The tale of a toxic love

Haseen Dilruba, starring Tapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey, is a whodunit murder mystery painted against the backdrop of romance and adultery

An illicit affair. A murder. Secrets and lies. All these elements often make for an intriguing erotic murder mystery. Vinil Mathew’s Haseen Dilruba attempts to weave a whodunit thriller on these lines.

Set in a small town of Jwalapur, the tale follows a cliched trail that Bollywood has been on for some time now —  that of a tumultuous romance between two contrasting characters in a small town. But Haseen Dilruba is far from a simple love story; it is as complex as the lead characters in the film.

Rani (Tapsee Pannu), who is originally from Delhi, marries Rishu (Vikrant Massey) and moves into Jwalapur thereafter. She is feisty, outspoken, sassy and adventurous – a stark opposite of her husband. Rishu, an electrical engineer by profession, is shy, simple and an introvert. The ‘opposites attract’ theory initially falls flat, as the differences between the newly weds creates a distance between them. And just then, enters the ‘stereotypical bad boy’ – Rishu’s cousin Neel (Harshvardhan Rane) — who engages in a steamy adulterous fling with his ‘bhabi’.

But in the first scene itself we have been told that Rishu is dead, rather murdered. And given the illicit affair between his wife and cousin, the cops are clear about the suspects. But Rani alone bears the brunt, as Neel’s missing from the scene. From grilling her, shaming her and even beating her up, she goes through everything, yet denies killing Rishu.

Tapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey in a still from the film

This whodunit mystery however takes a 360 degree turn when we get to know what that affair brought Rishu and Rani closer, instead of ripping them apart. We get glimpses of a toxic romance between the two, which is sold off as “mad love.” Soon, the story plot seems predictable, and so does Rani’s obsession with erotic crime novels by a writer named Dinesh Pandit.

The film is full of cliches of all kinds. It normalizes how patriarchy looks at women and decides their role in a household. It seems like Rishu falls for Rani only after she “cooks” and “fits in” with his family. The use of a “hot bhabi” as a seductress also appears distasteful. The unhealthy, abusive relationship that these two share has been tagged as romance, and with phrases that ‘love should be mad, else it’s not love’ normalizes the toxic romance between the two. These aren’t the only places where the film falters. Reasoning and logic take a backseat more than once. Especially the climax – which seems outright bizarre.

However, the only good part of the film is Vikrant Massey. His acting prowess shines, as with his earlier films, and even with a seasoned actor like Tapsee Pannu – he grabs the limelight. From a shy, decent boy-next-door to someone close to a sociopath, Massey explores the numerous shades of Rishu and with utmost sincerity. Pannu acts well, but this is probably one of her weakest performances by far. Rane is a visual treat, but nothing beyond.

Haseen Dilruba’s storytelling or narrative keeps the audience engaged. The predictability is there, but one still wants to see how it ends. There are few comedy scenes in the beginning which are good. The film’s pace, however, is surreal. The characters feel too much, act too soon, in too little time. All in all, the film is nothing that one hasn’t seen before – more like old wine in a new bottle.

(Haseen Dilruba is now streaming on Netflix)

(Cover: Poster of Haseen Dilruba )

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