In one of the early conversations between the lovers in Shashank Khaitan’s “Dhadak”, Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor) tells Madhukar (Ishaan Khatter) he’ll have to prepare meals when they get married. “And put a little less ghee on the rotis. I want to stay slim,” she says.
Much like its heroine, “Dhadak” is a little too conscious of its outward appearance, of looking good, rather than staying true to its original inspiration - Nagraj Manjule’s fiery “Sairat”, which took the age-old tale of star-crossed lovers and turned it on its head.
Khaitan’s Bollywood adaptation of the Marathi hit retains a lot of the plot points, reduces run-time significantly, and ups the wardrobe budget of both lead actors, but these are cosmetic changes at best.
Parthavi and Madhukar are college-mates in the throes of young love in the picturesque city of Udaipur. He is the son of a small-time restaurateur and she is the daughter of a local politician. They meet on the sly, tease each other and whisper sweet nothings on the banks of the Pichhola lake. But when her family finds out, the dream shatters, and the beauty of love gives way to harsh reality.
Madhukar and Parthavi find themselves on the run from her father’s henchmen. In Udaipur, their love was a many-splendored thing, full of possibilities. But in Mumbai and later Kolkata, as they fend for themselves, they find that togetherness doesn’t always bring happiness.
Director Khaitan brings in the sharp difference between dreams and reality, but even there, he stops short of going all out. Even the ending lacks the gut punch and almost feels like a cop-out.
In “Sairat”, film-maker Manjule chose to show rather than tell. The economic and caste difference between Archie and Parshya was obvious, even though no character spoke about it. In “Dhadak”, Khaitan does the opposite - Madhukar’s father says several times “woh oonchi jaati ke hain” (they are from a higher caste).
A street scene in Kolkata has to have a couple of nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, and if you live in Udaipur, then clueless foreign tourists have to be milling about in the background. “Dhadak” operates on such clichés and loses some of the potency of its original material.
But what does work to its advantage is the freshness of the two leads, especially Khatter, who is a natural in front of the camera. Kapoor falters in the emotional scenes and her Mewari accent sounds more American than Rajasthani. But she’s earnest and her chemistry with her co-star makes up for the rawness on the acting front.
There will always be comparisons with “Sairat”, which is no doubt the superior film, but it was one that was restricted to one state. For all its flaws, “Dhadak” is the vehicle that will bring more audiences to this important story and for that alone, it’s worth it.