Cast: Ishaan Khatter, Janhvi Kapoor, Ashutosh Frog, Kharaj Mukherjee, Shridhar Watsar, Ankit Bisht
Director: Shashank Khaitan
Rating: 2.5 / 5
A young man, who made his way through a sandwich shared with his companion, drinks from a jug of water in a plastic container at the roadside food stand. She wrinkled her nose when he offers her the cup to take a sip, which leads him to buy bottled water. It’s a seemingly harmless moment from Sairat by Nagraj Manjule, but what a revealing one! The couple, on their backs, drink water. Yes, water, that great leveler; required by both the rich and the poor, by those who belong to each caste and class, and yet the clue at this time points to the enormous gap between this couple.
That scene, like many others, has been left out of Dhadak, the Hindi remake of the excellent Marathi film of Manjule 2016 about the exciting and ultimately tragic romance between a low caste boy and a high caste girl in rural Maharashtra .
Caste is a thorny and complex issue with a history of entrenched prejudices, injustices and far-reaching consequences. When it is honestly explored, we get extraordinary stories like the previous film Fandry de Sairat, Masaan and Manjule. But the angle of the caste, obviously too hot to handle in a conventional Bollywood movie, is largely swept under the carpet in Dhadak.
The story, which is devoid of texture and nuance when moved from the village of Bittergaon in the center of Maharashtra to a tourism brochure version of Udaipur, focuses on the romance between Madhukar aka Madhu (Ishaan Khatter) and Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor). She is the daughter of a rich and influential father who owns a hotel and has political ambitions. He is the son of middle class parents who run a modest restaurant. Your family will not have any of that. The young couple must flee.
The director Shashank Khaitan is true to the rhythms of the original film, but makes some questionable decisions. The friends of the hero, so crucial to the plot in Sairat, are reduced to common caricatures here, in particular to a companion vertically exploited strictly for laughter. With the caste narrative reduced to a mere footnote, the villain too – Parthavi’s father (Ashutosh Rana) – is in the best of your disapproving parents, a role the actor already played in the previous film by director Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania.
In the original film, the action moves to Hyderabad and the couple (Parshya and Archie) go through the squeegee while building a life together. Madhu and Parthavi in Dhadak land in Calcutta, but their struggle, relatively disinfected, can best be described as Dharma Productions’ version of a hard life.
There is also the question of the climax of the film, a different one from the original. It is chilling and devastating, not unlike Sairat. But, once again, given that the caste narrative is never an integral part of the story, it does not feel properly won. Ultimately, you could interpret it as the final movement in a plot of revenge.
But wait, it’s not that Dhadak is a waste of time. There is something especially refreshing about seeing young people, newcomers in the rough discover their trade … witnessing the unpredictability of a performance, a new approach to a family emotion. Ishaan and Janhvi have a lovely and winning chemistry, and both are extremely visible even if they have contrasting styles.
Ishaan, who was especially impressive in his debut film Beyond The Clouds, once again radiates warmth and innocence, and reflects both the grip and the growing maturity of a child at the peak of adulthood. Janhvi, meanwhile, has less to work with, because Parthavi is never as well defined as Archie in Sairat. But Janhvi, who is making her debut here, has a fragility that makes her endearingly attractive, and an emotional quality that makes it difficult to take her eyes off the screen.
The director uses them well, giving them scope to represent the drama, the weirdest parts of the comedy, and really tests his dance skills in the insanely infectious Zingaat number, which the composers Ajay-Atul and the lyricist Amitabh Bhattacharya remodel with Success in Hindi.
Dhadak is ultimately a homogenous production of Karan Johar that offers comfort in the familiar … for those who seek it. For the rest of us, it’s disconcerting why the people involved would choose to remake a film about the horrors of caste supremacy, but erase virtually every caste mention from the movie.
I’m going with two and a half out of five. Children make it worth your time.