What doing the ‘dunki’ means – and where we first heard the term

Before Rajkumar Hirani’s comedy ‘Dunki’, starring Shah Rukh Khan, the Pakistani film ‘Zinda Bhaag’ tackled undocumented immigration.

The third Shah Rukh Khan release in a year revolves around an illegal immigration method called the “dunki”. A corruption of “donkey”, this mode of muggling people from the subcontinent to richer climes has resonance in India – and Pakistan.

Dunki has been directed by Rajkumar Hirani – who famously cast Khan in Munnabhai M.B.B.S. before Sanjay Dutt – and written by Hirani, Abhijat Joshi and Kanika Dhillon. A film on the same subject has already been made in Pakistan. Zinda Bhaag, directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, revolves around three Lahorians who want to get the hell out by any means possible.

Dunki (2023).

Zinda Bhaag was released in 2013. Why gloat over our less fortunate neighbours, who are escaping punishing inflation, political instability and religious fundamentalism? According to a report on Scroll, the American think tank Pew Research Centre found that Indians comprised the third-largest group of undocumented immigrants in the US as of 2021, just behind Mexico and El Salvador. The study said that Indians comprised 7.25 lakh of the 1.05 crore immigrants in the US lacking  proper paperwork.

In Zinda Bhaag, to “do the dunky” is a “very dangerous thing” and “a matter of life and death”. Yet, Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta don’t stop trying. The trio of friends flocks to the crimson-haired Puhlwan, a resourceful gangster who runs a betting racket.

Zinda Bhaag (2013).

Puhlwan cites the example of one Booba who managed to make it to Turkey, where he opened a successful restaurant named La Booba. It’s enough to get the three friends excited, but every path they take – including higher education – is blocked by obstacles. When a person flies out of Pakistan to Europe, immigration officials go so far as to look up his ancestry, a character mournfully says.

Zinda Bhaag is mostly in the comic vein, sobering up only in the end. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has composed the tunes, some of which spoof Hindi cinema’s escapist song-filming tradition.

Pakistan’s entry for the International Feature Film Oscar had Indian collaborators. In addition to Naseeruddin Shah as Puhlwan, the film had Indians on the crew – Shan Mohammed as one of the editors and Satya Rai Nagpaul as cinematographer.

Co-director Meena Gaur is a British national of Indian extraction. Gaur’s credits include the ZEE5 series Qatil Haseenaon Ke Naam. Gaur has been tapped to direct a British television adaptation of Murder is Easy, based on the Agatha Christie bestseller of the same name.

Like its characters, Zinda Bhaag is available only on illegal pirate websites. Meanwhile, Dunki is scheduled for a December 21 release. The Hindi-language comedy also stars Vicky Kaushal, Taapsee Pannu, Anil Grover, Boman Irani and Vikram Kochhar.

The teaser shows Khan’s character Hardy taking immigrants through a desert before introducing us to the four friends who want to move to the United Kingdom. Might they be inspired to tackle the “No visa, no problem” conundrum by the Zinda Bhaag experience?

Lutt Putt Gaye, Dunki (2023).

What we wrote about this week

Why are editors of Indian films and web series on the warpath? The recently formed Film Editors United reveals the problems that plague this vital filmmaking department: long working hours, inadequate pay, contracts skewed in favour of producers or streaming platforms. There is also the not insignificant problem of belittling an editor’s contribution to a movie’s rhythm and flow. Film Editors United members Jabeen Merchant and Manas Mittal spoke to Scroll about what’s wrong, and how it can be fixed.

The Railway Men on Netflix boasts of a marvellous production design that transports viewers back to 1080s Bhopal. The show explores the exemplary heroism shown by low-ranked Indian Railways officials in adding to the death toll caused by the Union Carbide gas leak in 1984. Rajat Poddar spoke to Scroll about the props, the look and the railway station that was built from scratch for the limited-episode series.

What to watch this week

The American production that inspired The Railway Men is available on JioCinema. Chernobyl (2019), about events leading up to and after the explosion at a nuclear reactor in the Soviet Union in 1986, is arguably one of the finest series available on streaming at the moment.

Created by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the five-episode series has production values worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster. Chernobyl is unstinting in its exploration of the disaster, the cover-up by officials, the attempts by conscientious scientists to expose the truth, and the heroism shown by industrial workers.

One of the most unforgettable segments revolves around the miners who are deployed to install a vital piece of equipment under the reactor’s surface. Chernobyl doesn’t romanticise the contributions of workers who have little choice but to prevent further damage, even as it acknowledges their extraordinary valour.

The high-value cast includes Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson and Paul Ritter. Barry Keoghan plays a young Russian soldier assigned to shooting dogs who have been affected by radiation. Alex Ferns plays the miners’ leader, who comes up with an eye-popping fix to the problem of the high temperatures in which his men have been forced to work.

Chernobyl (2019).

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