As I walked out of the theater following Dishoom, I tried to downplay my concerns about the way the film handles its female characters. Then something in the lobby reminded me that one’s social conscience doesn’t turn off when viewing media billed as light entertainment.
Dishoom‘s main hero is Kabir (John Abraham), a tough cop who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s introduced tossing a man out of an elevator for daring to ask him not to smoke indoors. We’re supposed to laugh when Kabir tells the man that he offered to let him take the stairs instead.
In the next scene, Kabir meets his girlfriend, Alishka, in her apartment. He deduces that she’s been having an affair and that the man is hiding in the apartment. Kabir draws his gun, points it at Alishka’s head, and tells the hiding man that he has three seconds to reveal himself or Kabir will kill Alishka. (The man reveals himself, sparing Alishka’s life.)
Writer-director Rohit Dhawan underestimates how disturbing this scene is, lumping it in with the elevator scene as a means to establish Kabir as a rule breaker. I was almost lulled into acceptance myself until I saw something most ironic playing on a monitor in the theater lobby. There was Jacqueline Fernandez — Dishoom‘s leading lady and Kabir’s eventual love interest — dancing to the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” in front of a banner that read “End Violence Against Girls.” (The video is embedded below.)
Violence against women is enough of a problem in India (and around the world) that Fernandez was moved to star in a public service announcement decrying it, yet her character in Dishoom falls for a man who was ready to murder his girlfriend. One step toward ending violence against women in the real world is to stop normalizing it onscreen.
The scene with Kabir’s girlfriend is such a shame, because Dishoom is otherwise a pretty fun movie. Kabir travels to the Middle East to find a kidnapped Indian cricketer (played by Saqib Saleem) before a high-stakes match with Pakistan. Kabir is aided by a rookie cop named Junaid (Varun Dhawan) and a wise-cracking thief (Fernandez).
The performances are uniformly solid. Varun (director Dhawan’s brother) supplies the laughs while Abraham serves as straight man. Fernandez gets to be funny, too — and she steals the show in the killer dance number, “Sau Tarah Ke.” Saleem does fine work, as does Akshaye Khanna in a villainous role.
Dhawan knows how to make a great-looking movie, full of bright colors and pleasing shots. The cricket scenes in particular stand out. Here’s hoping that Dhawan chooses a sports film as his next project.
Yet, for all the things that I enjoyed about Dishoom, it’s hard to fully recommend it given its troublesome lead character. It would be easy to write Dishoom off as a mindless action entertainer, but maybe that’s exactly why we should be even more critical of the message it sends about violence against women.
Here’s Jacqueline Fernandez’s PSA for The Global Goals: