A slick action film that is also coherent is a hard nut to crack for even Hollywood. Dhaakad then is an achievement, in getting those two things right, in chucking the melodrama for spare blood-letting, in heading for the relatively new location of Bhopal and its surroundings, in getting the mood right by dipping into the coal mines there, and even giving us a glimpse of the life in that city with its mixed communities, which seamlessly live together. It should not be this rare, but it is.
And while much has been said about Dhaakad (a formidable name indeed) being India’s rare woman-centric action film, there are actually two women who do most of the heavy-lifting here, and pretty effortlessly at that – Kangana Ranaut as the protagonist Agent Agni, and Divya Dutta as Rohini, the brain, financial mind, emotional support and much, much more of a criminal ring dealing in coal and trafficking of women.
The two confrontations between Agni and Rohini are the film’s highlights, even though Dhaakad makers are clearly going for Agni’s fighting abilities, and Rudraveer’s villainy, played to hamming over-effect by Arjun Rampal. We are getting used to this off-kilter Rampal now, covered in tattoos, rings, fur-lined long coats and experimental hair styles.
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But the surprise here is Kangana Ranaut, who is very sombre, very understated as the agent running from a tortured past – unlike how the film promotions might have themselves suggested, and unlike how the actor seems to see herself lately. Dutta, of course, is just good, period. And her Rohini is no exception, her role of a former prostitute who now runs the business with an iron hand, with little mercy and lot of cunning, suggesting layers and layers which deserve a film of their own. Now here is a kothewali who gets her hands dirty, talks dirty, and knows dirty, unlike the pristine purity of a Kathiawadi.
The simple, uncomplicated storyline is that Agni became an agent after a shocking incident from childhood, when her parents were shot by a man of whom she has a faint memory of. Now, she is leading the Agency’s investigation of a trafficking ring running out of central India, and reaching up to Budapest (that keeps popping up almost like a backyard to Bhopal) and a Sheikh with origins in the Middle East.
Agni leads the search from Budapest to Bhopal and beyond, helped along by a local Bhopal resident Fazal (Sharib Hashmi, of The Family Man fame). Agni immediately finds herself pulled to his mother-less daughter Zaira, for obvious reasons.
However, what seemed like a quick extraction and termination operation turns out to be not so simple, as Rudraveer and Rohini unleash carnage, helped by informers of their own.
When the film gets into twists-and-turns territory, and becomes a one-woman revenge saga, Dhaakad offers no surprises. We know that whatever you might throw at Agni, she will bounce back, however improbable or incredible that is.
If the film’s first 20-odd minutes are rip-offs of Hollywood’s assembly line action thrillers, where people kill and die before you have even settled down for your popcorn, Dhaakad’s last 20 are an exercise in overkill.
That the middle holds so well is a tribute to its actors, its efforts at giving us some human characters, and its story that trots along nicely (credit to debutant director and co-screenwriter Razneesh Ghai). At one place, we come to know of a medical condition where a person’s heart is tilted more towards the right than normal, which saves their life. Dhaakad has its heart in the right place.
Dhaakad movie cast: Kangana Ranaut, Arjun Rampal, Divya Dutta, Sharib Hashmi, Saswata Chatterjee
Dhaakad movie director: Razneesh Ghai
Dhaakad movie rating: 3.5 stars