Dasvi Review: Some Heart but almost no Soul

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Dasvi Review: Some Heart but almost no Soul

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Education isn’t a mandate to be a politician in India and Netflix’s Dasvi is a film about why this can be dangerous. Abhishek Bachchan plays Chief Minister Gangaram Chaudhary, a Jat politician who is uneducated and cannot even sign his own name. He’s proud of his corrupt regime and mocks the idea of education being a powerful tool for change. There is an army of yes-men propagating his preposterous, not to mention criminal ways of running his state. He represents every ignorant, conservative Indian leader whose name often flashes across news headlines in our country for the wrong reasons. Things take a u-turn for Chaudhary when he’s sent to prison on multiple criminal charges and his wife Bimla Devi ( Nimrat Kaur) takes over as the temporary CM of the state. In the company of virtuous, learned individuals who are also inmates of the same jail, Chaudhary who is now being outwitted by his own wife, starts to open his mind to the importance of acquiring knowledge. It’s a solid premise, but also one that the film, its performances, script and direction fail to live up to.

Dasvi’s premise has the scope for everything that makes for good potboiler cinema.

Dasvi’s premise has the scope for everything that makes for good potboiler cinema. Typically, it’s a film where the protagonist undergoes an experience that changes his life, and it is meant to inspire. However, the film falls short of translating the experience of its leading character for the audience. This is mostly due to an underdeveloped plot and characters whose motivations seem superficial and undefined. Screenplay writers Suresh Nair, Ritesh Shah and Sandeep Leyzell successfully build a world where they indirectly critique a system that runs on crime and greed.

It could say a lot about India’s politics and yet the story gets stuck between Chaudhary’s struggles with understanding the various subjects he is trying to learn and Bimla devi’s imbecile attempts to keep him from appearing for the exam. The film never really goes beyond this tug-of-war and the characters turn into caricatures, difficult to empathise with or root for. Yes, this is meant to be a political comedy of sorts, and supposed to be light-hearted in its treatment, but there’s a difference between being funny and being frivolous. Dasvi often leans towards the latter. All the leading characters seem underwritten and are obious in the worst ways.

However, the film falls short of translating the experience of its leading character for the audience.

For instance, we never really know why Bimla Devi suddenly goes from being a docile wife to a power hungry politician out to get her own husband. Even if we believe that she does so because she finally has a chance to stop being the CM’s wife and rule the nation, it seems unrealistic for her to have gained that much confidence and popularity within the given time frame. What is her backstory? No one cares to tell. Similarly, Chaudhary’s motivation to study stems from small humiliations, something you’d think must happen every other day. But look around, and does it really? There are some interesting sequences in the film where Chaudhary he goes back into time and talks to our great leaders, but after Munnabhai and Gandhiji’s camaraderie in Lage Raho Munnabhai, this one feels forced.

In an attempt to keep the film frothy and fun, the story writer Ram Bajpai seems to have compromised on basic plot turns and beats needed to keep a storyline interesting. Yami Gautam who plays a straightforward cop is believable, but even she goes from loathing Chaudhary to cheering for him in no time. Debutant director Tushar Jalota manages to create some moments but in terms of style or approach he doesn’t suggest a uniqueness. If you’ve picked a subject as strong as ‘Education in India’ to make a point, you cannot just wrap it up into one conclusive monologue.

Debutant director Tushar Jalota manages to create some moments but in terms of style or approach he doesn’t suggest a uniqueness.

Abhishek Bachchan says this is his most challenging film, and he brings his best to the role of a grown Haryanvi man going back to the drawing board of basic education. His accent, body language, comic timing, all work perfectly well, but you do wish he had more meat to chew off of, and an equally adept supporting cast to boot. He’s sincere in his performance, but a better fleshed out part would have perhaps made more impact. Eventually what keeps Dasvi going is composers’ Sachin-Jigar’s peppy numbers that act like boosters to pull you out of the boredom that begins to set in. The songs and the score of the film are what really add some life, and it perhaps says something about the longevity when you’re telling people to watch Dasvi for its distractions and not its story or, incredibly, its messaging.

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