Vinil Mathew’s second film Haseen Dillruba shows that scriptwriter Kanika Dhillon and director Mathew could not quite make up their minds about the kind of film they wished to make. The indecision comes across in the final product, confusing the audience too.

The film opens with the beautiful Rani (Tapsee Pannu), the young housewife who is also the protagonist of the story, feeding stray dogs in the neighbourhood with pieces of meat. The house she lives in suddenly bursts into a terrible explosion, and there is a huge fire with a body inside completely scarred, with just the name ‘Rani’ seen tattooed on a severed arm.

This is the sole point of identification and the body, completely burnt, is said to be that of Rani’s husband Rishi’s (Vikrant Massey) as he had his wife’s name tattooed on his arm.

From this point on the script is structured as an interrogation by the police in-charge (Aditya Srivastava) while the entire police staff, gathered at the door like an audience, listen to Rani’s story mesmerised, as if they have no other cases to chase.

Between these never-ending Q&A sessions, the story of Rani and Rishi’s marriage – arranged between two very dissimilar individuals and with completely different social backgrounds – unspools.

Rani is completely frustrated with the sexual and romantic side of her marriage, as Rishi is scared off by her beauty and her big-city sophistication in comparison with his own very humdrum, small town upbringing.

Quite intriguingly, Rani, who is a diehard fan of Dinesh Pandit, a bestselling writer of murder mysteries, interprets everything in her life through some elements from his novels, and uses this strategy to both confuse and anger the policeman.

But his growing anger and his conviction that Rani killed her husband do not go away, such as when he discovers the extramarital affair between Rishi’s dashing and macho, muscle-flexing cousin Neel (Harshavardhan Rane) who suddenly lands on the family for around a month in connection with his adventure tourism business.

Rani even falls in love with him, and suggests they elope, which promptly forces the said cousin to run away with his tail between his legs without a by-your-leave.

Rani tells the police officer it was then that she fell in love with Rishi, a real man who took care of her and looked after her every need, even going against his confused mother to make Rani happy.

Is the scriptwriter suggesting that a sexually frustrated housewife needs to enjoy sex with another man in order to realise the value of her husband, who is just the same person all along, before, during and after her liaison with the handsome hulk?

The love story between Rani and Rishi is just beginning when disaster strikes, all hell breaks loose and Rishi is presumed dead in the deadly fire. How the gas explosion affects only some select parts of the house is a mystery. The script conveniently packs off Rishi’s parents to meet relatives so they are unhurt. But their lament at their only son’s death is strangely absent, adding to the mystery.

All this comes across in layers during the Q&A between Rani and our police person, who is more interested in what Dinesh Pathak has written than in who killed Rishi, why and how. Each time Rani leaves the station, the police staff treat her with reverence as if she is a political bigwig instead of suspicion, adding to the mystery which is not part of the film.

The biggest letdown lies in the climax, which unfolds quite well layer after layer, as we discover the truth behind the murder, which, we sadly realise, is either an ‘inspiration’ or a plagiarisation of Roald Dahl’s Lamb to the Slaughter. A word in the credits would not have hurt the film in any way, as it is already damaged beyond repair thanks to the loosely structured script, the confused characterizations and the ill-made attempts at humour.

There are a few surrealistic touches, such as the scene where Rishi walks into the waters of the river alongside his home fully clothed and gets completely wet, or the nightmares Rani gets about her affair with Neel. The editing cuts through the frames during the outdoor scenes and lingers in the interiors, presenting a few touching moments such as where Rishi teaches Rani to brew tea, or says, “the tea was good” when she makes it in another scene.

Neel’s later revelation as a truly bad man does not quite match his good nature shown initially. Rishi’s simmering anger after Rani tells him that she has fallen in love with Neel does not quite go with the rest of his character. At times, one wonders whether the director wanted the film to be a critique of arranged marriage.

It is sad that excellent actors like Tapsee Pannu and Vikrant Massey are not permitted to prove their talent in the film. Rane just has to show off his macho self and his role begins and ends there.

The song numbers do not add to or take away from the film which is neither a mystery nor a romantic film, nor even a love triangle ending in murder.

Haseen Dillruba is a travesty of the negativity attached to murder being a crime, by showing that crime is okay if you can do it cleverly enough to hoodwink the police, just through the novels of Dinesh Pathak!

It reminds me of a 75-minute telefilm called Bali, produced by Prahlad Kakkar’s Genesis and directed by Shujaat Saudagar in 2004 for Star One, which clearly said that it was a Hindi adaptation of the Roald Dahl story. The wife was portrayed by Mandira Bedi with the right mix of teasing taunt, quiet coldness, diabolic intent and revenge.

If Haseen Dillruba really wished to ‘borrow’ from Dahl, it need not have taken the very long and twisted route through so many plots and subplots to reach such a dull climax.