Saturday, February 15, 2014


Kolkata Kapers

To those who missed the seventies and eighties, the Salim-Javed style scripts high on masala and low on logic, Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday will probably be an introduction to what those films used to be like—entertainment that unravelled when thought was applied to it. The point being, don’t think, just watch.

Zafar adds some pseudo historic realism to the story of Gunday, by referring to the Indo-Pak war of 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh. The two protagonists of the film, are orphaned during that cataclysm, and forced into a life of crime, for want of any options. They escape to Calcutta and start with petty coal pilfering. By the time, Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) grow up, they are the most notorious gundas in all of Calcutta, but also the most generous, in the old Robin Hood/Nayakan tradition.

That they are healthy young man with sleek muscular bodies easily endears them to today’s young audiences, who cheer at their bombastic dialogue and exaggerated bravado. The cop out to destroy their fiefdom, Satyajit Sarkar (Irrfan), is one who believes in his own end-justifies-the-means functioning. As one his targets says admiringly, he is a cop with the tevar of a gunda. (Incidentally, the word tevar is used often enough to be the film's alternative title.)

One suspects the film is set in the seventies and eighties so that the absurd plot could be justified—those were days of relative innocence when it was possible for two young men-- even those of criminal bent of mind—to go through their youth without close interactions with women, and fall heavily for the first young woman who speaks to them.  A lot of plot conveniences are also passed off, because in the pre-mobile phone days, lack of instant communication could foster needless misunderstanding.

Bikram and Bala’s bromance is interrupted when they both flip for cabaret dancer Nandita (Priyanka Chopra), and even though they try to be fair and leave the choice to her, it drives a wedge between them, which the cop tries to exploit.

While there is a flamboyance to Zafar’s filmmaking--scenes shot during the inevitable Kolkata Durga Puja mayhem, and action set pieces in coal mines—there is also the glorification of crime by blaming the system. Satyajit says at one point that if everyone with a grievance against the system turns to crime that would be the end of society, adding that turning gundas into heroes would influence weak-minded people.

But that’s as far as the director’s conscience goes—he is on the side of his gunday he wants the audience to root for them, not for the poor cops who are killed by them while doing their duty.  There is the idea for a sequel built in—the two could escape to Bombay and be right in time for the rise of the mafia.

Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor have to try hard at machismo which came effortlessly to the real stars of the period—Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha. The plot is rather close to the old Raj Khosla Dostana. Priyanka Chopra’s costumes may be self-consciously sexy, but she manages the husky slinkiness of Zeenat Aman. However, Irrfan just steals every scene he is in—it really is a ‘special’ appearance.


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