Review: D / Bunty Aur Babli

Posted on June 12, 2005


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Ram Gopal Varma’s film factory cranks out yet another fascinating look at Mumbai’s underworld.

JUNE 12, 2005 – IF I WERE THE Government of India, I’d ban D straightaway. Its hero – anti-hero, really – Deshu, aka “Dâ€? (Randeep Hooda), is shown smoking, shooting people, bedding his girlfriend (Rukhsar)… Why, they may as well have replaced the popcorn and samosa stands in the theatre with stalls selling cigarettes, bullets and condoms! For isn’t that the reasoning these days, that what you see is what you get raring to do?

Fortunately, I’m just a viewer, and D merely confirms what I already knew based on Satya and Company – that if Ram Gopal Varma says his production house is next doing a movie about the boy in the saloon who trims the bhai log’s nose hair, I’ll be in line. With D, it’s official – Varma is to the underworld what Yash Chopra is to romance, what Karan Johar is to glycerine, what Mahesh Bhatt is to Hollywood DVDs. With D, he once again takes us into Mumbai’s world of organised crime, and once again makes us a cinematic offer we can’t refuse.

Director Vishram Sawant, the latest Varma protégé, begins with a technique that was used to wonderful effect in Company, of which D is supposedly “a prequel in spirit.â€? He lays out the map of the story through an unseen narrator, who makes this startling observation: “Is shahar mein aasman zameen ke neeche hai.â€? I think it’s a literal interpretation of the under-world, that that’s where the people on top are, and what follows is the tale of an outsider becoming an insider and, yes, rising to the top of this underworld.

Just about everything works wonderfully – from the Big Points (Deshu undertook police training earlier; he’s now using those skills on the other side of the law) to the small, throwaway mood shots (when he’s standing in a near-empty train compartment, shirt flapping in the wind), from the heart-stopping (and in one case, heartbreaking) murder sequences to the use of the dynamic score to drown out superfluous dialogue (much of which we can guess anyway) – and if there’s a shortcoming in D, other than the out-of-nowhere Khud Ko Maar Daala number, it’s that its central conflict isn’t as absorbing as the one in Company. In the latter, there was a hint of melancholy around the manslaughter, in the way two friends became foes. It played like Namak Haram with molls, without the morality. But here, Deshu is pitted against the predictably-wastrel sons (Yashpal Sharma, Sushant Singh) of his boss (Goga Kapoor), and it’s an uneven match. Even before the first shot is fired, you know whom you’ll be rooting for.

That said, D doesn’t exactly cry out for emotional investment from the audience. Perhaps most interesting – and subversive – is its notion that for Deshu, crime is just another business. That’s why some of the could-have-been-sensational scenes have all the ho-hum non-energy of watching a filing clerk in his office cubicle. That’s why there’s no defining heroic (or, in this case, anti-heroic) moment like in, say, Shiva, where, the minute Nagarjuna yanks out the cycle chain, you know he’s become The One Who’ll Battle Oppression. “Koi doctor hota hai, koi engineer hota hai… Main gangster hai,â€? Deshu shrugs, and this isn’t empty bluster. Even when asked to leave his lucrative operations in Mumbai and oversee the less-important Gujarat territory, he doesn’t flinch – it’s a job, and he’s simply been handed a transfer order.

This Zen-calmness is perfectly personified by Hooda, and his impassiveness – save for the rare flicker of emotion, as when he grins sheepishly when asked to shower rupee notes on bar girls – is beautifully contrasted with the firebrand volatility of those around him. Yashpal Sharma fulminates as only he can, Sushant Singh conveys a spoilt-boy menace without much dialogue, Goga Kapoor teeters impressively between family and Family, but it’s good-hearted-bad-man Chunkey Pandey who’s the revelation. Who’d have imagined that, almost two decades after Tezaab, he’d finally live up to the promise he showed there! Then again, two decades ago, who’d have imagined that gritty gangster dramas would become one of the most consistently exciting, creatively satisfying genres in love-triangle-obsessed Bollywood!

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A movie about a pair of scam artists wants to steal your hearts, and it does… somewhat.

JUNE 5, 2005 – AS BUNTY AUR BABLI OPENS, Amitabh Bachchan speaks of two Indias – the small towns that folks like Rakesh (Abhishek Bachchan) and Vimmi (Rani Mukerji) live in, and the big cities they dream of making a livelihood in – and it’s soon clear that this split personality isn’t just in the country. It’s in the second personas Rakesh and Vimmi adopt – that of Bunty and Babli – and it’s in the movie itself, which seesaws between Chitchor and Chacha Bhatija, part laidback small-town charmer, part frantic Manmohan Desai caper.

A director attempting such a seemingly unholy narrative mix is either very brave or very foolish – but initially, Shaad Ali Sahgal just seems very talented, with a real feel for the India of the Amol Palekars and the Zarina Wahabs. He underscores family tension with a heart-warming bit of background detail where a mother, hanging out clothes to dry, hears her husband and son argue, and presses down so hard that the clothesline collapses. Then, in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s delightfully earthy Chhote Chhote Shehron Se number, Gulzar writes – as only Gulzar can – Oh zara rasta to do, thoda sa baadal chakhna hai, about making way for Rakesh’s sky-high ambitions, and the decidedly earthbound visual shows him stuck on a bicycle, a herd of goats blocking his path. This isn’t just a contrast between dreams and reality; it’s a case study of how songs can be used to stress themes in the script!

The dialogues are just right (“Chai banate ho?â€? Rakesh asks a boy in a tea stall, who retorts, “Nahin. Pilata hoon.â€?), the settings are just right (a railway station feels so dingy, so… real) – then, suddenly, the movie veers into Manmohan Desai-land and becomes all wrong. As small-town simpletons Rakesh-Vimmi become big-city swindlers Bunty-Babli, it isn’t just Rani who flounders, in manic situations that Sridevi or Juhi Chawla would have polished off in their sleep. (She’s good with the drama, though.) Even the song picturisations lose their charm – the lovely Chup Chup Ke is set amidst that oldest of clichés, snow-capped peaks, and the dance-floor Nach Baliye is a bit of a horror, with Rani’s unexpectedly jiggly midriff making her look like a doll-sized Huma Khan.

Bunty and Babli are conmen (conpersons?), whose scams include the selling of the Taj Mahal amidst a protest march where a placard reads, “Main meri biwi se pareshaan hoon.â€? This sort of thing needs a Desai-like conviction in the absurd, and Sahgal just doesn’t have it. He’s great with the intimate stuff – Rakesh-Vimmi’s meeting while waiting for a train, their realisation of being in love (when time stops for them, but Mumbai doesn’t stop moving around them), Rakesh’s quiet contentment upon seeing his name in the papers – but in the idiotic bits, there’s no energy, no pace. For a movie about con artists, the cons are the weakest parts.

Luckily, Amitabh Bachchan turns up as a cop after Bunty and Babli. (Bachchan Jr. is very good, but Bachchan Sr. shows, in every imaginable way, why he’s Abhishek’s baap.) After a dhamaal entry, lighting his bidi with a counterfeit note, he does a great drunk scene, he has a hilarious slapstick encounter with Lilliput, and he sportingly serenades a sensational Aishwarya Rai (doing her sauciest jhatkas since Ishq Kameena). With the energy from that number, he almost single-handedly gets the movie back on track, back to its small-town roots – so, looking back, it isn’t surprising that Bunty aur Babli starts well, loses itself in the middle, and finally finds its way back into our hearts. It’s simply repaying the Big B’s invaluable contribution with a nod to his career trajectory.

Copyright ©2005 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi