Love knows no bounds. In screenwriter Kanika Dhillon's latest labour of love, you cannot call it love if it does not push you to the brink of insanity.
Directed by Vinil Mathew, who last helmed the Sidharth Malhotra-Parineeti Chopra starrer 'Hasee Toh Phasee', 'Haseen Dillruba' has some great ideas in place but its execution is so patchy and painful, you feel you've served a jail term even as the film clocks over 125 minutes.
Set in Jwalapur, a remote small town in hinterland India, Rani Kashyap (Taapsee Pannu), a feisty beautician agrees to an arranged marriage with the shy and reticent Rishabh 'Rishu' Saxena (Vikrant Massey), an engineer at the town's electricity board. Soon, she realizes that her rushed decision to settle down will only distance her further from her husband, who himself is too overwhelmed by his awkwardness. Eventually, his cousin Neel Tripathi (Harshvardhan Rane) walks in and Rani's world is waiting to fall apart like a pack of cards. Confrontation leads to contempt, a murder happens and Rani finds herself to be its prime suspect.
Kanika's story makes earnest attempts to explore the social gaze towards women who are punished for their conscious choices and how does it treat its men dealing with their vulnerabilities. It also aims at upending the narrative about how confident women are viewed as vamps who lay the bait for trusting, unsuspecting men. But the screenplay barely scratches upon their surfaces. In a beautiful scene, Rishu has a meltdown in front of Rani where he explains why is he facing performance anxiety. But you're hardly given the time to indulge and revel before you're led further into the story. Instead, judicious screen time is wasted upon the constant bickering between Rani and her mother-in-law from hell. Also, it's a bit troubling as to why the makers choose to highlight the petty ramblings of small-town life. Agreed, there might be a semblance of truth to it but it also dangerously hinges upon stereotyping. Not to forget the obsession of romanticizing misled male rage, a Hindi cinema trope that has been plastered onto our faces for decades, but a recurring theme in most Aanand L Rai productions. Additionally, you never quite understand why Rani chooses to marry Rishu in the first place. The clunky introductory sequence witnesses her aunt chiding her into giving up on yearning for lovers she reads about in her pulpy novels and settle for someone simpler. So, clearly Rishu is an experiment then. As if 'Haseen Dillruba' is not already weighed down enough by its problems, it's bizarre climax is a complete car crash. Cinematographer Jayakrishna Gummadi, alongwith Sudharkar Reddy and Avinash Arun capture picturesque views of Jwalapur but in the scheme of story-telling, the town doesn't fit in as an active participant. Nor does Amit Trivedi's music help to salvage the situation.
'Haseen Dillruba' is to Taapsee what 'Tashan' was to Kareena Kapoor Khan after 'Jab We Met'. It's a baffling follow-up after a remarkable career-best performance in 'Thappad'. Despite her earnest attempts at making Rani into a believable character, you never quite relate to it because Taapsee is saddled with weakly written material. Equally disappointing and quite gratingly, is the role given to Vikrant. Because he is a solid actor and it must be applauded as to how he routinely accepts roles in films mostly centered around its ladies, something we would want to see more leading actors follow suit. But not knowing how to bank upon his strength as a performer is of a huge disservice to him and his fans. Harshvardhan's Neel too is never fully realized and is reduced to a mere type. Only Aditya Srivastava as the local cop and lead investigating officer Kishore Rawat and Yamini Das as the mother-in-law leave behind lasting impressions. But those are such humble mercies.
Celebrating top billing credits was worthwhile. If only a well-directed, competent film followed, it would have been an icing on the cake.