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Dunki droppings… Couldn’t SRK, Rajkumar Hirani smell them? – Beyond Bollywood

Though the satirical drama harps on the perils of illegal migration, the rotten screenplay, cringe performances reduce the global issue to a joke

Rating: ⭐️ (1 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

In January 2022, India was left shocked by the tragic demise of a Gujarati couple and their two children on the USA-Canada border. The family froze to death whilst trying to illegally the USA. The tragic tale naturally opened our eyes to the grim issue of illegal immigration and the dangers that come with it. Generally, it’s presumed that such dare is undertaken by refugees from war torn lands. India, too, has its history of illegal immigration, but the desis often banked on jugaads [tricks] in seeking greener pastures. What drove this Indian family to take such extreme measure that eventually proved to be fatal? Economic woes or sheer desperation.

The closing visuals of Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki [2023] leave you teary eyed. The tragic real stills of dead migrants though are the only time this film comes close to its cause – perils of illegal immigration. The previous 160 odd minutes are real torture, a marathon cringe fest.

Director Rajkumar Hirani, his resident writer Abhijat Joshi have made a career in satire.  But did this grim subject one? Besides, Dunki comes at a time where rich Western nations are tightening the grip on liberal migration/asylum policies in the wake of terrorism, and threat to local economy, culture. Back home in India, the ruling government is keen to pitch CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act], CAB [Citizenship Amendment Bill]. It created furore for not being entirely inclusive, which is against the Constitution of India. Clearly, it’s not a condusive global environment to tell the Dunki story.

What is Dunki though? It stems from the word donkey route, a term used in the early days of illegal immigration where needy, desperate desis risked everything in search of greener pastures. The Indian state of Punjab is particularly infamous for such ‘dunki’ trips.  Punjab still sees sizable migration. Hopefully, today we have more legal migrants than aliens. 

If one recalls, Hirani had long spoken about a third film in the Munna Bhai franchise. It was rumoured to have a working title of Munna Bhai Chale Amrika. At first, we thought that this idea transformed into a Dunki. However, Dunki was conceived when Hirani came across cemented planes perched on the terraces of bungalows in Punjab. It symbolized privilege, but reeked more of vanity.  The real stories, comical characters inspired Hirani and Joshi to pen their Dunki story.

Punjab is perhaps the hub for those seeking greener pastures, but in 2023, can you get away with cringe, cliched Punjabi characters? The rot starts from the protagonist Hardayal Dhillon aka Hardy [Shah Rukh Khan], a former jawan who has returned to this small town Lalru to repay his gratitude to the man who saved his life years ago. Luckily, it doesn’t take long for Hardy to find his destination as he’d bumped into his young sister Manu Randhawa [Taapsee Pannu] earlier. She cooks in a local dhaba but quits her job after her employer insulted her that day. She has London dreams in her eyes, but no qualification, skills, or resources to avail a UK visa.  She isn’t alone as there is a bunch of other desperate men/women harboring similar ambitions.  When all sincere attempts fail, Hardy, Mannu & co. take the dreaded ‘Dunki’ route. Their woes though don’t end there.

Hirani and Joshi have a story, but shockingly, no taut screenplay at all. In fact, it’s a shambolic screenplay, one made more insufferable by the cringe dialogues and shocking performances. Though we didn’t rate Pathaan [2023] and Jawan [2023] highly, the two action films still attracted sizable audiences. Dunki is so bad, that we have a new found respect for Pathaan and Jawan.

This is a first Hirani first film without the backing of producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. A certain #MeToo allegation is perhaps to be blamed behind Chopra distancing himself from Hirani.  Dunki’s sorry screenplay, performance now make you question Hirani’s contribution in his preceding films – all backed by Chopra. 

Khan revived his career by transforming himself into an action hero at 57 with Pathaan and Jawan. A Hardy is partly reminiscent of SRK’s impoverished avatars in Fan [2016], Zero [2018]. Jeez, if Hardy was an army man, why would he fall to the Dunki idea? Surely, Indian government, Indian Army could have done something for Hardy to enter England. He could have opened the gates to London for Manu too if Hardy married her. Back in the 90s, Indians milked loopholes in the Western immigration policies. That could have paved the way for the dim with Buggu Lakhanpal [Vikram Kochhar – terrible] too. Khan, the actor has long been missing. This 2023 version is no actor but it’s the businessman Khan to the fore. There is simply no passion, no dedication to Khan. 

A Dunki takes us back into the dark days where Bollywood took pride in stereotyping communities. How can that be acceptable in 2023, that too the culprit being a super star.  Hirani’s record though isn’t clean. Many laughed during the times of 3 Idiots [2009], pk [2014], Sanju [2018]. The current social political environment has altered views with the same people who laughed at the bad humour in the preceding films, now calling out Hirani for stereotyping, hurting religious sentiments. A Dunki is the worst example of stereotyping Punjabis in modern India. Punjabis can laugh at themselves but it is taken for granted far too long. Mocking oneself is fine, but why embarrass Michelle Obama?  Fathom this, Manu is advised to take the name Michelle and settle in England by having a contract marriage with a shady Englishman called Donald.

Save for Vicky Kaushal, all other actors end up playing poor caricatures. How the audience wished that if Kaushal’s Sukhee stayed a little longer.

Though, a little over-the-top, Boman Irani’s English teaching Geetu Gulati is partly inspired by a real character. Sunil Grover’s brother Anil plays Balli Kakkad, the lone Lalru native among the Dunki gang to miraculously clear the International English Language Test System [IELTS].  Soon, he learns that the grass is always green on the other side. 

No one is perfect. A Hirani is entitled to the odd bad film.  Despite its riches, a Sanju (2018) copped criticism for white washing Sanjay Dutt’s image.  Dunki disappoints on all front but it also reeks of the Hirani template. Dunki has its 3 Idiots hangover with old friends trying to reunite with the leading character. There’s no alien like pk, but Hirani’s Dunki gang are illegal aliens. Hirani’s films are all about imbibing the ‘feel good factor’. How long though can you stretch this template? It takes a Dunki for the wheels to come apart.

Illegal migration is a grave issue, but timing and image need to be factored too. We live in times, where the world looks upon Indians to fill their IT sectors, run their blue-chip firms, treat their sick, or aide in their science labs, space programs.  Doesn’t Dunki tarnishes India’s global image? Besides, can we really have a world without borders, visa?

Phew, the Rajkumari Hirani film is a near three-hour torture. The abysmal music only adds to the audience pain. A Dunki can be considered an aberration in Rajkumar Hirani’s successful career. Bad films are part and parcel of the business. The biggest disappointment though is how Hirani, Abhijat Joshi have reduced the sufferings of illegal migrants to a joke. The multiple teasers of Dunki were called Dunki Drop.  The final product (film) reeks of Dunki droppings. We end with a poor line of our own.

“Inky pinky ponky, father had a Dunki, Dunki die, audience cry, Inky pinky Dunki.”

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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