Ordinarily, Apoorva Lakhia’s Haseena Parkar would go down as just another forgettable mainstream clunk-fest but the hefty nature of its subject matter and importance of the story it tries to tell – of the rise of Dawood Ibrahim but more so his sister Haseena Parkar – makes it a particularly terrible film. It’s precisely the kind of movie which gives Hindi cinema a bad name and that has made ‘Bollywood’ a derogatory term for many. Lakhia’s film is a reductive, melodramatic mockery of some truly haunting figures and events.
You just have to wonder what he was thinking in casting the forgettable Shraddha Kapoor as Haseena and her debutant brother, Siddhanth Kapoor as Dawood Ibrahim. I wonder if, in Lakhia’s eyes, the convenient, headline-grabbing casting of the real brother-sister duo was really worth the glaring lack of talent.
What’s particularly sad is that the very thought of a female gangster flick is a thing to get giddy with excitement over and one which mainstream cinema offers so rarely. But here Shraddha Kapoor’s performance as the eponymous character ranges from unintentional comedy to all-around misfire. She is entirely out of her depth here. If only someone told her that a deeper baritone, strong tan and padded clothing do not a character make. While she does give it her all and, within her means, act her heart out, it only really translates to any sort of decent performance in moments, let alone one that’s expected to carry an entire film. Despite a poorly written character, this was Kapoor’s chance to finally prove her acting chops and suitability for non-Mohit Suri cinema but alas she shows yet again that there isn’t much acting prowess to work with. I shudder to imagine what she will do with her upcoming PV Sindhu biopic.
Haseena’s story is told through the court proceedings for her crimes in allegedly running the Bombay wing of her brother Dawood’s operations. Through the court case, we are given flashbacks to Haseena’s journey from housewife and loving sister to systematically having her life torn apart and her loved ones murdered as a result of being the sister of Dawood Ibrahim. There is so much rich material in her life to capture and romanticize on the big screen which is so thoroughly wasted here.
The narrative – which quite clearly sympathises with Parkar as Bollywood biopics almost always do – is simplistic and uneven and boasts of very few moments that genuinely engage, making the usually crisp 2-hour run time feel like an eternity. The jumpy editing also does the film no favours, with only a handful of scenes being allowed to play out in their entirety, as most of the film is merely a series of jumps in time and location, making it very difficult to stay with even if you wanted to. Suffice to say, it often feels like more montage than movie
It’s also particularly difficult to take the film’s setting seriously given the recent release of Ashim Ahluwalia’s Daddy (a similar gangster biopic on the life of Arun Gawli, an associate turned enemy of Dawood) offered such rich detailing and a visual aesthetic that marvellously captured the seedy underbelly of 80’s Bombay.
In terms of the wider performances, the film offers next to no saving graces. Even the poorest of gangster films tend to have at least a few gems by way of the supporting cast, but here I can’t recall even one. As Dawood Ibrahim, newcomer Siddhanth Kapoor doesn’t merit much discussion. He has an entirely tepid screen presence and that he is playing one of the most feared criminals of our times feels like a bad joke. Even Farhan Akhtar’s much-discussed misfire as Dawood in Daddy at least had some genuine thought and effort attached to it. Even both the lawyer characters (the prosecutor and defence for Haseena’s crimes) who dominate much of the film, have some particularly laughable exchanges not to mention some sort of weird affliction which requires them to smirk any time court is in session.
In the end, it’s sad to consider what a better, more age-appropriate actor-filmmaker pair could have done with what is undeniably a fantastic story and one which deserves better telling. To call this a sorely wasted opportunity would be an understatement. I’m going with one and a half stars