Right off the bat: I didn’t get the chance to read a single review of Haseen Dillruba — it started playing on autopilot the moment I finished watching Crooked House (that I’d watched earlier on a flight, and felt it didn’t do much justice to the Agatha Christie book, despite the razzmatazz of art direction and cast, but still wanted to revisit on a Friday afternoon). If I had read the reviews — most of which have been inexplicably negative — I may not have watched the film… but then again, I may have, because I love Vikrant Massey, and who doesn’t love the idea of a twisted romance?
A bubbly, hot-blooded Rani and a virginal Rishu get hitched. Arranged marriage. She leaves Delhi and moves to small-town Jwalapur, somewhere along the river. He loves her madly, like a devotee; she, not so much, she’s bored, doesn’t find him much of a challenge. Enter, Neel, Rishu’s rowing champ cousin with a worked-out body and manly manners. Rani and Neel have an affair; she wants to run away with him, but he decamps, leaving her heartbroken. Rani tells Rishu about her affair; he goes into a funk, with attributes she wouldn’t have imagined he possessed.
From thereon, certain events take place leading to a murder.
Haseen Dillruba begins with this murder — a body is identified as Rishu’s, thanks to a tattoo on the wrist, the only remaining human part thrown up after a seemingly intentional cylinder burst. Rani is the chief suspect; she has a lover, everyone in town helpfully indicates, therefore she has intent. She also loves reading murder novels set in small-town India, where killers literally get away with it.
The ‘marriage story’ is narrated in flashback to the cop who’s hellbent on proving Rani’s culpability, and what ensues is a game of smoke and mirrors. You don’t know what to believe and what not to. But all of this is played to the gallery with a comic streak that cleverly shuttles between being obvious and nuanced.
There is a sliver of action, right at the beginning of the movie, which made me think the acting could have been better — but that lasts for a few minutes: the tone is set when you see ‘Six months earlier’ flashing on the screen, and the camera zeroes in on Vikrant Massey sitting in a train.
This is Vikrant’s movie through and through — him, and an entourage of delectable “small-town” characters (like Yamini Das as Rishu’s mother). Tapsee Pannu (she looks gorgeous) and (hunky) Harshvardhan Rane are not bad at all, nowhere close to what critics have been foaming at the mouth about, but they kind of get sidetracked by the timid motor force of Vikrant.
The best part about Haseen Dillruba, however, is the Roald Dahl “inspiration”. For me, that was the game-changer. It borrows a leaf from the title page of one of my favourite short stories by him — those dark, macabre ones with twisted endings. I will not tell you which one because that will be a spoiler, but if and when it rings a bell, do drop me a line!
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