Haseen Dillruba opens with the shots of water and fire. It’s the kind of contrast that dominates the entire narrative. The fire-water interplay is present in plenty. The film takes place in Jwalapur, but it’s the view of paani you see first. Figuratively, the fire could be associated with feelings of lust, love and anger, while an incident that attenuates these feelings could be seen as water. Whenever things get heated up, their temperatures are lowered to maintain a balancing act. Rishu’s (Vikrant Massey) excitement for his first wedding night is dropped due to the heavy downpour. When the heat reaches the bed after many hitches, the passion is met with a premature ending. Rani’s (Taapsee Pannu) attraction to Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) is highlighted with a romantic track, which is temporarily paused when she enters the kitchen to make tea and finds Rishu standing there. A rafting accident brings Neel and Rani closer. Their first illicit deed happens after Neel fills up his water bottle.
However, there are times when water becomes the purveyor of negativity. Rishu takes a dip in the river before stabbing Neel in Delhi. In one scene, he looks at a waterfall, signalling the flow of his parlous side. When you move your attention away from these visual metaphors, a howdunnit plot awaits. Inspector Kishore Rawat (Aditya Srivastava) is sure that Rani is behind the blast you see in the beginning and that she teamed up with Neel to kill Rishu. He just needs the details on exactly how it was all conducted. So on one side, a flashback fills us in on the past events, and on the other, the present takes us into the police station. One facet asks you to laugh at suicide attempts initiated by Rishu’s mother Lata (Yamini Das), while the other wants you to be serious at the sight of Rani’s downcast face. One thread consists of comedy, romance, flirtation and domestic violence (the husband sets up traps to finish off his wife after learning about the affair). Another comprises investigation and tinges of humour (a frustrated Kishore dismisses poetry-type confessions).
Ideally, the interlacing of the two should give rise to a tonal mismatch. But to my surprise, it didn’t at all feel jarring to me. Perhaps, it worked because Haseen Dillruba is blatant in its shifting of tones. When Rani and Lata quarrel, the sound in the background swells comically. The music turns sombre when Rishu overhears a conversation about his manliness between Rani and her family. Generally, a movie picks a pitch and sticks with it. Within the first few minutes, the audience grabs the tone and holds on to it. Here, the mood moulds itself according to the situation. It’s either fully funny or gloomy or dramatic – each of them is played at the highest frequency. When you are asked to cackle, you cackle. When you are asked to think, you think. There is brazenness in this treatment that bewitches your senses. I think Haseen Dillruba is one of the best films of this year. You probably won’t find any other film like it throughout 2021. A wannabe clone would simply be infected with tonal inconsistencies.
The characters in the film are not defined by their good or bad traits. They are characterised by their immorality and craziness. The central trio of this film wallows in the pleasures of indecency. Rani and Neel enjoy their sexual liaison with each other. Rishu revels in inflicting deadly tortures on his wife. The film portrays the whole spectrum of love, which includes some good and some not-so-good bits. You see how love changes Rani into a selflessly caring person. Initially, she refuses to cook and avoids stepping into the kitchen, showing unconcern about Lata’s sentiments. Her game of seduction is more about her happiness than her husband’s. When her desires are reciprocated with the same fervour, she develops a will to serve. The change is bleak for Rishu, who branches into a deranged zone. You notice the birth of a madman when he stares at Rani through a window.
There are some flimsy moments like the one where some boys taunt Rishu outside his house or the chase sequence that ends near a rocky shore. But these were not vastly troublesome. Mostly, I was shepherded the way director Vinil Mathew wanted me to – by always chewing and concentrating on things happening right in front of my eyes. What does it mean to be madly in love? Haseen Dillruba has the answer.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.