For any cinephile, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is not a new name. Instead, ‘Pulp Fiction’ is a film that revolutionized filmmaking through its non-linear storytelling and became a cult film. But, not many people know that ‘Pulp Fiction’ also has a different meaning. It denotes rapid-paced, exciting, and compelling stories printed on cheaply printed magazines (made of pulp). I say this because that is precisely what I thought of the new Netflix film ‘Haseen Dillruba.’
Directed by Vinil Mathew, Haseen Dillruba is a genre-subversive Hindi feature film that begins as a series of flashbacks through an unreliable narrator Rani (Taapsee Pannu), as the main suspect, who is being interrogated for the death of her husband Rishu (Vikrant Massey). Rishu is a straightforward and easy-going man from a small-town Jwalapur who gets married to an ambitious Rani through an arranged marriage. Soon, Rani realizes that this might not be an ideal match as Rishu is too simple for her. This is also because Rani has a romantic idea of a partner thanks to her devout following of Dinesh Pandit, an author known to write a series of a profoundly philosophical murder mysteries. When Rishu’s (hulk-looking) cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) enters the screen, we see an extra-marital affair between Rani and Neel. However, things go south when Rani confesses about the affair to Rishu. Six months later, an explosion occurs at Rishu’s residence, killing him. As the movie progresses, we see different dynamics between the three characters ending in a suspenseful climax.
While Haseen Dillruba is set to be a ‘pulp fictional’ story just like that of Dinesh Pandit’s novels that are known for a page-turner tale, I wasn’t hooked on to the film for a longer period of time due to its mediocre screenplay and direction. There are countless scenes for which I had to rack my brain to find the rationale for it. For example, there is a scene in which Neel happens to ride a bike next to Rishu’s car with the sole purpose to cause an action sequence even though it is clearly stated he lives in a different state. Another such strange occurrence is when Rani begins to cook a non-vegetarian dish for Neel seconds after she is struggling to make a cup of tea. Such half-baked sequences are paralyzed further by questionable direction. A few such examples are when Rani’s character has burnt her arm, she clutches the burnt portion of the arm tightly. Common sense tells us that no one would squeeze the burnt area as it’ll be too sensitive and painful to touch. In other scenes, as a part of the interrogation, Taapsee is beaten by the cops on her left leg. We see her limping as she comes out of the police station. Yet, as she reaches her house, we don’t see her limping anymore, and what’s more, she sleeps on the left side without any physical aches or pain. There are plenty of such incongruous layers of the movie that left me baffled, including the climax (I don’t want to give out the ending, but if you have seen the end and think it’s justified, hit me up, and we’ll discuss it over coffee).
These shortcomings in the film alienate the audience despite the other technicians and actors working so hard. If one could look beyond the flaws mentioned earlier, we would see the talented actors and technicians putting their hearts in the film despite the above-mentioned handicapping element.
Known for choosing character-driven roles, Taapsee Pannu chose a character that she hasn’t played before, and she has given a terrific performance as Rani. However, even though the film’s credit lists Pannu as the first name, I think Vikrant Massey stole the show for me. This is the first film in which we see Massey range as an actor, and it is fair to say Massey has proven as to the different character-shades he can play. Apart from the above two actors, I also want to mention the supporting cast who gave us a few memorable scenes in the movie. Daya Shankar Pandey as the cop and Yamini Das as Rishu’s mother. Both actors leave a lasting impression thanks to their timing and dialogue delivery.
Talking about the technicians, I also liked the film’s music composed by Amit Trivedi that complemented the storytelling, and Jayakrishna Gummadi’s cinematography as it added a level of authenticity to the film as it is shot in a small town.
In the tug-of-war between Netflix’s poorly curated Indian content and Pannu’s intelligent script selection, I am afraid that Haseen Dillruba belongs to the former, thereby deprecating Netflix’s stock in my eyes when it comes to Indian content.
Reviewed by Puneet Ruparel