Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)

Spicy, raunchy, rambunctious! Taapsee and Vikrant add credibility to a racy and engrossing whodunit thriller

Rani (Taapsee Pannu) in Haseen Dillruba constantly keeps referencing a fictitious Hindi pulp fiction author, Dinesh Pandit through her dialogues and skewed perspective on life and romance. In her first meeting with Rishu (Vikrant Massey), Rani emphatically declares that Dinesh Pandit is a genius and has envisioned intricate and uproarious murders in the smallest of towns of India. Rani is a literature graduate but spends most of her time reading pulp fiction that in no way can either be aesthetically or classically drawn parallel to what Hindi literature is all about. 

These paperbacks were the creations of lascivious and violent imaginations that were deeply rooted in everything illegitimate; especially questionable relationships and wish fulfilment. Mostly written by demented minds, there were however some rare instances of gifted and thought-provoking writers trying their hands at similar content and ideas. In these cases, the stories were rendered so relatable and alluring that the readers often felt and believed that it could be their life’s story and started living these stories. This is what turns out to be the case with Rishu and Rani and is at the heart of what Haseen Dillruba is all about.

In the very first scene of the film, we witness the death of Rishu who is blown to pieces by what looks like an apparent cylinder blast. However, upon investigation, it is learned that Rishu had a massive head injury that seemed to have been inflicted before he was blown away by the blast. This swings the police into action. They believe that Rishu was murdered and the blast was used as a pretext to cover up a heinous crime. The weight of the suspicion falls on Rani, a feisty young lady with an over-the-top sense of romance and violently oscillating moral compass. She was also rumoured to be promiscuous in the small town that the family resided in. 

Inspector Kishore Rawat (Aditya Srivastava) is handed the charge of the investigation and he holds a personal vendetta against Rani from the very beginning. He hates her guts and believes that it is because of women like her and their loose moral fabric that society is going to dogs. He wants to believe that she carried out the murder with her alleged boyfriend and sets about to find evidence to fit his theory. While he is at it, he brings in Rani and makes her relate her life’s story from the day of her marriage till the day Rishu was killed. As Rani relates her story, layer after layer is pulled off the mystery revealing the true cause of the death and raising important questions about morality, love, romance, obsession, and a misplaced sense of right and wrong.

A frame from the movie Haseen Dillruba

Haseen Dillruba is gripping from start to finish. The film starts off as a romance between a voluptuous woman who believes that she is God’s gift to men and a goofy man who is so sweet and under so much performance pressure that he retracts into a shell every time he faces his own wife. Following their marriage, the story quickly turns into one about a soured relationship between a husband and a wife. Even before you have had enough of that, the film shifts gears yet again and turns into a story of an illegitimate romance between a married woman and a greased-up hunk. Just when you are settling into finally accepting it as a love triangle, the film takes a 360-degree turn. The once sweet and goofy husband turns in a new leaf and starts tormenting his wife who has finally realised her folly and is trying to make amends for everything wrong that she has done to him.  

For this kind of film to work, the performances had to compliment the story elements. Each of the characters had to give out the right vibe that was in line, with the mental state that the individual characters were in. There had to be a sense of urgency in the performances, depending on the situations that the characters were in. 

Taapsee Pannu leads from the front. I have always admired her performances and in this film, it felt as if she was having a lot of fun with her character. That fun transcends to the screen and lights it up with her overpowering charm and oomph. Even with all that associated with her essay, she successfully plays by the beat of the character as Rani transforms from being a frustrated wife to a dreamy lover to a woman scorned and then finally a dedicated wife vying for her disgruntled husband’s affection and acceptance. It wasn’t an easy feat to pull off and look the part while exuding constant charm. Taapsee pulled it all off with élan.

Vikrant Massey is another fantastic actor who hardly gets his due. Here he complements Taapsee Pannu beat per beat. The speed at which the nuances of his character change was exasperating to keep up with. Interestingly, he looks the part in each of these avatars. The fact that he starts off as a naïve and simple man only adds to the charm of seeing him do things that are counterintuitive to his nature. He wonderfully plays on the audience’s belief of what a character like his could do and not do and scores brownie points by shocking the audience every time. 

Harshvardhan Rane doesn’t have a lot to do but he is able to turn in a performance that makes his character despicable. I believe that was all that was needed of his character and he is able to ensure that. Maybe if he was given a longer role he would have made a bigger splash but that would have been detrimental to the film as a whole.

Aditya Srivastava as the police inspector is stupendous. He is a veteran actor and can practically sleepwalk through roles like this. He brings in a lot of charm and comedy to his essay. The character is not only well realized but is also memorable because of its mannerisms and simmer hate for Rani that often finds its way out in the most quirky manners. 

One character that I am sure many will fail to notice is Yamini Das who plays Rishu’s mother. I was, however, blown away by her performance and I strongly believe that much of the film’s comedy in the first half is due to her exceptionally sweet and effective rendering of a disgruntled mother who is torn between an incompetent daughter-in-law and her son’s constant defence and reverence of her. Some of the tantrums that she throws at her son and husband are comedic gold.

Haseen Dillruba is an authentic rendering of how most Hindi pulp fiction paperbacks played out. It may be unbelievable in certain aspects and may require the occasional suspension of disbelief but it has at its core the very essence that made the Hindi pulp fiction paperbacks such a rage in the 80s and 90s. It is astoundingly entertaining, gripping, and makes you wait for the final reveal. There will be many who will be able to guess which way the film is headed but that will never belittle the film’s charm and appeal for them. This is as much of a page-turner as the pulp fiction paperbacks used to be and for that, it does take some liberties in terms of storytelling, logic, and realism. The performances are consistently great and add some much-needed credibility to the film. I wasn’t expecting this film to be as layered and interesting as it turned out to be and that is a resounding victory for it in the first place. If you are looking for a raunchy, rambunctious, and engrossing whodunit thriller, look no further.

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