Review: ‘Dunki,’ starring Shah Rukh Khan, Taapsee Pannu, Vicky Kaushal and Boman Irani

January 7, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anil Grover, Taapsee Pannu, Shah Rukh Khan, Vicky Kaushal and Vikram Kochhar in “Dunki” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)


Directed by Rajkumar Hirani

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1995 to 2020, in Asia and in Europe, the comedy/drama film “Dunki” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of friends from India have various experiences in their efforts to illegally immigrate to the United Kingdom.

Culture Audience: “Dunki” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s headliners and comedy/drama films that cover social issues in ways that are often awkward.

Boman Irani in “Dunki” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Dunki” clumsily mixes absurdist comedy with preachy drama in making statements about the dangers of undocumented immigration. Every time a serious life-threatening situation is depicted, the movie then throws in silly jokes for some cheap laughs. These awkward tonal shifts dilute the movie’s intentions more often than not, although the cast members try hard to keep a balance in this erratic film.

Directed by Rajkumar Hirani, “Dunki” has a title that refers to India’s Punjab term “donkey flight,” which is a way to illegally immigrate to other countries—usually Western countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. Hirani co-wrote the “Dunki” screenplay with Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon. “Dunki,” whose story spans about 25 years, is about the shenanigans of a group of friends who go through various trials and tribulations as “dunki” immigrants who are desperate to move to London. None of the “Dunki” cast members gives a particularly impressive performance.

“Dunki” begins in 2020. Manu Randhawa (played by Taapsee Pannu), a woman in her 50s, is in a wheelchair at a London hospital. She bribes a hospital orderly to wheel her out of the hospital because she’s not supposed to be discharged from the hospital yet. As soon as Manu leaves the hospital, she gets out of the wheelchair and goes to the office of immigration attorney Puru Patel (played by Deven Bhojani), who knows her from interactions with her 25 years earlier in 1995.

Manu begs Puru to find a way to get a visa for her to go back to India (she’s a native of Punjab), but Puru says Manu is not allowed to go back to India. Puru tells Manu that Dubai is the nation closest to India where she can get a visa. Manu isn’t happy about these circumstances, but she accepts the visa to Dubai. It’s explained later in the movie why Manu was in a hospital and why she can’t go back to India.

When Manu is Puru’s office, she makes a phone call to Hardayal “Hardy” Singh Dhillon (played by Shah Rukh Khan), a man she fell in love with when she met him in 1995. Hardy is in Punjab, where he is in the middle of a foot race at a racing track when he gets the call from Manu. She jokingly refers to herself as Hardy’s wife and says she needs to tell him something important in person, but he has to meet her in Dubai, becase she can’t get a visa to go to India.

Hardy is curious and delighted to hear from Manu, so he agrees to Manu’s invitation to go to Dubai. Manu makes arrangements with Puru for her two longtime friends Balli Kakkad (played by Anil Grover) and Balindar “Buggu” Lakhanpal (played by Vikram Kochhar), who also live in London, to also get visas to Dubai, so that these two pals can accompany her on the trip. Balli and Buggu work together in a clothing shop called Punjab Tailors.

Before “Dunki” shows this trip toward the end of the movie, most of the film switches to a flashback to 1995. At the time, Manu, Balli and Buggu were all in their mid-20s, financially struggling, and yearning for a better life, which they believe they have a better chance of achieving in London. The problem is that their chances of being legally approved for a visa are very low because they are poor and uneducated.

Manu is an underappreciated cook and server at a local casual eatery, where her specialty is making parathas. She’s miserable in her job, mainly because her boss Bobby Dhaba (played by Piyush Raina) is an egotistical jerk. Balli is a barber who lacks confidence in a lot of areas in his life. Buggu is a sales clerk at a clothing shop, who is a “mama’s boy” at home. In the minds of all three friends, London is like a “promised land” where their dreams can be fulfilled.

Through a series of circumstances, the three friends end up in the office of Puru, who was based in India at the time. Puru is an attorney who uses shady business practices to exploit desperate people who want quick visas. He thinks up deceptive schemes for his clients to tell lies in order to get visas.

Puru says Balli can get a spouse visa by marrying a British citizen who’s a drug addict and willing to marry an immigrant stranger for money. Puru says Buggu can get a business visa, based on Buggu’s very limited business knowledge of working in retail. Puru says Manu can get a sports visa, even though she has no real athletic skills. Puru comes up with the idea to pretend that Manu is a track runner.

It just so happens that Manu meets Hardy around the same time she’s planning to get a visa under false pretenses. Hardy visits the home of Manu’s family, where she lives with her parents (played by Manoj Kant and Amardeep Jha) and other family members. Hardy has arrived in town because he was in combat with Manu’s older brother Mahinder (played by Suhail Zargar, shown in a flashback) and wants to return some items that belong to Mahinder.

However, Hardy is shocked and dismayed to find out that Mahinder died in a car accident and has left behind a widow and a son. Manu’s family has fallen on hard times in other ways. The family went into debt to a loan shark, who has now seized ownership of the family’s home.

The main reason why Manu wants to move to London is to make enough money to send back to her family so that they can buy back the family house. Manu tells Hardy all about this sob story, as well as the visa scheme to pretend that she’s a track runner. Hardy agrees to be her coach and then gets involved in the plans to immigrate to London with Manu, Balli and Buggu.

One of the more frustrating things about “Dunki” is that it’s a 161-minute movie that wastes a lot of screen time by cramming in a lot of subplots, some of which are abandoned for another distracting subplot. The subplot about Manu’s charade as an athlete is ditched for a fairly long stretch of the movie where Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu enroll in an English-language class, which is required for them to get their visas to the United Kingdom.

In this English-language class, they befriend a neurotic man named Sukhi (played by Vicky Kaushal), who wants to move to London to save his ex-girlfriend Jassi, who is married to an abusive man. The teacher of this English-language class is a pompous buffoon named Geetendar “Geetu” Gulati (played by Boman Irani), who treats his students in a very condescending manner. He also has contempt for his students, because he thinks that most of them are planning to do something illegal or dishonest to get visas.

The movie’s running joke for these classroom scenes is that Geetu is fixated on teaching the students how to say in English: “I want to use the lavatory.” This joke runs out of steam quickly, but it’s repeated to the point of annoyance in “Dunki.” However, a highlight of these classroom scenes is when Sukhi gives a very funny monologue to prove he’s learned a lot more English than Geetu thinks he has.

The sprawling and frequently disjointed story in “Dunki” shows the undocumented immigrant pals going to various countries in Asia and Europe in their quest to get to London. Along the way, a lot of dark and depressing things happen, such as suicide, murder, and the constant threat of being in violent danger during this journey. The movie also shows grim statistics and real news photos about deaths that can happen to people who immigrate to countries through illegal means.

“Dunki” is a very off-putting mess that goes back-and-forth between showing all of this harsh gloom and then switching to idiotic slapstick comedy in ridiculous scenarios. It diminishes the real-life immigrant suffering that the movie is trying to convey. At one point, the plight of refugees seeking asylum becomes a part of the story. And that’s when the movie really goes downhill and never recovers.

“Dunki” has lot of subtle and not-so-subtle preaching that visas are a form of class discrimination. However, this argument is very warped in the movie in how it tries to equate the living conditions that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu want to leave in India to the living conditions of refugees who are fleeing their homelands because their lives are in danger. The fact of the matter is that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu are not even close to being refugees who are fleeing from life-threatening danger in their homeland. The main motivation that Hardy, Manu, Balli and Buggu have to leave India and move to London is to make more money.

“Dunki” also wants to condemn the people who exploit desperate undocumented immigrants, but this condemnation is also mishandled by presenting all of these exploiters (such as a corrupt attorneys or human trafficking smugglers) as cartoonish characters. In “Dunki,” immigration officials are also caricatures, who are usually depicted as hateful bigots or completely incompetent. And ultimately, “Dunki” is insulting to the protagonists that the movie claims to be rooting for, by making these protagonists look very dimwitted.

The movie spends so much time not being able to make up its mind on whether to be a wacky misadventure or a cautionary tale, it treats the love story of Hardy and Manu almost like an afterthought. There isn’t much in “Dunki” to convince viewers that Hardy and Manu should be together, especially when they see each other in middle age and play immature and deceptive games with each other about their marital status. If you think that “Dunki” will be a clever satire of immigration problems, then look elsewhere, because “Dunki” is not that movie.

Yash Raj Films released “Dunki” in select U.S. cinemas on December 21, 2023, the same date that the movie was released in India.

Review: ‘Uunchai,’ starring Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani

November 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Anupam Kher, Boman Irani and Amitabh Bachchan in “Uunchai” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)


Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya

Hindi and Nepalese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in India and Nepal, the dramatic film “Uunchai” features a cast of predominantly Indian characters (and with some Nepalese people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After their longtime friend unexpectedly dies, three elderly men decide to fulfill their dead friend’s wish to take an adventure trip and hike on Mount Everest, despite people telling them that they’re too old for this type of physical activity. 

Culture Audience: “Uunchai” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s principal stars, but “Uunchai” is filled with cringeworthy stereotypes and takes too long to get to the Mount Everest part of the story.

Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher and Boman Irani in “Uunchai” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Uunchai” takes a simple and not-very-original concept (elderly people going on an adventure trip) and ruins it with a bloated run time of 173 minutes, very hokey scenarios, and mediocre acting. “Uunchai” (which means “height” in Hindi) is supposed to be about three elderly men who take a trip to Mount Everest in Nepal, as a tribute to their recently deceased friend. It takes the movie about 45 minutes to finally show them starting this road trip. The movie is half over by the time they get to Mount Everest.

Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya and written by Abhishek Dixit, “Uunchai” is a perfect example of a movie that is overstuffed with filler scenes that are completely unnecessary. And just as irritating is the movie’s unrelenting predictability. “Uunchai” tries to throw in a badly contrived “surprise” toward the end of the film. It’s really no surprise at all, considering that the movie’s central conflict is that these old men want to prove to naysayers that they’re strong enough and healthy enough to go on this Mount Everest trip.

“Uunchai” begins in Delhi, India, at a birthday celebration for a retired man named Bhupen (played by Danny Denzongpa), whose three best friends are at the party. Bhupen is a never-married bachelor who does not have any biological family members who are in his life. His three best friends are his family. All four of the men are in their 60s or 70s.

The other three friends are:

  • Professor/author Amit Srivastava (played by Amitabh Bachchan), who is separated from his wife and has no children.
  • Bookstore owner Om Sharma (played by Anupam Kher), who is a widower with a married son, who manages Om’s store.
  • Boutique owner Javed Siddiqui (played by Boman Irani), who is married and has a married daughter.

Bhupen’s party is a joyous event. Not long after the party, Bhupen tells his three buddies that he wants to fulfill a longtime dream of going with these friends to Mount Everest. He doesn’t want to do anything too dangerous, such as try to climb Mount Everest. Bhupen wants to go to Mount Everest Base Camp, which offers hiking and exploring activities on Mount Everest.

Amit and Javed are politely open to the idea, but Om is the most skeptical and nervous about it. Om quips, “We can barely climb the stairs, let alone a mountain!” However, after the four men have a night of drunken partying at a pub, Om agrees to take the trip.

Not long after they have this discussion, Bhupen suddenly dies of heart attack, alone in his home. His friends are devastated, of course. After the funeral (Bhupen was cremated), Amit is looking through some of Bhupen’s possessions when he finds four tickets that Bhupen bought for the Mount Everest trip. It’s how Amit discovers that Bhupen had been planning to surprise Amit, Om and Javed with these tickets as a gift.

Amit is so emotionally moved, he insists to Om and Javed that they all take the trip as a tribute to Bhupen. They also decide that they will spread Bhupen’s ashes on Mount Everest. The plan is set in motion to take the trip in the near future. They are going to travel to Mount Everest by car. Amit will do the driving.

The friends have two potential obstacles: First, they have to get the approval of their doctors. Second, Javed knows that his very possessive and nagging wife Shabina Siddiqui (played by Needa Gupta), nicknamed Bhabhi, will not let him go on this trip. And so, Javed comes up with a plan to let Shabina go on the road trip with them but to drop her off at the home of their daughter Heeba (played by Sheen Dass), who lives in Gorakhpur, India—about213 kilometers (or 132 miles) southeast of Delhi.

Because it takes so long in the movie for this road trip to actually begin, “Uunchai” has several tedious scenes of Amit, Om and Javed going through physical training and medical checkups to prepare for their Mount Everest adventure. Amit’s doctor advises him not to go on the trip because of the high altitudes of Mount Everest. Amit responds that he’s not changing his plans for the trip: “Doctor, I’m leaving tomorrow.”

During this long and monotonous road trip, “Uunchai” fills up the time with irritating bickering, usually instigated by Shabina, who is miserable being on the road. In addition, Om has some emotional baggage to deal with because he is estranged from his brothers, who live in a rural area and who think that Om abandoned them to become a businessman in Delhi. Om and his brothers have inherited some property, which has caused a family feud that is detailed in the movie.

When the four travelers get to Lucknow, India, they meet a woman in her 60s named Mala Trivedi (played by Sarika), who had a history with Bhupen. Her history is exactly what you think it might be. (It’s all so predictable.) And it’s why Mala ends up going on the road trip too. Mala is also with the men when they go to Mount Everest.

“Uunchai” is so formulaic and so treacly with its obvious attempts to pull at people’s heartstrings, it become a chore to watch this movie because of the way it drags on and on, without any real character development and nothing exciting happening. By the time these travelers get to Mount Everest, you can easily guess that they will have a tour guide who’s skeptical that these senior citizens are capable of keeping up with the rest of the younger people in the group. This cynical tour guide is named Shraddha (played by Parineeti Chopra), and she gets into stereotypical arguments with these elderly men—especially with “alpha male” Amit, who is the most determined of the three pals to prove her wrong.

And speaking of clichés, expect to see a lot of scenes of the old men huffing and puffing, as they run out of breath and struggle to keep up with the rest of the group during their physically demanding activities at Mount Everest. As shown in the trailer for “Uunchai,” Om slips and falls and inveitably gets hurt. And there are more “look at the old people trying to be fearless hikers” spectacle scenes that are too similar to each other and repeated over and over.

“Uunchai” also pours on the schmaltz in eye-rolling ways, such as a scene where the elderly travelers end up playing soccer with some Buddhist monks (who are in their monk clothes) and some of the local Nepalese people. Mostly, the trip consists of generic hiking scenes that show some beautiful scenery but has a lot of uninspired dialogue and a few contrivances. For example, during the trip, Om is distracted when he hears about some warehouse problems that are affecting his business back in Delhi.

Amit, who is a successful and famous author, is supposed to have the most fascinating life out of the three pals, but his life is depicted in a very shallow way in the movie. The only insight to any personal growth that Amit might experience is early on in “Uunchai,” shortly after Bhupen has died, when Amit remembers some constructive criticism that Bhupen gave to Amit. Bhupen told Amit that Amit’s self-help books were starting to sound less like they came from the mind of a writer and more like they came from the mind of a salesman.

Amit’s marital problems, which are barely mentioned in the movie, are then dealt with in a rushed and phony way toward the end of the film. Nafisa Ali Sodhi has a small role in “Uunchai” as Abhilasha Srivastava, Amit’s estranged wife. Amit is supposedly re-evaluating his life after Bhupen’s sudden death, but Amit’s marriage is treated like an afterthought in the overall plot.

“Uunchai” is the type of over-inflated movie where much of the production budget was spent on traveling and hiring the famous actors who headline the film. That money is wasted if the movie just turns out to be stale mush that rehashes similar movies about elderly people who go on a “wish fulfillment/bucket list” trip. The acting isn’t terrible, but it’s terribly generic. For a movie of this annoyingly excessive length, “Uunchai” has very little to say that’s witty, enthralling or truly original.

Yash Raj Films released “Uunchai” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on November 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Jayeshbhai Jordaar,’ starring Ranveer Singh

June 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ranveer Singh, Jia Vaidya and Shalini Pandey in “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

“Jayeshbhai Jordaar”

Directed by Divyang Thakkar

Hindi with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Gujarat, India, the comedy film “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle class.

Culture Clash: An expectant father of an unborn baby girl goes on the run with his wife and daughter because his sexist father doesn’t want another girl born into the family. 

Culture Audience: “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” will appeal primarily to fans of star Ranveer Singh and absurdist comedies about overcoming anti-female sexism.

Boman Irani in “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” (Photo courtesy of Yash Raj Films)

How far will a father go to save his unborn daughter from a cruel and sexist patriarch, who doesn’t want another girl born into the family? That’s the premise of the absurdist comedy “Jayeshbhai Jordaar,” which makes up for an uneven start with a wacky adventure and positive messages about gender equality rights. It’s movie with a lot of slapstick gags that work well more often than not.

“Jayeshbhai Jordaar” (which takes place in Gujarat, India) is the feature-film debut of writer/director Divyang Thakkar. The movie is a memorable but not outstanding effort, indicating that Thakkar has potential to improve as a filmmaker. In “Jayeshbhai Jordaar,” the title character is Jayesh Patel (played by Ranveer Singh) is a happily married father of a precocious daughter named Siddhi Patel (played by Jia Vaidya), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Jayesh and his wife Mudra Patel (played by Shalini Pandey) have been married for nine years and are about to expect their second child together. They know from a pre-natal sex determination test (which is illegal in India) that the unborn child will be a girl.

However, Jayesh’s domineering and sexist father Pruthvish Patel (played by Boman Irani) is the village chief who disapproves of another girl being born into the family. How much does he disapprove? He frequently yells and insults Jayesh for not having a son. If that attitude sounds extreme, consider how many societies still teach that boys born into a family are much more important than girls.

Jayesh loves and respects his wife and daughter, but he also lives in fear of his father. Pruthvish has such control over the family that Jayesh is certain that Pruthvish will force Mudra to get an abortion when Pruthvish finds out the unborn child is a girl. Jayesh’s mother/Pruthvish’s wife Jia Vaidya (played by Jashoda Patel) is predictably passive and goes along with whatever her husband wants.

And if it isn’t made clear enough that Pruthvish has misogynistic beliefs, it’s shown in a scene that takes place with a gathering of citizens in the village square, where Pruthvish hears concerns from the villagers and decides what to do about these concerns. A teenage girl stands up and voices a complaint about girls at her school being harassed by drunk boys near the school. The girl suggests that alcohol be be banned. Pruthvish’s horrific response is to say that soap should be banned instead. “If our girls use fragrant soaps, it’s bound to arouse our boys,” he declares.

One of the not-very-funny-aspects of “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” is how Jayeshbhai pretends to commit domestic violence on his wife, in orderto give his father the impression that Jayeshbhai has “control” over his marriage. Mudra and Siddhi are complicit and participate in this deception. Fortunately, this awkwardly staged domestic violence angle is not a big part of the movie.

Domestic violence is also brought up because Jayesh’s sister’s Preeti (played by Deeksha Joshi) is trapped in an unhappy marriage where her husband Dhaval physically and emotionally abuses her. Preeti later plays a valuable role in a pivotal part of the movie. Needless to say, she’s not the meek and passive person that some people in the village might think she is.

Because “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” is a screwball comedy, a lot of hijinks and hysteria ensue over what is going to happen to this unborn baby. Jayesh and Mudra very much want this child, but Jayesh is terrified of being disowned by his father and of any harm coming to the baby. And therefore, Jayesh comes up with a plan to go into hiding with Mudra and Siddhi.

It’s enough to say that Jayeshbhai pretends to be kidnapped by Mudra, but he actually goes on a road trip with Mudra and Siddhi. Thinking that Jayesh has been kidnapped, Pruthvish and other men in the village go in hot pursuit. There are more antics (some more amusing than others) where Jayesh tries to keep the lie going, including creating a new identity called Jayeshbhai Jordaar.

“Jayeshbhai Jordaar” has very good casting, which is one of the main reasons why this movie can appeal to audiences. Singh, Vaidya and Pandey are very believable as this trio of “runaway” parents and their daughter. Their comedic performances have great timing and nuances. They also handle the more dramatic scenes impressively.

As the main antagonist, Irani portrays Pruthvish as a cartoonish villain. However, the movie has just enough realistic characterizations of Pruthvish to make a point that there are many men who really do have the same demeaning attitude toward women—and it’s not an exaggeration for the movie. Rather than condemn Pruthvish as completely evil, “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” wants people to understand that men with this misogyny aren’t strangers, but they can be in anyone’s family or community.

Pruthvish can be laughed at or disliked by viewers, but can he be redeemed? The movie answers that question in ways that are predictable, but “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” seems to be making a sincere effort in its message of taking a stand against gender discrimnation—even if it will make some loved ones uncomfortable. “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” has a lot of over-the-top comedy to convey that message, but it’s one that viewers can take to heart and also get some laughs from the intended jokes.

Yash Raj Films released “Jayeshbhai Jordaar” in select U.S. cinemas and in India on May 13, 2022.

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