Shah Rukh Khan takes on the role of a soldier for the third time in ‘Dunki,’ following ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Jawaan.’ However, this collaboration with acclaimed director Rajkumar Hirani turns out to be less than fortunate, as the film proves to be largely tedious.
In ‘Dunki,’ the term refers to illegal migration. The film follows the character Hardyal Singh Dhillon, also known as Hardy (played by Shah Rukh Khan), who becomes the driving force for Mannu (Taapsee Pannu), Buggu (Vikram Kochhar), and Balli (Anil Grover) as they navigate perilous underwater and overland terrain in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, all in pursuit of their dream destination, London.
Before delving into their journey, the narrative unfolds in a fictional Punjab village, showcasing the characters’ challenging lives and their attempts to navigate the complexities of obtaining a UK visa through small-time agents. While the challenges of dealing with the English language, snarky interviews, and visa rejections should have played into classic Hirani territory, known for his adept creation of fabulous fabulism, ‘Dunki’ misses the mark. The film comes across as a blend of Mind Your Language and a reverse Purab-aur-Paschim.
In the past, Hirani’s films have successfully convinced audiences to accept implausible elements, from a 45-year-old star portraying a 20-something student in ‘Three Idiots’ to playing a googly-eyed alien in ‘PK.’ However, ‘Dunki’ reveals a jaded Hirani, failing to capture the charm that has characterized his earlier works.
While Shah Rukh Khan’s character Hardy is omnipresent throughout the film, unlike his larger-than-life roles in the blockbusters of 2023, he fails to engage the audience. Despite being a hero grounded in reality, adept at physical feats in an ‘akhada’ rather than wielding fancy machinery, Hardy’s character lacks the impact expected. His portrayal as a knight-in-armour for Mannu, despite a few fleeting moments, feels forced and falls short of delivering a satisfying payoff.
Even the pivotal moment in the film, where Shah Rukh Khan’s character declares his allegiance to his homeland, passes without leaving a significant impact. Despite ‘Pathaan’ and ‘Jawan’ establishing SRK as a patriot embracing his country with all its flaws, the emotional resonance falls flat in ‘Dunki.’
The standout performance in the film comes from Vicky Kaushal, whose brief yet memorable role harks back to the earlier Hirani who seamlessly blended humor and poignant moments. Unfortunately, ‘Dunki’ lacks the fun and emotional depth that has characterized Hirani’s previous works, leaving the audience without the expected engagement and resonance.