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‘Dasvi’: Funny and Pacy First-half, Listless and Meandering Second-half

Abhishek Bachchan, Yami Gautam and Nimrat Kaur shine in this film which goes from being funny, political and wicked to silly and dull in its unwarranted quest for social reform

Suparna Sharma Apr 09, 2022

Abhishek Bachchan in 'Dasvi.'

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Dasvi

Cast: Abhishek Bachchan, Nimrat Kaur, Yami Gautam, Danish Husain, Arun Kushwah, Manu Rishi Chadha

Direction: Tushar Jalota

Rating: ★★½

Streaming on Netflix

There comes a moment in the lives of some stars when they transcend their own limitations, inhibitions and jump to the other side to become actors. This moment comes after failure and disappointment. Mostly it’s born out of humility, but also tenacity and faith in one’s ability. And finally, it comes when the arrogance and burden of stardom sheds and stars begin to enjoy being actors. 

I have seen this happen to two stars – Bobby Deol and Abhishek Bachchan. While Abhishek had flexed his acting muscles in the past, Bobby Deol’s actor swag is new. But both seem to be taking on exciting, risky roles and are pulling them off with impressive confidence.

Dasvi has one such performance by Abhishek Bachchan though the film itself, directed by Tushar Jalota, crackles with politics and potential till its story meanders hither and thither and goes god knows kidhar in the end.

Dasvi means ‘tenth’ and the film is about Ganga Ram Chaudhary (Abhishek Bachchan), the 8th-class-pass chief minister of Harit Pradesh who is popular, proud and corrupt. In the first scene itself, when the film introduces us to him, it takes a mild swipe at Fit India and at politicians who treat padhi-likhai and educated officials like their personal slaves. The film, in fact, repeatedly makes snarky comments at many things contemporary, including the growing contempt for education, but always under the guise of comedy.

Ganga Ram, an accused in a scam, is found guilty and sent to jail. Before boarding the bus to the jail, he names his wife, who talks only in shivering whispers, as the chief minister in lieu.

An obsequious jailer (Manu Rishi Chadha) means comfortable quarters with a TV and a phone to keep Ganga Ram busy and in control, while Bimla Devi Chaudhary (Nimrat Kaur) suffers humiliation as she struggles to take oath and figure out what she is supposed to do.  

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But things change, in the jail and back home. And this is where the story of Dasvi splits into two. An upright, strict and honest superintendent, Jyoti Deswal (Yami Gautam), takes charge of the jail and life gets harder for Ganga Ram Chaudhary. Bimla Devi, meanwhile, gets a makeover and starts to relish the heady joys of power.

Finding himself cornered by two women – one wants him to hammer out chairs, the other wants to take his chair – Ganga Ram decides that the only way out of hard labor and getting some respect back is to educate himself and sit for 10th-board exams.

The writers of Dasvi – Ram Bajpai, Suresh Nair, Ritesh Shah and Sandeep Leyzell – had the choice here of what to focus more on: On a chief minister who recruits the jail librarian, Raebareli (Danish Husain), cute kaidi Ghanti (Arun Kushwah) and a few others to teach him mathematics, Hindi and science? Or on the delicious conflict brewing between Bimla Devi and her husband? 

Which one is new, refreshing and fun — A socio-moral lesson on the virtues of education or a tug-of-war between a husband and wife for the CM’s kursi?    

The answer is obvious and yet the writers of Dasvi focus on padhai-likhai and we spend most of our time with Ganga Ram as he struggles with numbers but is drawn to Indian history, especially the Freedom Movement.  

Dasvi celebrates Bimla Devi’s freedom from having to play a subservient wife and likes it when she returns Ganga Ram’s patronizing remarks in kind, but the film’s focus remains on how corrupting the mixture of power and illiteracy can be, and how uplifting and reforming education is.

This is honorable but not entirely true. It also doesn’t make for a great story. That’s why the film stagnates and sags for a while as it keeps hammering this message in.

Dasvi is quite funny and pacy in the first half. The dialogues are punchy and its comic timing has a nice cadence. This is when the reins of the film are in Abhishek’s hands. But in the second half, as Dasvi pursues a social cause, it is so bereft of ideas that it hints at a jail romance before dragging its feet to an end that is silly and dull when it could have been bold and exciting.

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Dasvi has three lovely characters in conflict, but instead of letting them take flight, it saddles them with morality and drags them down to everyday ordinariness. Despite this I liked Dasvi because of the performances, because it’s funny and because it reassured me that Bollywood still has some smart, and thoughtful writers and filmmakers.

Dasvi repeatedly says that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It screams “Inquilab Zindabad”, shows us Gandhiji, Netaji, Chandra Shekhar Azad – men who dedicated their lives to this country – and asks, “You think freedom is a joke?”

These subversive messages are subtle and in disguise, like secret, coded signals.  They are delivered with a smile by actors who grace Dasvi with lovely performances.

Nimrat Kaur is very good – her transformation from a murmuring patni to a pallu-throwing politician is quite wicked and enjoyable. Her craving for power is fierce, feminist and existential and I loved that.

This is the second film where Yami Gautam has impressed me. First was that tacky, stalky A Thursday where she plays a woman gone cuckoo. In Dasvi she has some solid scenes and lines that she delivers while exuding the casually intimidating authority of a senior, desi police officer. 

But Dasvi really belongs to Abhishek Bachchan who controls and steers the film with the burly, boorish persona he creates of Ganga Ram. He carries some endearing glimpses of his father’s when he dances hands-on-waist, or slouches in a chair, lanky legs extended. But he is also his own actor. And now he has the power to carry a film on his own while making us laugh and cry at will. I wish Dasvi‘s writers had a little more faith in him and a little less reformist zeal.

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