Dunki: Is the Shah Rukh Khan Movie Based on True Events?

‘Dunki,’ helmed by director Rajkumar Hirani, follows Hardy (Shah Rukh Khan) and his four friends who dream of going to England. Not quite adept in spoken English, they find themselves getting rejected entry into the foreign land. Indignant at the discrimination, and having little other choice, they opt for the risky and expensive approach of illegal immigration. The drama-comedy film starring Shah Rukh Khan explores the issue of Indian youth seeking a new life in the First World, investing a great deal of money, and taking great risks in order to reach their dreams. Such stories of seeking opportunities abroad are familiar to every neighborhood in India, and seeing the hopeful struggles of Hardy and his friends in ‘Dunki,’ we can’t help but ask ourselves if their stories are based on real people or actual events.

The Story of Dunki Depicts a Realistic Picture of Illegal Immigration

‘Dunki’ is not based on the true story of any one person, but it is a fictional narrative that highlights a very real growing issue of “donkey flights” from India to the West. The term “donkey flights” was coined by Nicola Smith in his 2014 report for Migration Policy Institute, titled ‘Donkey Flights Illegal Migrations from Punjab to the United Kingdom.’ The term was inspired by the Punjabi expression “Dunki,” which means to quickly hop from one place to another. India has seen a massive surge of these donkey flights or illegal migrations, especially to the countries of the US, UK, and Canada.

The rate of Illegal Immigration has gone up substantially post the COVID-19 pandemic, with undocumented Indian immigrants entering the USA increasing five times since 2019. This may have happened due to a variety of social factors including unemployment, immigrant success stories, separatist sentiments, and minority fear. As seen in the film, aspiring immigrants, especially those looking to perform unskilled jobs abroad, often lack the academic and linguistic ability to pass the visa process. Thus, they resort to paying dubious individuals and businesses promising them entry through illegitimate means.

The United Kingdom has been enacting policies to curb immigration and has heavily restricted its student visa program, leading to a further increase in immigrants attempting illegal entry through such channels. They first move into the EU, usually Germany, Belgium, or France, after entering a Schengen zone. There they are met with consultants who forge documents for them for a hefty sum, which allows them entry into the United Kingdom. Those lacking the funds to do so, attempt to cross the English Channel in small boats and land on the Isle’s shore.

According to 2010 estimates, about 430,00 to 618,000 illegal Indian immigrants reside in the country, with 7,000 of them being deported the same year for a lack of required documents. In the United States, the 5th largest population of undocumented illegal immigrants are Indians. Hopeful immigrants can secure travel visas to Latin American countries like Columbia. From there, they start their journey to Mexico in order to reach the U.S. border. However, when crossing from Colombia to Panama, immigrants have to pass through the Darién Gap.

A treacherous tract of forest connecting South and North America, which is a lawless no man’s land. The forest is rife with poisonous snakes, powerful water channels, and bandits, leading to 253 migrants dying or going missing in the Darién Gap between 2014 and 2021. The Punjabi comedy movie ‘Aaja Mexico Challiye,’ highlighted the issue of donkey flights with its characters going through the Darién Gap and Mexico to reach the United States. After reaching the USA or UK borders, immigrants are largely caught by the border patrols and thrown into detention centers tightly packed with other undocumented infiltrators.

They then make a plea for asylum to the border officers in an interview, hoping to prove to them that their life is at risk in India, to be granted asylum in the country on humanitarian grounds. If the officer is convinced, they are presented to an immigration judge, have to hire a lawyer and make their case. If the judge rules in their favor, they are granted asylum status. A minuscule percentage of immigrants are given asylum, and most of them face deportation after having spent north of 20 lakh rupees and risked life and limb to reach the border. ‘Dunki’ starts in Punjab, with Hardy and his Friends developing a burning desire to reach the UK, one way or another.

Punjab’s backdrop in the story was used for a good reason, as Punjab has been, and remains to be, the state producing the most illegal migrants from India. A report by the MEA stated that 70% of undocumented illegal migrant cases in the UK were related to people from Punjab. While starting off similar to Indian immigration stories we have heard, ‘Dunki’ takes a different root to its destination. Most Indians attempt to reach the EU and later UK, by acquiring a tourist visa for a Schengen country in the EU.

Those who are unable to do that will usually attempt to enter the EU through the Serbian border, as flying to Serbia does not require a visa for Indians. In the film, we see our protagonists taking a land route through the Gulf and into the EU. This is the eastern Mediterranean route, to pass through Turkey into the EU, which is generally taken by illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Middle Eastern countries. ‘Dunki’ therefore presents a very pressing issue concerning Indian immigration, but takes an alternate route to portray its story past the initial stage.

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