It is problematic when cinema tries to evoke a moral response and fails miserably. Netflix’s Haseen Dillruba, shifting gears between a murder investigation, an arranged marriage and the investigator cop’s transfer, trains the lens on the woman, albeit not in an empowering way. Despite setting out as an exploration of the Indian arranged marriage institution, Vinil Mathew’s film rapidly moves on to a violent saga of infidelity, comeuppance and crime, without being convincing in any of these plot themes.
Darkly delectable and twisted, Taapsee Pannu plays Rani Kashyap, a Delhi-based woman who has had a string of unsuccessful relationships and is desperate to settle down. Despite aspiring to land a husband with fantasy-like attributes, she weds Rishabh Saxena (Vikrant Massey) and agrees to spend her life sequestered in Jwalapur, a small town crisscrossed by the Ganga.
Why would a young, affluent woman from Delhi with an unambiguous lust for an adventurous life ever settle for such a life? If you thought the film answered this, think again.
Rani’s fire-cracker personality is predictably at odds with the various dimensions of gender disparity prevalent in Indian households. Soon she finds her husband failing to live up to the imaginary benchmarks of her make-believe world. Enter ‘wall of muscle’ Neel Tripathi (Harshvardhan Rane)—Rishabh’s cousin—reckless rafter and sexually footloose. Hemmed in by a marriage that doesn’t rise above reading crime novels and making masala chai, Rani sees an escape door in Neel. From then on, the marriage and the film start unravelling into a mess of chopped-off limbs and bashed-in skulls.
A whodunit should at least possess character consistencies that deepen the audience’s reflection on their motivations. Haseen Dillruba offers neither context for their ill-conceived actions nor a single tenor for their personality arcs. For instance, a dull Rishabh working a regular engineering job suddenly develops a violent and vengeful streak following a disruption in his conjugal life. His oscillations between revenge and reconciliation, fury and passion are not only derivative but also reinforce certain disturbing positions against women often mainstreamed in Hindi films. The actual crime and its cover-up lack both logic and science. The writing is weak and a rehash of murder-mystery stereotypes that have failed to engross every single time.
Pannu is saddled with a flat character, with zero complexity. Rane is given too little screen time to even cobble together a semblance of a personality. His done-to-death jock character gets no fresh nuance in this sad saga of crime. There’s only a tiny bit of redemption in the form of Massey, who expends energy to breathe life into a confused, forgettable character. Our verdict: Skip it.