I like Jitendra Kumar as an actor, and whatever he does, there is an earnestness that is very arresting. If not for the plot of a film, one can watch Jitendra to at least see what he does with his role. It seems, like Rajkumar Rao in recent times (another actor I like), Jitendra too has ventured to do something out and out ‘masala’ with his new film Dry Day, which is laden with song and dance numbers and a ‘message’ so as not to make the movie meaningless.
Recently, Hindi cinema has suffered from unengaging second halves in movies. The writers and director craft an engaging first half, but they don’t find an equally engaging and fitting rising action and climax to their story. Dry Day, I feel, reverses this and yet doesn’t benefit from it. Directed by Saurabh Shukla, it introduces us to the world of Gannu, a wannabe politician and local goon who works for his father-figure Dauji (Annu Kapoor) in hopes that he will one day earn his way to a reputed post in his area. But this tale begins with the fantasy of ‘free’ alcohol. You see, Gannu is an alcoholic, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t drink himself to oblivion, even though he is married and his wife may be pregnant. When he gets confirmation of the pregnancy, we are informed of another big problem. Gannu’s wife Nirmala (Shreya Pilgaonkar) is shown to have a resolve—that she will abort her pregnancy and will not have a baby until Gannu becomes a ‘Corporator’. It is a relatively small post when compared to national-level politics, but as far as Gannu is concerned, this is a leap comparable to Neil Armstrong’s on to the moon.
We are then subjected to the milieu of the place through Gannu’s episodes with Dauji and Gannu’s rival, a man named Satto (Sunil Palwal), who wants that corporator spot for himself. The stage is set for some testosterone fueled shows of strength and consequent rib-cracking brawls between Gannu and Satto, with Gannu having the upper hand for the moment. Dauji had promised Gannu to make him a candidate for the corporator election, as otherwise Nirmala would abort her pregnancy, and Dauji didn’t want that. Gannu receives the critical news later that Dauji has made Satto the candidate, which thus starts Gannu’s descent into absolute terror. He had already bragged about being the candidate for Nirmala, and now there seemed no hope for a local goon like himself to secure a candidacy.
The setting up of the premise indulges in making the tone and the world of the film known to us, but there seems to be an unevenness in its characters. Nirmala is given so much agency that, as compared to the other women in the area, she stands out as a glaring anomaly. There is a half-baked justification given that she is educated and the daughter of a teacher, which is why she is so steadfast in her opinions and worldview. She eloped and married Gannu, even though he was a goon, and when her father asked her about her decision, the steadfast Nirmala told him that if a teacher’s daughter wouldn’t change Gannu, who would? Now I will have to add that there is a humorous undertone to all the scenes, especially in the beginning. Yet I feel the characters’ backstory cannot be absurd, as then the tone of the film has to be radically altered. Whatever information we do get about the milieu and characters in the film suggests that they are ‘real’ people in a sense, who have a carefree nature and are ignorant enough to believe that they are making the right choices in life even though they aren’t.
Dry Day, when confused about how to move the story forward, banks on creating mayhem that will automatically convert into rib-tickling comedy. It does for a bit, but then there are long stretches of sequences that go on and on, only to later dupe us into thinking that they served no real function. There is a sequence in the film where Gannu and his team of fellow goons go to Delhi, the reasons for which will be made clear when you watch the film, and get arrested. The scene seems to be there to show how Gannu’s reality is at clear odds with the urban reality of modern India, but the direction of the scene is so spatially confusing that the viewer doesn’t get the joke. All that scene then does is serve as a plot point for how Gannu disappointed Dauji once again by making a fool of himself, and that too on a national level this time around. After all the foolery, the movie then suddenly switches lanes to reveal that it was hiding a bitter medicine in its core, and the first half was just a sugary coating to make us swallow the pill. When Gannu figures he will never be a respected man, he starts to make changes by going off of alcohol, which then brings its own challenges.
The film is so obvious in its intention to make Jitendra a star. But not every grounded actor needs to have that ‘star vehicle’. There were song and dance sequences that took up time and didn’t let the story move on. With Jitendra, who has made a niche for himself doing heartfelt dramedies, one expects that he might do something different, and with Dry Day, he does try that, but only superficially, it seems. He had the accent, the beard, and the flamboyance, but it all added to the trick that the makers are trying to pull off. Annu Kapoor, the veteran actor, seems to be going out of his way to balance the wickedness required in the story. The stakes of the harsh realities seem to have been lowered to accommodate Jitendra’s inherent goodness that shows on screen, which is why perhaps he is likable as Gannu. The real risk would have been to have him do things that make him unlikable from the very start, but that could have disturbed the ‘star vehicle’ nature of the film. The message of alcohol destroying the lives of so many men and their families was too afraid to sit comfortably in the center of the story, where the alcoholic Gannu sings and dances. Dry Day needed constant refinement to work as a soulful dramedy, not a sentimental one, which ultimately it did not receive.