If you crossed Ishqiya with Sholay, you’d have something like Guddu Rangeela. Like the latter film, this one revolves around two small-time con men – one intense, smart; the other a bulb of a lower wattage – who like puttering about on a motorcycle fitted with a sidecar. And like the thakur, one of them has a personal score to settle with the villain. But Sholay was rooted in a mythical hinterland, whereas Guddu Rangeela is set in today’s Haryana – the sharp, foul-mouthed detailing is from Ishqiya. Of course, we’ve seen a number of such films of late. Perhaps Arshad Warsi’s presence reminded me of Ishqiya. Also, the fact that this, too, is a female revenge fantasy.
In an early scene, a man and woman who eloped have been captured. The khap panchayat has decreed that they must both die, and that the girl’s father will kill her. The poor man’s a sobbing mess – until Billu Pahalwan (Ronit Roy) walks into his house and gently convinces him that it’s better he kills his daughter. Otherwise, she’ll have to be killed by others. Seconds later, we hear the gunshot. The scene is chilling, but I wish they’d taken another hint from Sholay and found a new actor to portray this villain. Ronit Roy is good, but after snarling his way through Udaan and Ugly, he can’t find any new notes to hit. Warsi suffers similarly. This is a character he could play in his sleep. He does. I preferred watching the supporting actors – the marvellous Amit Sial as a corrupt cop; Rajeev Gupta as his blundering subordinate, fond of boiled eggs; the always-awesome Brijendra Kala, who, at one point, shows up in combat fatigues. It’s an image that’s going to keep me grinning all year.
The plot has something to do with Guddu (Amit Sadh, who lets his mop top do all the acting) and Rangeela (Warsi) kidnapping Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari), and all the things that go wrong subsequently. I found it difficult to buy Hydari in this part. She has the fine-boned, princessy demeanour that Simi Garewal had – you can’t imagine either of them saying chutiyam sulphate. One of Hydari’s scenes requires her to call Guddu a chutiya and the censors have had it changed to ghatiya. Normally, I’d be protesting – freedom of speech, etcetera – but here I was happy I didn’t have to hear the word from her. She’s a show poodle. She shouldn’t be playing a pit bull.
I complained last week that Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho made its villagers excessively quirky. Here, too, we’re left with the feeling that if villagers and small-towners are really this colourful, then television channels don’t have to produce reality shows anymore. They just have to take a camera to the nearest village. Guddu Rangeela opens with a “Visa Celebration Night” – some rich man’s kid has got a Kenyan visa, so Guddu and Rangeela are called upon to perform. Guddu cracks one of his trademark jokes – they’re elaborate and have sharp punch lines and are really hard to write about in English. Then Rangeela, introduced as “Mirpur ke Kumar Sanu,” begins to sing what he calls a modern bhakti song. Kal raat Mata ka mujhe email aaya hai… As the song goes on, we discover that Mata is on Facebook. She likes chatting. She has uploaded a shot of her tiger as her profile picture. She has a site – dubloo dubloo dubloo mata dot com. And: Dushton se bachne ko antivirus lagaya hai.
There’s a scene where Guddu is caught and he says he wants to use the facilities. The cop says alright, but suggests they play antakshari so he knows Guddu hasn’t escaped. The same cop says things like “It eej hardly matters.” I’m all for celebrating colour and quirkiness, but there’s a thin line drawn on the sand and these films cross it repeatedly. So when they get all serious on us – talking about the plight of women, like this one does, suffering under khap panchayats, the “Taliban of India” – the switch is sudden. You’ve gotten us all drunk on the silly humour and now you want us to sit wide-awake in class.
The Sholay-style dry jokes work much better. When Billu Pahalwan calls himself “babbar sher ki aulad,” Rangeela quips: “Maa jangal gayi thi ya sher ghar aaya?” Plus, both Sholay and Ishqiya spent a lot of time convincing us that the relationships were real, that they mattered, that they were worth saving. Here, Guddu and Baby fall in love so suddenly, so randomly, all I could say was: It eej hardly matters. As for Rangeela, he gets a love interest in Babli (Shriswara). We hardly get to know her. I suspect Rangeela knows her even less.
Some films that don’t quite work, you dismiss outright. Guddu Rangeela is the kind of film you grapple with. You wish it were better. You wish it did a smoother job of integrating its real-life concerns (dowry, inter-caste marriage, lower-caste people not having surnames, and the headlines-inspired story itself) into its broad comic-book narrative. There’s a terrific scene where Amit Sial’s cop hauls Guddu and Rangeela to the police station. You think he’s going to ask them to mend their ways. Instead, he says he’s paid fifty lakhs for this posting, and he wants them to fork up a fifth of that amount. This is how you make issues go down in a movie like this one. But I must say it’s been staged magnificently, with an eye for visual flamboyance that was nowhere in evidence in Subhash Kapoor’s earlier films, Phas Gaye Re Obama and Jolly LLB. I went back and checked the name of the cinematographer. Jamie Fowlds. A web site told me that he’s “a renowned cinematographer from London and has worked with Tom Cruise.” One of his upcoming movies is called Pranaam Walekum. I can’t wait to see what Mata has to say about that.
- thakur = see here
- babbar sher ki aulad = son of a lion
- Maa jangal gayi thi ya sher ghar aaya?” = Did you mother go to the jungle or did the lion come home?
- chutiyam sulphate = see here
- chutiya = see here
- ghatiya = see here
- Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho = see here
- Kumar Sanu = see here
- bhakti = see here
- Kal raat Mata ka mujhe email aaya hai… = Last night, I got an email from the Goddess
- Dushton se bachne ko antivirus lagaya hai = An antivirus to protect against evil
- antakshari = see here
Copyright ©2015 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.