Two years ago, Nagraj Manjule’s Marathi film Sairat took the classic Romeo and Juliet trope of forbidden love and gave it a rural twist. Even with a running length of almost three hours, the audience went along on the journey with teenagers Archi and Parshya, played with surprising skill by newbies Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar.
That tale was set in the interiors of Maharashtra, where the caste system dictated relationships. The resounding success of Sairat, its thumping soundtrack and heart-wrenching climax, has resulted in a number of remakes, including this Hindi version.
In the glossy Dhadak, director Shashank Khaitan locates the story in Rajasthan where a cutesy love affair unfolds among the cenotaphs, in step-wells and around the lakes of Udaipur. Outfits crafted from bandhini, leheriya and mirror-work in vibrant shades are juxtaposed with the blues, whites and stone of the desert state town, captured warmly by cinematographer Vishnu Rao.
Madhukar Bagla (Ishaan Khatter), the son of a rooftop restaurateur, throws caution to the wind and woos Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor), daughter of an unscrupulous hotelier with political ambitions. Ashutosh Rana plays a caricature upper-caste zamindar, but it is a typecasting he has perfected – smirking behind his thick moustache, encouraging his son’s hooliganism and playing the merciless tyrant.
Despite warnings that their mismatched social status would be trouble, college classmates Madhu and Parthavi continue their naive love story. Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor exude ingenuousness as they build up to a dramatic mid-point. If in the first half Parthavi plays the dominant role in the relationship, in the second half Madhu takes charge. The script tackles this well and the actors play their parts compliantly.
Kapoor brings the requisite arrogance of a spoilt, upper-caste girl used to getting her own way. Khatter is endearing as the eager-to-please boy unprepared for the curveballs life is about to fling in his direction, events that dramatically catapult him towards manhood. While Sairat convincingly showed the enormous challenges for a runaway couple, Madhu and Parthavi land on their feet relatively easily and it’s not long before they are playing house-house in Kolkata. (I found myself rather distracted by how these two broke and runaway teens had such an expansive wardrobe).
Khaitan has adapted the source material to achieve two positives. Firstly the running time is reduced to a manageable 130-odd minutes. Secondly he has brought out the best from two inexperienced actors. Dhadak may be missing the frenzy and infectious energy of the Zingaat hit tune of the Marathi original, the grit and grime of Archi and Parshya’s struggles, and a feisty lead like Rajguru, but Khaitan’s sanitised drama does have its own strengths. Top of the list is Khatter who owns the affable, silly, wide-eyed Madhu from frame one. Plus there are commendable supporting performances by Ankit Bisht and Sridhar Watsar as Madhu’s BFFs. The dewy Kapoor has her moments too, but wobbles in the most dramatic scenes and often drops her Rajasthani accent.
Holding on to the honour killing idea, the writer-director has taken liberties with the climax to retain the essence of Sairat, albeit watered down. Without revealing any spoilers, suffice to say it does not deliver the punch that left you winded while watching Manjule’s tragic tale, and you wonder if the reimagining was necessary. Yet, within the ambit of Bollywood, Dhadak is a watchable film that goes beyond the initial curiosity factor to stand on its own legs.