Dishoom Dashes Even Our Modest Expectations

John Abraham and Varun Dhawan in a still from Dishoom

John Abraham and Varun Dhawan in a still from Dishoom

A film like Dishoom, a potboiler starring John Abraham, Varun Dhawan and Jacqueline Fernandez (mainly known for acting in mainstream crowd pleasers), doesn’t raise a world of expectations. The most that you expect from a film of this kind is for it to not be obviously lazy and lousy. So it’s pleasantly surprising that Dishoom, for the most part of its first half, is fairly enjoyable. Revolving around the abduction of the Indian cricket team’s best batsman, Viraj (Saqib Saleem), 36 hours before a final against Pakistan, Dishoom features an Indian Special Task Force officer, Kabir Shergill (Abraham), collaborating with Junaid Ansari (Varun Dhawan), a jovial, boyish Abu Dhabi cop, to nab the kidnapper.

Quite early in the film, we understand that Kabir is badass with a capital-B. He’s seething in anger all the time, doesn’t understand rules, can’t take no for an answer. Kabir is also endowed with the gift that comes naturally to Hindi film heroes: the ability to deliver dialogues. When his girlfriend requests him to stop smoking, he shoots back with, “Bullets nahin maar paayi mujhe, yeh cigarette kya cheez hai (bullets couldn’t kill me, then what can a cigarette do)?” It’s a cheesy line, but one that, within the ambit of the film’s genre, is quite enjoyable. Kabir continues in a similar vein, smoking, threatening, punching. He’s a textbook character, but he doesn’t temper down his mannerisms, believes in them, and, as a result, it’s easy to be on board with him. However, given that Abraham isn’t the most sure-footed actor, you can’t help but think that a better actor would have performed this role with much more flair.

Junaid, on the other hand, is his foil: a man of limited talent, trying hard to hold on to his job, eager to please his supervisors, someone who’s likely to crack a bad joke and be content with laughing alone. These kinds of roles—of a young buffoon who’s usually not up to much good—come quite easy to Dhawan, who plays them with enough sincerity, but, with the notable exception of Badlapur, he hasn’t been helped enough by his directors. Here, too, Dhawan looks at ease in a poorly written, clichéd role, but that is, of course, not saying much.

But, quite notably, Dishoom’s best scene is helmed by neither Abraham nor Dhawan, but by Akshay Kumar, who’s present here in a guest role. Sporting a bun and playing the role of a homosexual man (when was the last time we saw a Bollywood star playing anything other than a heterosexual alpha male?), Kumar’s character, in exchange of providing a crucial clue to the case, makes both Kabir and Junaid strip down to their boxers and leers at them. In a buddy film like Dishoom, one expects the heroes, in line with the conventions of most mainstream movies, to be lecherous, so when that point of view is inverted, and they’re the ones being objectified, it feels like a small victory. Kumar’s part is still stereotypical though; list most gay men in Hindi films, he, too, is hypersexual and effeminate, but just the fact that Rohit Dhawan, Dishoom’s director, seems willing to play around with the norm is enough to elicit a soft chuckle.

Till the first half, Dishoom rides on a series of silly, inoffensive jokes, throws in some plot twists (and, as a result, keeps us guessing about the mechanics of abduction), and doesn’t insist on imposing songs on its narrative. Given how shoddy many commercial Hindi films are used to be, Dishoom seems to be doing okay.

Post-interval, however, Dishoom emerges a completely different film. Here, Rohit Dhawan and Tushar Hiranandani (the film’s co-screenwriter) shed all pretense of telling even a borderline believable story. No one’s expecting a film like Dishoom to have a watertight screenplay (and even its first half has a few convenient plot points), but it’s difficult to condone the film when nearly each of its plot turn materializes so easily, so conveniently, so sloppily.

Quickly in the film’s second half, we also have a quasi-item song, performed by Fernandez, that defies all logic. Even the film’s juvenile jokes, which had somehow kept it afloat in its initial portion, now begin to fall flat. Dishoom could’ve been a passably enjoyable film had its second half mirrored the merits of its first but it doesn’t, and, consequently, we get a film that completely fails to fulfill even its limited ambitions.