukar is far more shaken by their actions, that he initially cries far more than she does after they leave Udaipur, you can sense the disillusionment in her perspective of his masculinity – all the daring of secretly wooing her and making grand gestures suddenly seems like a lie. She looks at him, puzzled, unsure of this sudden nakedness. She cradles him in her arms more than once, probably contemplating the fact that both their masks are off; there is no hiding now. 

Forget the caste angle, director Shashank Khaitan (Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya) doesn’t seem to have fully comprehended the relevance of Sairat in terms of cinematic language. He hasn’t recognized that the film he “adapts” is actually designed as a sardonic comment on the excesses of heightened Bollywood films like…Dhadak.

The problem with this film, as opposed to its source material, is that most of these emotions – these subtle moments between the lines – feel planted. They fall in love, escape, rebuild, resent and rise under the same palette – there’s no difference in the way we look at them across two separate cultures. It’s just that they smile a little lesser away from home. Their story might have turned into another story, but the look and sound of the movie holding them together is the same. 

All of which is to say Dhadak – a film about a teen-aged couple from Udaipur who elope to Kolkata – is not the least bit self-aware. It is like the rich student that wants to emulate the class topper by imitating his voice rather than learning his language. Forget the caste angle, director Shashank Khaitan (Humpty Sharma ki Dulhaniya, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya) doesn’t seem to have fully comprehended the relevance of Sairat in terms of cinematic language. He hasn’t recognized that the film he “adapts” is actually designed as a sardonic comment on the excesses of heightened Bollywood films like…Dhadak. 

Context is everything. A Marathi film using the tone of mainstream Bollywood to depict the irrationality of ‘first love’ can be considered clever and allegorical; the style becomes a narrative device. A Hindi film doing the same becomes self-defeating run-of-the-mill stuff. The beauty about Sairat’s Archi and Parshya is that, for the entirety of the first half, they imagine themselves to be people like Parthavi and Madhukar: that is, “good-looking” updated versions of themselves in an exotic city of mansions and marble. When Parshya jumps into that step-well in slow motion, in his mind he is an Ishaan Khatter with washboard abs that the shirt contrives to reveal just as he is about to hit the water. When Archi tries not to grin at him as he passes her, in her mind she is a pouty, flirty Janhvi in an aesthetically lit boat at midnight. 

Khaitan shoots Udaipur, too, in a way that someone from a small Maharastrian town might imagine it to be, rather than one that accommodates two giddy Marwari teenagers – ubiquitous lakes, temples, aerial shots of labyrinth pathways, white tourists, choreographed songs of Marathi origins. The villain (Ashutosh Rana) has a twirled moustache and murderous rage, and the hero’s friends are used as comic relief (one of them, a vertically challenged man, even dresses as a schoolboy in a scene). Everything is a prototype, a derived image that Manjule had in fact set out to weaponize. 

For those who’ve read Sairat correctly, Dhadak is therefore a pretty but unnecessary business decision. For those who haven’t, there is not much that distinguishes this from the Thakurs-versus-lovers brand of old-school storytelling – or, on a worse day, something like an Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage.  

For those who’ve read Sairat correctly, Dhadak is therefore a pretty but unnecessary business decision. For those who haven’t, there is not much that distinguishes this from the Thakurs-versus-lovers brand of old-school storytelling – or, on a worse day, something like an Aap Mujhe Achche Lagne Lage. For a movie that might perhaps count on the fact that not many outside West India have watched the original, it’s strange that Khaitan then deviously redesigns the final few minutes of his film precisely for those who know how Sairat ends. It’s the one time he truly crafts a scene to interact, and challenge, our perception of what a production house like Dharma is expected to do with the rights to a regional movie. 

Ishaan is energetic, and he seems to be doing a lot of sprinting throughout the film. There’s a wide-eyed “performance” about his face, though, that reminds us we’re watching an actor rather than a character. Janhvi is better at being emotional, as opposed to emoting. Both of them speak a dialect that is, politely put, a result of Hindi refusing to use sunscreen under the scorching desert sun. 

Khaitan, I suspect, has taken a step back instead of building upon his Dulhaniya series. But then again, producer Karan Johar did the same with Varun Dhawan and Alia Bhatt in the mediocre Student of the Year and look where they are now. If nothing else, Dhadak can be viewed as the reason Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na’s Savitri Rathore (Ratna Pathak Shah) chose to leave Rajasthan with her young son Jai after the death of her foolishly brave Rajput husband, Amar Singh “Ranjhore ke” Rathore. 

Can you blame her? Poor Amar would have re-died out of embarrassment if Jai had turned into someone like Madhukar – a boy who would rather slap a girl than her old man named Ratan Singh Rathore.  

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