It’s perplexing and sad that a movie about love versus caste politics is relevant in 2018 India. You’d wish it wasn’t, till the statistics in the end bear testament to the reality of “honour” killings in the name of caste and religion.
If you’ve seen the award-winning Sairat (2016) directed by Nagraj Manjule, you’ll find Dhadak effective, but with the grime polished away to make it more palatable. On the plus side, the lead pair is utterly charming and likable.
Featuring debutante Janhvi Kapoor (daughter of Boney Kapoor and late Sridevi) and Ishaan Khatter (Shahid Kapoor’s half-brother), the film is aptly titled. Dhadak which means heartbeat, is truly about the heart beating fast in love, and the heart broken by those closest to the lovers.
Directed by Shashank Khaitan, the premise of Dhadak remains the same. Two young people meet and fall for each other— the girl belongs to a powerful, so-called upper-caste family while the boy comes from a modest middle-class background. It starts off as innocent flirtation till circumstances force them to run away from home and marry. Over the years, they believe that the solidness of their relationship, now cemented by a child, will melt the hearts of their families. The film (spoiler alert) ends on a pessimistic, violent note and like Sairat, the finale leading up to the end is full of dread.
Violence in the name of honour/caste differences has interestingly been explored by several contemporary films. Ishaqzaade (2012), directed by Habib Faisal, showed two families—the Qureshis and Chauhans—as political rivals. As luck would have it, love blossoms in the form of the Chauhan boy falling for the Qureshi girl. This story too ends on a negative note, with the same on-screen statistics telling us how many people are killed for falling in love outside their cast or religion in present-time modern India. Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) was a love story of two people belonging to warring clans. Same fate for them as well.
Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex Aur Dhokha (LSD), which released in 2010, shocked the audience with its ‘Love’ section that showed both the lovers gruesomely hacked to death by the girl’s family. Like in Sairat and Dhadak, the lovers are first tricked by their families and then murdered.
More recently, Anushka Sharma-starrer NH10, which released in 2015, shows a city couple on a vacation that witnesses an honour killing. The girl is poisoned by her own brother as the couple watches horrified and run to save themselves. As they try getting police help, it is shown that the authorities support the practice and are in no way going to arrest the murderers. As a character in NH10 says, niceties like modernism and democracy end with where the last mall in a city ends.
In Dhadak (like in Sairat), the story is more brutal as we see the love take seed, bloom, and then get crushed.
One does understand why most films about honour killings end with statistics of murders committed in the name of honour.
If we didn’t see these numbers, it would be difficult to believe such cruelty actually exists not very far from where we live.
Sonia Chopra is a critic, columnist and screenwriter with over 15 years of experience. She tweets on @soniachopra2