“Babumoshai Bandookbaaz”… An anything-goes genre hybrid that’s totally nuts, and totally entertaining

Posted on August 30, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

If you love RD Burman’s songs from Amar Prem, I’d advise you to skip the first few minutes of Kushan Nandy’s Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. An early scene has a hitman named Babu Bihari (a terrifically sleazy Nawazuddin Siddiqui) heading to the fields with a radio and a Dalda can filled with water. He squats, taking in the view – above and below. Above, birds fly across a clear blue sky. And below? He raises his rump, peers between his legs and ascertains that things are going well. The song on the radio: Kuch to log kahenge. The original video had Rajesh Khanna wiping Sharmila Tagore’s tears. Now, the enduring image is that of Nawazuddin Siddiqui wiping his arse. Nandy is sending us a signal: For good taste, go elsewhere.

Nandy perhaps buys into his mission statement a little too much – the film opens with a husband getting turned on by a masseur’s ministrations on his naked wife, who isn’t even relevant to the story – but the cheerful, unapologetic vulgarity is a relief. Do we need the scene with a doctor licking his fingers after lunch as he holds up an X-ray? And what about the scene where a man observes that his girlfriend’s lips are red, and she asks which ones. “Both,” he replies, with a leer.

In these “tasteful” multiplex times, this is much-needed, adult-skewing coarseness. It’s not juvenile like Great Grand Masti, and it’s not the designer taboo-breaking of a Lipstick Under My Burkha. Nandy really rubs your face in it. You feel like you need a bath afterwards. Taken as a whole, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz doesn’t quite hold up. The central premise of karma being a bitch is too big, too… existential for a film that essentially wants to poke you in the ribs every couple of minutes and say, “Look at what I just did there.” That, really, is the charm – this shameless bragging. (If you walked out midway, offended, Nandy would probably be delighted.)

The heavier notes feel tonally off, as do the half-hearted attempts at giving characters some backstory. Babu Bihari speaks of his first kill at the age of ten, which came about because he hadn’t eaten for days. A woman who takes up contracts to kill speaks of her first time. You wish they’d talked about the first time they did something else. Because otherwise, we begin to wonder if we’re meant to take these characters seriously, instead of getting off on the outsized cartoons they are.

The sexually charged Phulwa (Bidita Bag), in fact, is what Jessica Rabbit would look like in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. In the Aye saiyan song, she even moves cartoonishly, as though trying to dislocate her hip. One part of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz details the romance between Phulwa and Babu Bihari, though the film being what it is, a lot of this plays out on a cot. Bidita Bag is both taller and broader than Nawazuddin Siddiqui, and Nandy appears aware of the comic possibilities in their lovemaking – these “hot” scenes, too, are anything but serious.

Though the song (Yeh barfani raatein) is. It’s a gorgeous ballad. Vishal Bhardwaj would be happy to call it his. One doesn’t expect such a song in such a movie. One doesn’t expect such a marvellous soundtrack either. (The composers are Gaurav Dagaonkar, Abhilash & Joel, and Debjyoti Mishra.) Chulbuli zindagi sounds like Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si brought into this century. There’s also a remix of RD Burman’s Haye re haye tera ghungta. This singer (Neha Kakkar) doesn’t hurl that last syllable the way Asha Bhosle did, like a stone from a catapult, but her vocals are equally infectious.

Another part of Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is the one-upmanship between Babu Bihari and another hitman named Baanke Bihari (Jatin Goswami, who’s excellent), whom we meet during the Ghungta number. Note the unobtrusive way he slips into the film, rising from a group of musicians. Babu doesn’t know who he is. We don’t either. Until he tells us. And the film turns into a bromance between business rivals, whose rivalry spills over into other areas as well.

A better writer might have blended these elements more organically (it could have been something like the Gangs of Wasseypur films), but the fun in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz – at least for those of us not taking it seriously – is watching Nandy toss whatever he feels like into his boiling pot. A pinch of a love triangle. A smattering of a femme fatale and other noir-worthy setups. A dash of Sergio Leone’s masala Westerns, with a hat tip to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. A sprinkling of more classical Westerns like Broken Arrow, where James Stewart witnessed Indians bury a white man neck-deep in the sand, so he could be eaten alive by ants. And great lashings of comedy.

No film this year has given us such a wide variety of humour. There’s slapstick in the scene where Babu meets Phulwa – she’s a cobbler, and he performs a small pantomime in trying to tear his slipper. I laughed when Babu (who says he does “outsourcing” for Yamraj) and Baanke exchange notes about what they charge per killing – though some scenes between them, like when they bicker over who will pump a bullet into a target, drag on indulgently. A hapless ticket checker on a train becomes a running joke, and another one focuses on a cop whose wife has the unerring knack of calling him at the most inopportune moment. Did I mention a chase in which Baanke is clad in just his briefs?

Perhaps the title is a gag too, a throwback to Anand – the joke being that Babu (short for Babumoshai?) loves Kishore Kumar songs and none of the songs in Anand are by the singer. Or maybe it’s some twisted Rajesh Khanna connection. Babumoshai Bandookbaaz isn’t a film you make sense of. It’s a film that invites you to revel in smut and punch dialogues (practically every line by Siddiqui is a scream) and a host of bodily functions. A female politician (Divya Dutta) who needs to use the loo wonders where the lota is, and is told she can use the newly installed water faucet instead. A corrupt cop is punished with haemorrhoids. That sound you hear is good taste being ground to dust.

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi