To its voracious consumers, pulp fiction novels provide an exciting escape from mundane life in titillating accounts and sensational ideas. Director Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dillruba revolves around someone so taken in by its racy flight of fancy, she allows her reality to be dictated by her expectations to alarming effect.
Drawn to the universe of kitschy covers and cheap print, Rani Kashyap’s (Taapsee Pannu) book shelves are inundated by fictional author Dinesh Pandit’s pulpy bestsellers. But the adventures they’ve conditioned her for rarely bear fruit in arranged marriage.
On the wrong side of 20s, a flurry of ex-boyfriends, bleak horoscope, dislike for household work and “time pass” of a career as a beautician doesn’t bode well for her future prospects, her aunt warns. She *must* choose between bald and boring.
Rishu, (Vikrant Massey) the homeopathy-pills popping engineer of a sleepy small town she agrees to marry, is too feeble a match for a firecracker like her. And the gaze of Jayakrishna Gummadi’s camera captures this discrimination in tempting detail and visual innuendoes.
What starts out as a shy boy-meets-sassy girl resulting in jhatpat marriage and breezy episodes on domestic lessons and compatibility take a dark turn following the arrival of Rishu’s hunky, brawny cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane).
Extramarital affairs, jealous lovers, one dead guy — it’s a classic scenario of protagonists giving into their reckless impulses that’s fuelled many juicy crime novels devoured by Rani, among which Kasauli Ka Qahar finds recurring mention. Haseen Dillruba is an anticipation of these sinister events and revels in pushing Rani and Rishu to unpleasant extremes in the name of passion.
“Amar prem wohi hai jispe khoon ke halke halke se cheetheh ho taaki usse buri nazar na lage,” explains Rani to the cop (Aditya Shrivastava) keenly investigating the murder she’s suspected of. More than her innocence or guilt, it’s her reversal of roles from rapt reader of trashy paperbacks to embodying its bold, brash heroine that forms the core of Haseen Dillruba.
Things appear increasingly twisted and warped in her unreliable narrator, but writer Kanika Dhillon’s disapproving eye is fixed on prejudiced cops and absolves Rishu and Rani of unruly behaviour and unnatural compliance.
Haseen Dillruba‘s romanticising of toxic relationships and dangerous view of seeing cruelty as a form of caring wanders off from its dirty book context to sudden profundity.
The only reason it doesn’t feel as absurd as it really is because Taapsee and Vikrant are in complete sync with Rani and Rishu’s staggeringly volatile personality. The actors make sense even when their actions do not.
Other members of the cast do their fair bit. Harshvardhan is suitably seductive while Aditya Shrivastava’s hawkish scepticism hits all the right notes. Yamini Das and Daya Shankar Pandey hilariously convey one’s chai-kachori hopes from the new bahu and other’s enthusiasm to play parlour-parlour. But their rom-com appropriate charms are, ultimately, an odd fit in Haseen Dillruba‘s deadly schemes.
Though always intriguing, the Mathew-Dhillon collaboration isn’t half as clever. The big reveal is too easy to figure as it leaves off a trail of loopholes and slipups. In trying to be both a crime drama and gender war, it fails to be a total sum of anything.
A messy love story, a tale of infidelity, a jab on sexism, a whodunit — Haseen Dillruba wildly oscillates between diabolical provocations and unrealistic sentiment.
Haseen Dillruba streams on Netflix.