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DUNKI - The REALITY, and PUNJABI CINEMA: A simplistic, impact-less, light-hearted depiction of an otherwise serious & socially relevant subject, missing the reliable Rajkumar Hirani and his lovable finesse. (Movie Notes by Bobby Sing)

24 Dec, 2023 | Just In / Movie Reviews / 2023 Releases

When I first heard the subject of Rajkumar Hirani’s next venture with Shah Rukh Khan, it sounded strange and confusing together as the gravely risky “Dunki Travel” and the innumerable deaths involved in it, was not a subject for any comedy or feel-good cinema Hirani is known for. But then he had earlier successfully presented light-hearted comedies based upon the reputed Medical Profession, Mahatma Gandhi, and Education System too, staying away from any mockery or offensive jokes degrading his core subjects. So, that track record of excellent balanced writing kept the hope alive and the film was eagerly awaited.
However, watching its trailers, the fear and confusion were revived and finally, the film turned out to be a shocking mediocre surprise from the house of Rajkumar Hirani.
Looking at Hirani cinema, the man was known for keeping his viewers hooked on to the screen right from the first scene even in a propaganda film like ‘Sanju’ where one very well knew that the script is part of an image-building process of the icon. Hence, while it was acceptable to get an above-average film from the director not up to the level of his earlier ventures, it was simply a setback to witness a completely flat narration with no major uplifting or truly heartfelt emotional moments in a Rajkumar Hirani directorial.
The film has just two highs to be precise, one – the 10 minutes spent with Vicky Kaushal on screen and then the finale twist (though kiddish), treated like a heist movie being the saving grace of the second half. Apart from these, DUNKI just begins, keeps moving, and then ends without making any solid impact on the viewers despite having a serious, eye-opener subject related to youngsters.
Unlike a Hirani film, it desperately keeps trying to bring twinkles to your eyes with its supposedly emotional sequences but keeps failing repeatedly because of its unexpectedly poor writing and cartoon-like characterization. DUNKI is also the extension of the same old mindset of showing Punjab and Punjabi characters as loud, outspoken, non-serious, constantly joking people as seen in the films in the era between the mid-90s to 2015. Strangely, Hirani did it very well in a highly likable and respectable manner in his LAGE RAHO MUNNABHAI with the worth-praising presentation of Lucky Singh. But DUNKI entirely revolving around Punjab and its people, does not seem to be a film written and directed by the same person, with the same vision and understanding, for not even 15 minutes. 
The fake Punjabi characterization and accent begin from the first scene itself and continue till the end. Thankfully it isn’t unbearably loud, remaining less than annoying as a relief. At the same time, it was weird to find even the Punjabi Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal saying their limited lines in a fake Punjabi accent. Probably they were made to act that way, which again does not seem to be anything like the good old Hirani.
As a matter of fact, that is exactly where ANIMAL scored, making a rock-solid impact on the viewers despite all the negativity and objections. ANIMAL had a perfect depiction of Punjab, the families, the language, their youngsters, the appearances, attires, and attitude with only one shortcoming as mentioned in my review. It had Punjabi songs in their original form without any forced adulteration and this was all done as per the visualisation of a writer-director coming from the South, not connected to the language and the region. This for me was DIRECTION, though there must be some real Punjabi consultant behind the screen.
DUNKI falters in this very department and that happens when it is a film entirely based on Punjab and Punjabi characters in its script. To be honest, it seems as if DUNKI has been made by someone alien to Punjab and ANIMAL made by someone deeply related to Punjab, its culture, and music. 
The biggest culprit here remains the writing, the same feature Hirani and his films were known for, considered exemplary for the next generation of filmmakers. Here something seems to be contrastingly different and missing in DUNKI having an outdated, stale progression full of forced WhatsApp kind of ineffective jokes and one-liners. As a result, the film neither turns out to be an enjoyable light-hearted comedy nor an emotional take on the issue, desperately trying to be both.
The context brings us to the additional name in the writing department of DUNKI joining the already hit and reliable team of Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi. The name is Kanika Dhillon and, in my opinion, this only makes a huge difference looking at the films she has been associated with in the past. Kanika was one of the writers in Shah Rukh’s RA.ONE (2011) more than a decade back. Probably that link got her into the already successful team of Rajkumar Hirani and Abhijat Joshi.
While watching DUNKI you keep waiting for something great to happen next, but nothing substantial occurs missing that finesse and refined touch, cherished in Hirani’s earlier movies. Its trailer rightly created the doubts and I was surprised to note that Hirani (the editor) had added the major entry scenes of Shah Rukh in the trailer itself. Now frankly that is like killing the magic for fans and viewers together as that entry must be a carefully guarded, crucial virgin moment of the film.
No complaints or praise for the performers as it is not one of those rare films in which any performance manages to rise above the mediocre writing. It was good to see that Hirani did not allow his actors to go overboard in any sequence. Shah Rukh Khan is subtly fine, but the winner among them all remains Vicky Kaushal in his short appearance that moves you with its conclusion. That said, a terrible surprise among the cast was Boman Irani doing such a senseless role that could have been easily done by any other comic artist. 
Ironically Boman has always been one of the star performers of Hirani movies in the past. This was also surprising, as Hirani is known for making the best use of his entire supporting cast, including even the one-scene actors. The same can be said about the film’s songs and background score, which fail to grab your attention despite having some well-written lyrics. Anyway, the soundtrack has never been a strong feature of Hirani cinema except for just a few songs.
In addition, the Boman Irani sequences strongly remind you of the hilarious TV series of the 90s titled ZABAAN SAMBHAL KE which was the Indianised version of the British series MIND YOUR LANGUAGE (1977). The impeccable Pankaj Kapur plays the role of the teacher in that series and it still stands equally relevant even after three decades (showcasing the craze of English speaking in India). So, if you haven’t seen it yet then go for it as a must at the earliest.
DUNKI – Its portrayal of the scary travel and Punjabi Cinema
Giving the deserving due, the USP of DUNKI is neither the cast nor the director. It is the core subject of DUNKI which means illegally moving into foreign countries through unauthorised DONKEY routes including forests, deserts, sea, and many unknown dangerous regions. I am sure there would be many hearing this term and its meaning for the first time enlightened by the film. And those young viewers are only my concern explained ahead.
To be honest, I am not able to find words to describe how ugly, evil, frightening, or devilish is this path to get into the foreign land. A Hindi idiom might give you an idea and it goes as “Bhagwan Dushman Ko Bhi Aisey Din Na Dikhaye”.
Going through these days teaches one life and death together with not one but multiple near-death experiences. Such illegal attempts have majorly resulted in failures (read DEATHS) rather than successes, with the deaths being the scariest ones hard to imagine. If you study the route or various other ways in which people try to cross the borders from India and other countries, then you are going to find it highly unbelievable as a synonym of ‘inviting death’. 
For instance, many of the readers must have seen the film SHIDDAT released in 2021, featuring Vicky Kaushal's younger brother Sunny. The shattering climax of the film is inspired by real-life instances. And as you search you will find not one but quite a few failed attempts made sitting in that hidden space of the plane for 15-20 long hours in extremely low temperatures. 
These Dunki methods to reach a foreign land are like experiencing hell before death with minimum chances of survival. And that is exactly where Hirani and his film fail to reveal the real picture just to make a feel-good commercial cinema for the audience.
The film is titled DUNKI, but it isnt focused on the risky travel at all. Instead it quickly presents these routes as a “Can Be Tried Once” kind of option, which might give the youngsters an idea that “Itna risky bhi nahin hai”. This is the wrong message the film gives in a sugar-coated package of Hirani humour and drama.
The confused presentation also reveals that the writers as well as the director were never clear of what they wished to make out of this serious tragedy-based story-plot. As a result, the film neither turns out to be a thoroughly enjoyable comedy nor a heartfelt drama, forget black comedy. And I am serious in saying that many might try going for the DUNKI route instead of avoiding it after watching this muddled and misdirected film.
Here Hirani and his writers are not the only culprits in creating this misconception. It's nothing new for Punjabi Cinema and the filmmakers there have been doing it since last decade and that too using it as their basic plot of hardcore COMEDIES. Interestingly the revival of Punjabi Cinema in the early 2000s happened with films based on immigrated residents living abroad and their traumas.
In a way, it is sad and ironic together that the Punjabi people who remain the biggest victim of this fraud, keep laughing at its onscreen portrayal as many jokes put together. This is one of the key reasons why Hirani kept his film’s base and characters in Punjab roping in Kanika Dhillon providing a casual drone-view of the culture, people, and their thought process. Now either Kanika herself had not seen the recent Punjabi films made on the theme or knew about them but never shared the info with the team for her reasons. For instance the statue sequence looks like straight taken from a recent hit Punjabi comedy.
I frankly realised this about Punjabi films while watching DUNKI and there can be no denying the fact that regular viewers of Punjabi Cinema have already seen almost every scene of DUNKI (in a much better way) in various Punjabi films made in the recent past based on the eye-opener theme.
Even in Hindi cinema, post Dev Anand’s DES PARDES in the last century, a Hindi film based on the subject was made by a Punjab-based director Amitoj Maan also featuring Sunny Deol in an extended cameo. It was titled KAAFILA, released in 2007. An unofficial updated Punjabi version of the same theme was recently released in 2022 titled AAJA MEXICO CHALIYE featuring Ammy Virk in the lead.
Just like Punjabi films, DUNKI also spreads misleading information as if IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is some kind of degree to reach foreign lands. 
But at the same time, PUNJABI CINEMA has done it far better than DUNKI when it comes to depicting the route of Donkey travel. The Punjabi films made on this theme have shown it more realistically and brutally compared to DUNKI painting a real picture. However there too the narrative quickly moves back to comedy and jokes after such dark sequences as a routine.
In short, both DUNKI and Punjabi Films based on this plot exploit an otherwise serious life-threatening theme to make the audience laugh and smile as some kind of feel-good cinema. Nothing wrong with that, provided, you make a well-written, balanced film, strong enough to make the youngsters rethink about this option and STAY AWAY.
Just showing real-life data of people dying on the Dunky route using picture slides in the end doesn’t serve the purpose. That actually looks like a mockery of the subject, merely done for the namesake, from the director who taught the youngsters how to follow their passion and stop thinking of suicide, during their studies and career-building.
No doubt here we have a clean, family-friendly movie in the era of dark, action-oriented cinema. But I wish, Hirani had made DUNKI as at least an appreciable film spreading a strong message among the youngsters to stop thinking about going through these Donkey routes.
Rating: 2.5 / 5 (including an additional 0.5 for just the sequences of Vicky Kaushal) 
A PERSONAL SHARING with BobbyTalksCinema readers

A decade back in 2014, I wrote a story for one of my director-friends willing to make a Punjabi film, specifically written as partly to be shot in India and abroad. Titled ISHQ UDAARI (The Flight of Love), it was mainly conceived keeping in mind the SUBSIDY element involved in films shot abroad contributing to the finance.
The story was about a Punjabi young singer who is out of town for some shows with his troupe. When he returns to Punjab, he finds his beloved forcibly married to a NRI and sent abroad by her family taking a hasty decision knowing about their affair. He accepts the separation as his fate, but it all changes when he gets a sudden call from the girl asking to help her get out of here. He comes to know that she gets beaten there by her husband and treated like a maid. He then decides to go there by hook or crook taking the DUNKI Route of becoming a part of a Bhangra group (bringing in the then in-news Kabootarbaazi).
Reaching the foreign land, he takes help from a local female singer and her group and they together try to get the girl back from the clutches of her evil husband who had links to the underworld. Had written both a happy as well as tragic end of the story as per the requirements. But somehow things didn’t materialise and the film couldn’t be made.
After watching DUNKI, my director friend called and we both recalled the similarity of our story with the most appreciated part of Hirani’s film – the sub-plot of Vicky Kaushal.
But then as they say, it is DESTINY and all we can do is keep making our efforts
Bobby Sing

Tags : Dunki Movie Review by Bobby Sing at bobbytalkscinema.com, Dunki The Realitiy and Punjabi Cinema by Bobby Sing, New Bollywood Movie Reviews by Bobby Sing, Bollywood Movie Reviews by Bobby Sing
24 Dec 2023 / Comment ( 0 )
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