Taapsee Pannu gets to portray a sad widow, a fish-out-of-water newlywed, an acidly humorous diva, an adultery, and a fearful murder suspect. Pannu’s triumph is in bringing all of this together as a single figure, which is more than Vinil Mathew’s film does. Haseen Dillruba, like Judgementall Hai Kya a few years ago (also scripted by Dhillon), feels like a film with numerous characters. It begins as a murder mystery, with Rani as the prime suspect in her husband’s death in a cylinder explosion. The narrative skips back six months when Rani leaves her family in Delhi to start a new life with dweeby engineer Rishabh (Vikrant Massey) in the little village of Jwalapur as she tells the cops her story.
It’s a planned marriage—of opposites, as it’s made painfully evident right away. Rishabh is serious, romantically green, and hardworking, whereas Rani is pleasantly blunt and not particularly diligent. We’ve arrived in the well-trodden Middle Cinema territory of Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. It’s amusing at times, especially when Rani is bossing Rishabh around or disappointing her new mother-in-law (“Oh, chai,” she chirps as she arrives late and unconcerned for breakfast for the first time). Rani sighs, “Uski ghanti baji, mandir band (after his bell rang, the temple was closed for business)” when recounting her husband’s performance in bed to her mother. But, thanks to Amar Mangrulkar’s irritating score, these home comedy situations are also extended to absurd proportions.
It’s tolerable the first time Rani drops her saree pallu to entice Rishabh but instead catches his mother’s critical stare, but Mathew makes her do it three times. Haseen Dillruba evolves into a different kind of relationship film as it progresses. Rani’s affair with her husband’s relative, a well-built cad named Neel (Harshvardhan Rane), who comes to live with them, serves as the spark. Their tryst is badly performed, but the picture takes on a sinister edge after that—Phantom Thread filtered through the cheap pulp thrillers Rani enjoys reading. She’s told early on not to look for kitaabi romance, but as the situation becomes more hazardous, her actions imply she understands — and is fascinated by — the twisted impulses she’s only read about in lurid paperbacks. The film occasionally reverts to a murder mystery, with Aditya Srivastava’s inspector pressuring Rani to confess.
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Haseen Dillruba never quite gets off the screen, despite its frightening politics. Despite a dramatic opening aerial image, Jwalapur, the Ganga-side town in which it is based, never comes to life with sights, sounds, or the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Throughout, the picture appears uninterested and detached from itself.
Even the great reveal at the conclusion, while it has a surprise, is illogical, highly unlikely, unscientific, and rife with flaws. It’s also not as unique as the tone implies. Without giving anything away, let me just add that I recall reading a crime novel in my teens about a pregnant lady who murders her husband using the same ingenious weapon utilized in this film.
Vinil Mathew made his directorial debut in 2014 with the film Hasee Toh Phasee, which starred Parineeti Chopra and Sidharth Malhotra. That film gave us a lead couple with a lot of empathy and chemistry, a couple worth rooting for. Haseen Dillruba isn’t quite as intriguing as Hasee Toh Phasee, and I didn’t fall in love with, hate, like, or dislike any of the characters.
Haseen Dillruba, on the other hand, matches the filmmaking tastes of its producers Aanand L Rai and Himanshu Sharma, who had previously cooperated on the Tanu Weds Manu flicks and Raanjhanaa as director and writer, respectively.