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Producer Taapsee Pannu’s film on biker women fails to hit top gear – Beyond Bollywood

The Uunchai [2022] similarity notwithstanding, Dhak Dhak’s dull 139-minutes screenplay saps your energies. Dia Mirza is the sole bright spot here.

Rating: ?✨️ (1.5 / 5)

By Mayur Lookhar

Speak of Dhak Dhak and your mind is drawn to Madhuri Dixit’s iconic sensual track from Beta [1992]. Three decades later, Dhak Dhak Karne Laga, though still enjoyable, it cannot escape the charge of objectifying women.  

Forward to 2023, there is a film called Dhak Dhak [2023]. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Beta [1992] track.  The dhak dhak here is the sound when one starts a bike. Penned and directed by one Tarun Dudeja, Dhak Dhak is a female-led road trip drama that begins in Delhi/Haryana and ends up at Khardung La, Leh. Bikes galore here, but it’s the women who jump ahead from being a backseat ornament to riding their way to a self-discovery journey.

Shashi Kumar Yadav aka SKY [Fatima Sana Shaikh] is a vlogger going through professional as well as personal crisis. She is advised by a corporate friend to not overplay aesthetics, and in stead concentrate on bringing a fabulous story. A successful vlog will go a long way in helping her achieve her Barcelona Auto Expo dream. SKY stumbles upon Manpreet aka Mahi [Ratna Pathak Shah], a veteran biker Sikh lady. It wasn’t long before Mahi learned bike riding, and now she aspires to go on the Khardung La trip in Leh – perhaps a dream for all bikers.  SKY wants to milk Mahi’s inspiring story for personal glory. She then stumbles upon Uzma [Dia Mirza], who is a skilled mechanic, but sacrificed her career for her family.  Then there’s Manjari [Sanjana Sanghi], an extremely nervy girl, who is advised by her family guru Martha [a Canadian in Leh] to secretly join the trio on this bike trip. A Sikh, a Muslim, two contrasting Hindu ladies. Jeez, if director Dudeja could have added a Christian biker lady to the mix, then Dhak Dhak would have been a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isai sisterly story.

This is perhaps a first biker women film in Bollywood. That was enough motivation for producer Taapsee Pannu to greenlight this story. Mahi equates the long bike trip to Khardung La as the tirth yatra [pilgrimage] for bikers.  A long trip to a mountain, where two protagonists have hidden this from their respective families.  Didn’t we see something similar in Sooraj Barjatya’s Uunchai [2023] last year?

There is a slight Uunchai hangover in Dhak Dhak, but the former didn’t have women bikers. Spetters [1980] centered around two bikers, a mechanic and a seductress, but Dhak Dhak is certainly not inspired from the Dutch film. (In 1996, there was Biker Women, an American documentary about four women bikers who gelled through the course of their 1500-mile journey from Sturgis to California)

Taapsee Pannu’s Outsiders Films, Viacom18 were right in backing Dhak Dhak, but the Tarun Dudeja directorial barely goes above the first gear. The fault lies in its exhaustive 139-minute screenplay.  For a biker women film, we are hardly convinced by the riding skills of the four leading ladies.  Instead, Dudeja, his co-writers Parijat Joshi, Anvita Dutt lay too much emphasis on the personal stories.  Save for Uzma’s struggles, it is hard to connect with SKY, Mahi, or Manjari’s backstory.

There are few inspiring, touching moments, but the Dhak Dhak screenplay largely mirrors a bumpy ride on a tuk-tuk.  Close to the halfway mark, the women are upset with SKY as to how a picture from this trip has made its way to social media.  Mahi, Uzma are suspicious of SKY. Manjari though gives her benefit of the doubt, reminding the disgruntled ladies that SKY can’t do such a thing, because she herself is a victim of online abuse. This after her nude picture, allegedly leaked by her beau, went viral online in the past. On the present day, Manjari suspects a fellow Israeli tourist Moshai of spying.  Phew, a shady Israeli. Now that is a first for a Bollywood film. Is there any JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] wisdom behind this?

Now if you are suspicious of someone, why would you take some biscuits from him? Moments later, the women are slightly intoxicated. We saw the visuals being recorded in a phone. Bizarrely, the four women choose the moment to have some personal conversations.  Phew, how callous! 

Time and again, sensual conversation, sexual desires have been passed off as feminism in Bollywood. That is woke though. It’s baffling as to why Bollywood films with a female-led cast often find sexuality, drinking, smoking as liberating. Of course, in life, men or women talk all stuff with loved ones, friends, but no one does it in public. Besides, how many times have we seen men rave about below-the-belt conversations on the silver screen? Thus, is there any need for women to have one on celluloid? A Lipstick Under My Burkha [2016], Veere Di Wedding [2018], Manmarziyaan [2018] were refreshing in that two-year period, but that is not true feminism. Sadly, these films have become a template for misleading Bollywood feminist dramas.

L-R: Sanjana Sanghi, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza.

The personal conversations are limited in Dhak Dhak, but it fumbles due to its dull screenplay and uninspiring performances. Fatima Sana Shaikh is admirable in parts. Ratna Pathak Shah speaks in a fake Sikh accent, and clearly her performance borders on the ham side. Sanjana Sanghi is still young in her career. Her lack of confidence is justified through her nervy character. No wonder she falls from the bike on a few occasions. However, as an actor, Sanghi is yet to hit gear one in her career.

Dia Mirza is the lone saving grace here. Uzma’s story is relatable to millions of humble housewives who sacrifice their dreams for the sake of family. Mirza displays the right temperament for her character.

Dhak Dhak’s larger message of self-discovery through travel is fine, but it is not backed by any gripping, inspiring screenplay. The problem is compounded by Dudeja’s average direction and the unimpressive performances.

There’s nearly dozen artistes in the music department, but they fail to create even a solitary memorable track.

Dhak Dhak [2023] has its little moments, but Bollywood’s maiden biker women film trips on its bumpy road (screenplay).

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