'Haseen Dillruba': FEMALE GAZE
'Haseen Dillruba' has one important thing going for it. How it delineates its male characters. These are men as women see and experience them, interact with and react to
Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dillruba takes the UP small-town narrative, dime a dozen in Hindi cinema these days, to the realm of pulp fiction—the crime novels of Surendra Mohan Pathak and Ved Prakash Sharma who had captured the imagination of mofussil India—and more—at a certain point in time. It invokes them through the protagonist Rani Kashyap (Taapsee Pannu), who is the die-hard fan of their seem-alike Dinesh Pandit. The film also tries to doff the hat to them by trying to craft its narrative in the mold of their kitschy, smutty but hugely pleasurable works. But it’s only partially successful in pulling it off.
Things start with a blast, a severed hand and a dead body and keeps going back and forth in time to take us into the world of Delhi girl Rani, a beauty salon manager, who marries the meek electricity board engineer Rishabh “Rishu” Saxena (Vikrant Massey) in Jwalapur and then tries hard to stay sane in the dull place with a boring husband to boot. Till Rishu’s macho cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) arrives and catches Rani’s fancy. But before you can say “Charulata” the film goes the messy crime and misdemeanor and the revenge and retribution way.
Jwalapur is deliberately not rooted in the real but is portrayed as a technicolour world, of our imagination. It’s populated by the mandatory quirky characters—from the cops and the respective families to the hero’s bestie. Over the top humour abounds in systematically placed comic set-pieces and there are blazing colours and kitsch. All to make the small town seem uber cool. Some scenes are enjoyable, especially those involving the dropped sari pallu and Rani’s mother-in-law, but they are few and far between. The story soon careens to darker zones with the woman as the driving force.
Taapsee plays the free-spirited Rani with ease and agency but her flighty and fun character seems like a carry forward of Rumi in Manmarziyan right down to the obsessiveness—TV wild life shows there and Dinesh Pandit here.
But Haseen Dillruba has one important thing going for it. How it delineates its male characters. These are men as women see and experience them, interact with and react to. Men, like Neel, who would be mere eye candies, repositories of our desires. Or more complicated creatures like Rishu—seemingly simple but riddled with complexes, uncomfortable with women because he is uncomfortable with his own self, fixing things for others but in a mess within, well educated but insular and insulated. It is also interesting to see how an actor like Massey is riding on that journey of the new man in Hindi cinema. From sensitive and tortured Shutu in A Death in the Gunj to the despair-hit crusader Amol in Chhapaak, Massey has fluidly played such entangled men who have been written or directed by women. Men who are hemmed in and suffocated within the box of the “ordinariness” they are forced to inhabit. Men who are too blah to be noticed and heard but could be raging volcanoes within. Men who fail to live up to the standards of masculinity set up by the patriarchal society and are victims of it themselves.