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On face value, Dhadak isn’t different from your typical star-crossed teenage love story. Two young immature lovers — Madhu and Parthavi (Ishaan Khattar, Janhvi Kapoor) — run away from home after the girl’s father, a gruff villainous aristocrat with political ambitions (Ashutosh Rana, excellent of course), wrests them apart. Within a day, our fledging lovebirds collide head-first with life’s harshness, eventually coping with these challenges and maturing into sensible young adults.

This minimal seen-it-before story is an official adaptation of the history-making Marathi blockbuster Sairat, now remade (at times frame-accurately) in Kannada, Orria, Punjabi and Bengali, with Tamil and Telugu versions set to follow.

To better understand why the story works so well in Dhadak, we need to wrap our minds around what ‘adaptation’ actually means and why, in this case, it was a necessity.

In Sairat, the lovers Parshya and Archie (Prashant Kale, Rinku Rajguru) are divided by caste and class, which are the prominent issues of the film. Parshya and Archie’s world has a rawness one would associate with non-over-the-top South Indian films. At nearly three hours long, the film spends ample time building the boy’s relationship with his friends and, when the couple’s romance eventually blooms, we see it as a cross between movie-realm whimsy and real-life pedestrianism. The take is uniquely arthouse within the veil of commercial cinema.

There’s much to appreciate in Dhadak, a remake of a much-remade Marathi classic

Dhadak’s writer-director Shashank Khaitan isn’t oblivious to eventual comparisons with the original. He is also acutely aware of an even more necessary demand: the Hindi version’s global reach and the need to dumb it down a notch.

Rather than compromise the original’s content, Khaitan hedges where he can. He starts by reducing the running time by 40-plus minutes, then pulling back the camaraderie between friends to second place and, finally, putting his soon-to-be-star leads front and centre.

Khaitan’s intention is simple but not simplistic: to make Dhadak into its own film and not a shadow-copy of Sairat. To make a new film within the old’s mould. To do this, Khaitan pulls in double-duty to adapt the material to suit his own style, while managing the weight of delivering a big Bollywood release. Some of the choices are quite clichéd. For example the village, whose bucolic humbleness plays an integral part in Sairat, is substituted by Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Udaipur — a popular tourist destination, unique for its mostly-white paintjob and old architecture — has changed quite a bit from what I remember it to be. The locales are more filmmaker-friendly and the population is less dense (probably because it suits young Madhu’s predisposition to zip through the city at every opportunity). Udaipur’s imperial heritage fits Ashutosh Rana’s royalty-turned-politician image, giving credibility to his off-with-their-heads mindset. Building from these, the caste and class issue is painlessly toned down to a whisper; again, not a deterrent for this particular retelling’s tilt.

Khattar and Kapoor aren’t great actors yet, but they are cute and convincing. Their Madhu and Parthavi are also quite distinct from Parshya and Archie. Parthavi plays a hard-to-get princess with a put-on snobbish attitude towards Madhu. Her romantic intentions are strong-willed and precise: to make a man out of a tongue-tied boy. (In the original, Parshya was quite confident and Archie wasn’t as snotty in comparison).

Dhadak’s music and background score is heavily influenced by Sairat. The choice is understandable — why fiddle with perfection? Karan Johar, now a better producer than director, retains Sairat’s music director duo Ajay-Atul, who are also responsible for rehousing the entire soundtrack for Manasu Malligey, the Kannada adaptation that also starred Sairat’s female lead Rinku Rajguru. Two songs in particular are direct port-overs in Dhadak: the dance sensation Zingaat and Pehli Baar (both also sung by the music directors).

There’s much to appreciate in Dhadak, even if one wishes for things to move along quickly post its intermission break.

The slow pace felt like a directorial decision rather than a slip-up. By taking one’s guard down, the pace mounts up without one’s knowing, leading to a heart-pounding, brilliantly executed climax. Dhadak’s end is perhaps the most effective use of filmmaking technique I’ve seen on-screen this year — which alone is worth three times the price of the ticket.

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 29th, 2018