Rajkumar Hirani's 'Dunki' depicts the donkey flight taken by Indians to go to the West and live as illegal immigrants. It is a ride full of tears, laughter, and sensitivity.
Who decides what is illegal and who is illegal? At which point in the history of the world did we decide that humans can be illegal? From the West to India itself, the 'nuisance' of illegal immigrants is everywhere. Every day there are heart-wrenching photos and cold speeches in the parliament about illegal immigrants. However, amidst the political jargon, it is often forgotten that illegal immigrants are people, and borders and nations are man-made. The earth never drew lines. Dunki re-emphasises this truth.
In the small village of Laltu, Punjab, Manu Randhawa (Taapsee Pannu), a waitress, and her friends Buggu (Vikram Kochhar) and Balli (Anil Grover) want to go to London in search of a better livelihood for their families. However, they are denied visas due to lack of knowledge and money. Hardy Singh (Shah Rukh Khan), a soldier visiting Laltu, resolves to take everyone to London. Unable to secure visas and irked by England's self-declared superiority, Hardy takes Manu, Buggu, and Balli to London via donkey flight aka dunki i.e. an illegal route of crossing borders. Thus, they set on a scary pathway to secure their dreams.
Most movies about social issues show the victims' misery and invoke sympathy. Dunki, however, makes you walk into the characters' shoes and attaches you firmly to them. Dunki's first half is hilarious. The jokes might be average, but they still work. Placing various emotions in each scene and balancing them aptly is a tricky job, but Dunki pulls it off effortlessly. You could be laughing and crying at the same time. Humour eases you in tense situations, and even while chuckling some things will sting your heart. In the second half, the film starts to meander and editing takes a backseat. Some scenes of the dunki route, even though a reality for many, look bloated. In the second half, the film concentrates only on pain with a hint of humour. However, by the end, it leaves you sensitized and weeping.
Dunki benefits massively from its ensemble cast. The film earned a lot of publicity for being an SRK movie. But unlike Pathaan and Jawan, Dunki isn't focused on SRK. Its sole focus is the script and the theme. Even though SRK is the lead, Pannu, Kochhar, and Grover get considerable screentime. SRK is only as important as the other three. Kochhar, especially, merits all the credit for his apt comic timing. He can make the silliest jokes and still have you laughing and clapping. Vicky Kaushal also gives an impressive cameo as Sukhi, who also wants to go to London. And while Pannu can be hilarious at times, she still acts more like herself rather than Manu. Also, her character is treated rather disappointingly. She is strong-willed, but Hardy treats her like a child. And the romance between them is always discomforting to watch due to the visible age gap. The film gets inappropriate in other spots too, like Buggu's constant irritation with his mother wearing pants, and ridiculing South Indian names. In one scene, Hardy whines that NRIs "humari ladkiya le jate hai." Humari ladkiya? Women are not commodities to be owned. Also, while it shows Indian soldiers as righteous, it shows Iranian soldiers as barbaric. What's the need to show soldiers of Islamic nations as barbaric every time?
I love the central theme of Dunki and that it illustrates it with utmost sensitivity. The film takes you not only through the dunki route but also the cause and consequences of it. It demonstrates what occurs before and after immigrating illegally, and it does so through feelings. It questions the West and its condescending attitude towards Asians. It challenges the concept of borders and nations. It is patriotic, not jingoistic. However, Dunki ignores asking why somebody becomes an illegal immigrant. Indians want to go abroad due to poverty, but why is this? How poor are the circumstances that people would much rather face bullets and bombs? While we must question the West, some introspection would be nice too.
Regardless, in times when we are witnessing Afghan refugees being expelled from Pakistan, and Palestinians, Rohingyas, Sudanese, Congolese and many others facing displacement due to genocides, a film on illegal immigration is crucial. And it would be a victory if someday the matter of this film becomes history, and not present.
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