Maddock Films once made a good movie, Hindi Medium, about education and personal betterment. A spiritual sequel, Angrezi Medium, showed diminishing returns but was kept afloat by the tenderness of Irrfan Khan in his final performance in a theatrical release. Dasvi is another variation, and by far the least essential. Tushar Jalota’s film, co-produced by Maddock and Jio Studios, is direct-to-OTT in the way films used to be direct-to-video: not worthy of a release in theatres, thrown out like so much chum into the vast seas of undiscriminating content on Netflix and JioCinema.
From the very first scene, where Ganga Ram Chaudhary (Abhishek Bachchan), chief minister of the fictional Harit Pradesh, mispronounces the names of Putin, Trudeau and Biden in a video, you know the kind of laboured ‘family’ comedy this will be. Chaudhary is soon behind bars in a teacher recruitment scam, but not before installing his wife, Bimla Devi (Nimrat Kaur), on the CM’s seat. After rebelling ineffectually against the tight ship run by superintendent Jyoti Deswal (Yami Gautam), he surprisingly decides to study and clear his 10th standard exams from prison.
There’s nothing in Dasvi that doesn’t feel lazy. It looks like it’s been shot on two basic sets and Bachchan’s front lawn. A no-nonsense female professional is repeatedly reduced to the cliché of an angry cat. Sachin-Jigar underscore the jokes (such as they are) with brass farts and clownish keys. The graphics in the Twitter-storm montage—a dreaded mainstay of social media-era Hindi cinema—are stunningly amateur. There's no consistency in the lessons for the exams: Chaudhary is studying advanced math but doesn't know his letters or basic grammar. Then there’s the bit where he’s shown participating in the Indian freedom movement: so obvious, so stupid.
The film draws inspiration from political stories that are decades old: Ganga Ram and Bimla inspired by Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife, Rabri Devi, who did a similar switch back in 1997. Bimla posing with a handbag and getting a statue of herself made points to Mayawati’s time as Uttar Pradesh CM—another dated reference. The only recent parallel is former Haryana CM Om Prakash Chautala, who also served jail time in a teacher recruitment scam and sat for his 10th class exams there, in 2017.
The film can’t seem to decide if Chaudhary is an oafish thug, a lovable scamp or a good soul gone astray, so Bachchan plays all these possibilities, often in the same scene. It’s not very impressive—Bachchan’s always had a heavy hand with comedy—though hardly as monotonous as Gautam’s straight-ace cop. Only Kaur has some fun with the blithely ambitious Bimla. Because she’s seduced by power almost from the start, we don’t get the satisfaction of seeing her break bad. But she’s the closest thing in this film to an actual unfeeling, power-hungry politician; Ganga Ram Chaudhary is sentimental whitewashing.