Four women take to their motorcycles like large-winged birds to a gust of wind. They ride beyond of the limits of their lives and to the heights of freedom. The quartet is at the heart of Dhak Dhak, a road movie directed by Tarun Dudeja with a fair bit of flair.
Crammed with dramatic moments that do not always come across as organic, the feel-good film, scripted by Dudeja with Parijat Joshi, makes plenty of right noises. Among them obviously is the roar of engines at full-throttle, a metaphor for defiance in the face of obstacles strewn across the paths of the ordinary women whose extraordinary story Dhak Dhak tells.
Each of the biker women has a reason to leave their comfort zones – they are made to believe that they are better off there than anywhere else – in quest of uncharted avenues. Their daring adventure makes for a mildly diverting tale that flows out of that cliched truism – where there is a will there is a way.
Dhak Dhak approximates the heartbeats of both the machines and the women who control them as it pieces together the back stories of social media influencer Shashi Kumar Yadav aka Sky (Fatima Sana Shaikh), Bullet-riding granny Manpreet Kaur Sethi aka Mahi (Ratna Pathak Shah), automobile mechanic Uzma (Dia Mirza) and a wet-behind-the-ears Manjari (Sanjana Sanghi).
Sky, a YouTuber with a penchant motorcycles, gadgets and travel, is coming off a nasty scandal and a messy break-up. She has her sights set on the Barcelona auto expo to take her mind off the complications in her life.
She finds an unlikely ally in Mahi, a sexagenarian who has seen that and done that and knows all too well that Sky can help her realise her dream of riding all the way up to Khardung La, one of the world’s highest motorable roads.
Uzma, whose hubby sees no percentage in encouraging her to pursue her personal aspirations, and Manjari, pressured by her single mother and other relatives to agree to a marriage with a stranger of their choice, aren’t natural born bikers. But when the opportunity beckons, they take the plunge notwithstanding initial reservations.
Dhak Dhak, with its somewhat punishing length, never hits full speed. It has a pretty decent first half that is followed by a post-interval segment that meanders a tad. The pacing is inconsistent, the humour is intermittent, and many of the scenes tend to overstay their welcome. But despite all the drawbacks that slow it down, the film derives power from the quartet of actors who power the plot with aplomb.
Dhak Dhak is obviously not in the Thelma & Louise league. Not that the film is trying to get there. Perched on a means of transport that is often believed to be a male preserve, Dhak Dhak employs simplistic and hackneyed means to tell a tale of female empowerment.
The journey, the destination and the friends that that they make along the way change the women. That begs the question: why must women in Hindi films always have to reckon with personal problems and social hindrances before they are ready to fly the coop in the manner that the Dhak Dhak quartet does?
Wouldn’t it be infinitely better if our scriptwriters could find women who do what their heart wills without being pushed to the wall and then fighting back? Yes, Dhak Dhak does not make villains out of men – it would be well within its rights if it did.
However, at least two of the girls have a partner who is responsible for what is wrong with their lives. Sky’s boyfriend and Uzma’s husband are men with huge chinks in their armours and the two ladies are compelled (or constrained) to break free from their clutches.
Cliches of the genre are piled up in a heap in Dhak Dhak. Families, even without realising what they are doing, clip the wings of women who want to take flight and soar to their own cruising altitude. That is a given in a film of films that pit women against a society that is reluctant to let them be who they want to be.
The protagonists of Dhak Dhak do have their way, of course. They ride away into storm and live to tell the tale. It is just that the narrative they propel has nothing majorly new to say. Nor does it say anything in a way that is radically different.
Pat and patchy – even, occasionally, a touch preachy – Dhak Dhak exudes positive vibes and transmits largely meaningful messages. That is the least you expect. But for a film batting for women who won’t be tamed, why would it deem it necessary to have us believe that girls must drink themselves silly to show that they have broken free from their fetters?
In one sequence, the girls get all tipsy and giggly – an act of defiance that is wholly unnecessary for an awesome foursome who have travelled quite a distance already. There surely of other ways to generate mirth and portray female bonding.
Another question: most male bonding films that come out of the Mumbai movie industry (Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, even that advanced-age version of the buddy-buddy movie, Uunchai) are about trios. They aren’t in need of a fourth man to complete the picture.
In contrast, female-centric films about friends or characters in search of liberation (Veere Di Wedding, Lipstick Under My Burkha) tend to be about quartets. What is it about the female buddy film that makes screenwriters think only in fours? There probably is absolutely no connection between gender and numbers, but this odd-even phenomenon is a coincidence that definitely merits some thought.
Returning to the cast of Dhak Dhak, the four lead actors are indeed all in top form. Not one is out of place in this assemblage. Ratna Pathak Shah, the seasoned pro, brings all her prowess to bear upon the fleshing out of a robust Punjabi matron who defies convention. Dia Mirza, as a homemaker who dares to break out of her shell, proves her mettle without missing a trick.
Fatima Sana Shaikh, playing a firebrand who has many a point to prove the world and to herself, raises the energy quotient of the film with the verve that she injects into her performance. Sanjana Sanghi holds her own in what is by far the most sedate of the four roles.
Dhak Dhak has four magnificent women on their roaring machines. It would have been a full-on zip-zap-zoom ride had the film packed in a little more narrative torque.
Ratna Pathak Shah, Dia Mirza, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanjana Sanghi