In one of the last scenes of Dhaakad, a character tells Agent Agni, played by Kangana Ranaut, “You need to recover first, fir sab baaton ka postmortem karenge.” I am not sure how long it will take me to ‘recover’ from this two-hour-fifteen-minute espionage action drama, but the film’s autopsy would surely hold a lack of story responsible for its gruesome debacle.
It’s not all bad, though. Director Razneesh Ghai has managed to tick off the major ingredients of an action drama—elaborate fighting sequences shot by renowned Japanese cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata, an acclaimed cast, complementary background score, and locations. If only the plot was as engaging. Dhaakad is an exquisitely packaged hamper with an underwhelming surprise.
Entering the theatre to catch an early show with no soul in sight did little to resurrect my confidence in the film. However, the first half offered several moments that surprised me in a good way.
Dhaakad is centred around Agent Agni (Kangana Ranaut), who has been tasked by her guardian-cum-mentor-cum-intel chief Ringmaster (Saswata Chatterjee) to find Rudraveer (Arjun Rampal), the man behind a global trafficking cartel. Rudraveer keeps his public appearances to a bare minimum while his long-time partner Rohini (Divya Dutta) caters to the nitty-gritty of day-to-day affairs. Agni’s battling the repressed trauma of her past too as she coldly hacks away at those who cross her path to Rudraveer.
A ‘soul-less’ action bonanza
There has been a surge in female-led action films in Bollywood in the last decade or so. While it is a refreshing and commendable change, writers have a long way to go in creating a more nuanced protagonist. Integrating a horrific past with no emotional depth does little to elevate a character’s range. It often ends up being a lazy ploy to attract viewers’ sympathy. Dhaakad does the same.
On the face of it, the action sequences are thoroughly engaging (often too much for your comfort) and are intricately shot by Nagata. Even the actors—Ranaut and Rampal—try to effuse their hastily written characters with some depth. The title track also attempts to bring some flavour to the film but can only do so much.
At one point, Agni, while busy being a killing machine, says, “Jism se rooh alag karna business hai mera” (It is my business to separate the soul from the body). By the end of over two hours, Dhaakad is reduced to a blank shell with no fire in it. And so are viewers whose bodies have been rendered ‘soul-less’ by the pitfalls of the plot.
Kangana Ranaut, the actor
Kangana Ranaut, the person, is polarising on many levels—thanks to her ideology and statements on many socio-political issues of the country. However, it is not easy to dismiss her as an actor.
Her past performances, especially in the Tanu Weds Manu series (2011, 2015), Queen (2013), and Simran (2017) are testament to her fine talent. Her commitment to her characters is evident even in Dhaakad.
But despite being adept at carrying a film on her shoulders, even Ranaut is held back by the limitations of the languid script. What she could control was the physical transformation and energy that she, impressively, does with utmost ease.
Arjun Rampal as the antagonist underwent three makeovers in the film for the reasons best known to the makers. The introductory montage in the first half makes for an entertaining watch, thanks to the pacy music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Dhruv Ghanekar. But from thereon, every time Rampal appears on screen, he looks menacing but his hoarse voice does little to scare anyone.
Other cast members—Divya Dutta and Saswata Chatterjee—are both superb actors in their own right, but end up becoming garish caricatures. For a cinephile to watch such exquisite talent go to waste really hurts.
All in all, Dhaakad is a high-octane action drama with no fizz or punch to make it memorable.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)