Gunday review: Return of the masala movie
Director Ali Abbas Zafar tells Bollywood’s oldest tale but tells it with pizzazz and mezaz. It’s the tale of two friends being united by fate but divided by love. It’s the tale of two outlaws being chased around by the law. It’s the tale of right and wrong, of secrets and lies.
In 1971, when lines were being drawn between Bengal and Bangladesh, two kids Bikram and Bala find themselves running around at a refugee camp in Dhaka. The fight for survival will see them land up in Calcutta where they would create an empire by selling stolen coal.
Still looked upon as outsiders, the coal bandits will buy identities for themselves — Bikram Bose (Ranveer Singh) and Bala Bhattacharya (Arjun Kapoor) — as they become Banglar bagh (sorry, Sir Ashu). But love is a different beast as Nandita (Priyanka Chopra), the ‘exotic’ cabaret dancer at the newly-opened Calcutta bar, twerks enough to capture the fancy of both the testosterone-tossed gunday.
The party pooper is ACP Satyajit Sarkar (Irrfan Khan) who is specifically brought in (by a very irritated Victor Banerjee, the only Bengali actor in the very ‘Bangla’ film) to nab the B-boys and clean up Calcutta. And the wise cop knows his job — Bikram aur Bala ko agar phodna hai toh pehle use todna padega.
Gunday is all storytelling, and very little story. It uses the audience’s familiarity with the world it projects, tapping into the collective movie memories we all share.
From the moment they roll out of the coal train hand in hand, we know the morals and virtues of Bikram and Bala, their strengths and weaknesses. From the moment they set their eyes on the cabaret girl in the men’s loo, we know how their hearts will dictate their destinies. Yes, there is a twist in the tale but nothing you didn’t see coming.
It’s Ali’s no-holds-barred treatment which gives Gunday its verve and vigour. The film is like a distillation of the numerous old Bolly masala flicks and yet has a life of its own. Punches and punchlines punctuate some riveting montages, especially the one before the interval staged around Durga Puja.
What Gunday lacks, though, is urgency. And not just because of the countless slo-mo shots, where B and B are running at the speed of one muscle ripple per minute. The prologue featuring bachcha Bikram and Bala goes on for too long and there are too many songs in the second half. At 154 minutes, the film often feels slow and laboured.
The gunday make the film so much fun, though. We had seen their chemistry on Koffee with Karan and it’s no different in the movie. Ranveer and Arjun are a blast together. There is an infectious nonchalance about them. Ranveer’s the more felt performance while Arjun is more of the swagger. The two of them also share the most intense bare-bodied hand-to-hand combat where the dozen well-toned abs jostle and jive for attention.
Priyanka is called chomchom by the boys in the movie and she truly owns that billing. Seen mostly in saris — and as a Bangali bou — Piggychops really looks the sexy boudi and in the couple of scenes she needs to emote, she doesn’t disappoint.
Irrfan is credited as a special appearance but his still eyes and calm voice keep bringing sanity back to the proceedings.
Aseem Mishra’s lenswork and Rajat Poddar’s production design make Calcutta look that much more colourful while Sohail Sen’s songs go with the fun mood of the film. Tu ne maari entriyaan, of course, is the earworm of the soundtrack.
At its best, Gunday is an exhilarating and visceral celebration of good ol’ masala moviemaking. It’s nothing you have not seen before, but done with earnestness and imagination. Neither will it pick your brains, nor will it insult your intelligence. It’s like listening to Bappida ka gaan; you don’t ask why, you just enjoy.
Tang tang tang... Tang tang tang...
- The Telegraph, Calcutta
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