(An edited version was published in The New Indian Express)
What do you lose when you lose a director, a bonafide filmmaker who not only chooses the words on his page but also how they get translated into the visual medium? Shashank Khaitan services Dhadak, a remake of Sairat, originally directed by one such filmmaker, Nagraj Manjule. Take for instance the sequence in Sairat where Parshya (Akash Thosar) and Archie (Rinku Rajguru) are communicating with each other with the help of an innocent kid, not older than six. These are early days in their romance and Parshya is still trying to figure out what Archie really thinks of him. In Sairat, Archie is the mover and shaker. Archie commands the stage and leads the direction of their romance, and in turn, the dynamics of the film. She sends the kid back multiple times questioning Parshya’s feelings and wonders if he is honest enough to own up to them. Manjule’s camera moves horizontally, it moves through bikes and fades to the next exchange, it moves through stone houses, through streets and fades to next exchange as this to and fro keeps going for a while. A romance gains forward momentum right in front of our eyes. Look at what Khaitan does in Dhadak. First he puts his spin on the question on the lovers’ lips – “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun” and adds a Ranbir Kapoor song to go with it. It is Khaitan’s bad habit of falling back on Hindi film nostalgia in full force, as if two films completely built upon them wasn’t enough. Then, he has Madhukar’s (Ishaan Khatter) adult friend – with a toupee – dress up like a school boy. Do you want me to continue? Karan Johar and company have made our job easier by providing us a built-in metaphor in Dhadak so that we know what Sairat was about. It is not a flesh and blood kid who helps in channelling this romance but a poorly manufactured knock-off, retaining neither the authenticity nor the form.
That is what we look for in remakes, don’t we? It’s not a sin to take something, a creation belonging to someone else, and make a completely different version. One can make a markedly different film and often, that is a good thing to aim for. But where is the authenticity? Jim Jarmusch famously said, ‘Don’t go for originality, go for authenticity.’ Dhadak, with the help of Shashank Khaitan and Karan Johar, rips apart Sairat’s soul with its bare hands. If Dhadak had something going for it, we can talk about Dhadak, leaving out Sairat, as impossible as it might be. But forgive me, there is a need to keep bringing up Sairat in this case. In Sairat, Manjule does something beautiful with gender role reversal within the confines of an old-world romance. Archie’s character is not given the princess in ivory tower treatment that Parthavi (Janhvi Kapoor) gets here (Parthavi literally lives in a palace in Udaipur). Archie drives a bike. Yes, Parthavi does too. Yes, Archie is the doted upon bade ghar ki beti. Parthavi’s father makes a promise to her that he’ll install heaters around the pond. But those character shades set precedent for what’s to come. Archie calls the shots in their romance. Archie stands up for Parshya against her cousin in college. She is the one who saves him from her brother and her father’s lieutenants. We see Parthavi wielding a gun confidently in an earlier scene but later when she desperation calls, it is almost an afterthought. Parthavi is never in the driving seat of the relationship the way Archie is shown to be. There is one image from each of the films that illustrates this – when Parthavi picks up the gun, she holds it against her temple, threatening suicide. When Archie picks it up, she aims it immediately at the men beating up Parshya and his friends.
The caste politics of Sairat give way for electoral politics in Dhadak. Karan Johar’s film, unironically, keeps piling on the metaphors soaked in realism. Khaitan makes a spectacle of all the wrong things in Dhadak. Like the police arresting Madhu in his hotel and thrashing him and his friends in the cell. Or when they get caught at Parthavi’s brother’s birthday celebrations and her father subsequently grounding her. Sairat’s magic lies in the way it presents a centuries old story, magnifying the spectacle on the film’s beating heart – the romance. Dhadak’s heart is still, the leads don’t offer much in way of chemistry and Khaitan doesn’t know to perform CPR. One of Parshya’s friends in Sairat is Pradeep who is bowlegged. He gets a throwaway scene where his crush rejects his advances and he walks away in dejection. On the road, he comes across another person suffering from deformed limbs. He stops, smiles at that person and greets him. Twice because the first time the passer-by did not notice him. It is just one example and one instance of how Sairat celebrates empathy. In Dhadak, this character is a bald person of short stature who is repeatedly made fun of for those things. Dhadak is that person to whom we say – don’t be that guy. This is brazen board room sanctioned appropriation. There is no reason to second guess the makers. Karan Johar and Shashank Khaitan are no fools and they knew exactly what they were doing to the source material. They went ahead and did it anyway. And we haven’t even mentioned nepotism yet. All said and done, Dhadak is generous in offering one more image to show that Manjule’s film is the real deal – Madhukar’s sad, awkward, untrained effort is no match to Parshya’s elegant, graceful, Olympian dive into the river of smoke. You know the scene.