If anyone’s ever told you that relationships are all about give and take, they’re missing some key vectors in the equation. Those complex variables involve anger, jealousy, guilt, and control. Depending on which side weighs in with how many units of said variables at a given point, the give-and-take play shifts between players. All other emotions are fleeting cameos amidst these mixed double matches, where an ace is but an ephemeral achievement and love-all an impossibility because no one, except newborns, comes in with a clean score board.
Writer Kanika Dhillon, who, in Manmarziyaan, recast the eternal geometric three-sided form to relay a tug-of-war match, arrives at the board this time to fill those spaces with the color red of spilled blood in Haseen Dillruba (Beautiful Beloved). That crayoning, with Vinil Mathew’s direction, ends up being an uneven patch. For, while the dynamics of relationships operate in a roller-coaster calculation of empiricism, to capture that very unpredictability of human behavior while keeping solid reasoning close to the plot is a fraught exercise. That jumpy, scratchy, vinyl hop begins with feisty Delhi girl Rani Kashyap (Tapsee Pannu) agreeing to marry the reticent Rishabh Saxena (Vikrant Massey). She’s forced to forego her romanticizing of hooking to the man of her dreams, while he’s still nursing the hurt from an earlier rejection. She’s looking at a pragmatic trajectory into marital orbit, he’s bowled over by her, the earlier trauma erased with a smouldering glance. It’s Rani’s decision to move to Jwalapur, where the Saxenas reside, that’s the first unconvincing jump off the track. Does she do this because she’s confident she’ll keep things under control in the docile Rishabh universe? Or is it because she senses he’s overpowered by her looks, and for once feels superior and probably at the giving end?
There’s more questions with unconvincing answers as the couple begins their matrimonial misadventures, and while the attempts-at-consummation scenes are more cringe than worthy (accompanied by a score that’s on your nose to tell you it’s funny), the inevitable familial adjustments and scale-dropping are truly fun, upped by terrific performances by Yamini Das playing Lata, Rishabh’s zounds-propelled mother and Daya Shankar Pandey, erudite in silent glances and expressions, as the father. There’s also Rishabh’s only friend, Afzar, played with regular ease by Ashish Verma. None of this amounts to much as a frustrated Rani and a forever bumbling Rishabh crash into trouble with the arrival of the latter’s cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane, who gets to show off his gym bod more than any real acting punches), and the story takes a Lady Chatterley’s Lover-ish kind of a turn. Rani’s not in it just for physical satiation but has truly taken a turn for Neel, something that’s absolutely dissonant with her agreeing to marry Rishabh instead of continuing her quest for dashing rakes in the first place. Or is this Rani’s true reset?
But she’s not the only one who’s jumping faulty tracks. Massey’s Rishabh too turns from a quasi-homeopath to a domestic psychopath, and believe it or scream, begins to plot her demise by accident. At this point, any hopes that you might have had of this turning into a dark The War of the Roses —the couple trying to kill each other, a comic plan here, a disaster there, slithering nights, stoic murderous days amidst unsuspecting parents—is quashed swiftly with Rani morphing into a silent, suffering guilt-laden taker of anger and jealousy. This switch is when the movie slides into its final act of unplanned disaster. The plot ruse simply doesn’t work, and the addition of murder (that opens the movie) now seems slapped-on to achieve an end twist that, if you’ve seen some dark stuff (or read Dahl), isn’t much of a punch, more gonzo than noir. The police track, headlined by Aditya Srivastava, isn’t half as taut as you’d expect a cat-and-mouse game to predicate on. Plus, the addition of a pulp author’s work as an inspiration for the goings-on is neither complex and smart as Drishyam 2 nor sassy and clever as Lupin.
Amidst this flagging plotline that relies too much on the end to support its means, the leading pair raises their characters above the uneven writing. Vikrant Massey is terrific, his act an electric grappling of innate introversion and risible masculinity. Tapsee Pannu swerves superbly from a spunky, oozing-sensuality city girl to one faced with gnawing, irreversible guilt, and no hope of redemption. The highlight of the movie, however, are cinematographer Jayakrishna Gummadi’s shots of the canal that flows behind the Saxena home and abutting structures on both sides. Ostensibly flowing from the Ganga, the burbling water is almost meditative in nature, even in scenes where it’s only heard. Clean in parts, filthy and strained in others, always grey like the humans it’s surrounded by and at the receiving end of a toxic relationship, it knows the equation is stacked against it. Much like so many stuck in such give-and-take liaisons, it has no choice but to keep flowing.
Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers. Haseen Dillruba is streaming on Netflix and rated A (For Adults Only) for violence and sensuality.
Director Vinil Mathew Time 2h 15min
Writer Kanika Dhillon
Stars Tapsee Pannu, Vikrant Massey, Harshvardhan Rane
Genres Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance, Thriller