Gunday (2014)

Gunday poster

I missed Gunday in the cinema as I was in Tamil Nadu at the time of the film’s release, and it had finished its run by the time I got back to Melbourne.  It’s a film that I think would show better on the big screen to fully appreciate its boisterous lead men and riot of colourful masala, but it’s still an entertaining watch on DVD.  Ali Abbas Zafar takes us back to the buddy films of the seventies, although doesn’t quite ever manage to reach the same heights as The Shashitabh films of that era.  Still, buffed and oiled leads Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor have a fine bromance while Priyanka Chopra adds glamour and style to the proceedings.  Add in some Irfan Khan and you have the recipe for a vibrant mix that is all the better for not being just another rehash of a Southern India film with a Northern twist.  There are some issues with the film; the excessive amounts of slow-mo and a bit of a lag in the second half being the major offenders, but otherwise there is plenty of colour, glamour and camaraderie to make Gunday well worth watching.


The film opens as young Bikram (Darhsan Gurjar) and equally young Bala (Jayesh V Kardak) seal their friendship in a Bangladeshi refugee camp when Bala rescues Bikram from a sleazy army guard.  The two mates have their feet set on the road to crime from an early age, acting as gun couriers in the camp and subsequently stealing and selling coal after they reach Calcutta.  Initially I thought that Ali Abbas Zafar was going to shine a spotlight on difficulties faced by Bangladeshi refugees in India, or perhaps focus the drama on child abuse, poverty or displacement due to war, but although he starts with a rejection of Bikram and Bala due to their background, apart from their own statements about the discrimination they have encountered there is little else in the film which follows this theme.  As in many seventies films, anything with the potential to be serious is glossed over and we quickly move forward a few years to the adult Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) and their current life of crime.


While Bikram and Bala may have started small, they have somehow worked their way up in the intervening years to become Calcutta’s biggest gangsters.  Although a gang is occasionally mentioned, their opening scenes show them working with each other to remove a local gangster and steal his coal.  There is no doubt that they are brutal killers, but as a useful side-line they finance schools and hospitals, cementing their ‘lovable rogues with hearts of gold’ personas.  The contrast is clear – dirty deeds are done covered in coal dust, while philanthropy comes courtesy of oiled chests, unbuttoned shirts and sharp white suits.


So, having established that the friendship between Bikram and Bala is the defining feature of their lives, the scene is set for upheaval when they meet and both fall in love with club dancer Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).  But the romantic rivalry is not the only problem they face.  Assistant Commissioner of Police Satyajeet Sarkar (Irrfan Khan) is on their trail and searching for even the smallest sniff of evidence to lock the boys away for their criminal activity.  It’s a well-trodden path but mostly good performances from the cast make it a fairly enjoyable one to walk, while a few plot twists help maintain momentum.  Irrfan Khan is the standout here, and he is smooth and polished as the ACP while still maintaining a street cop vibe as he pursues Bikram and Bala.


GundayGundayRanveer and Arjun have good chemistry together but individually Ranveer impresses more in his role as Bikram.  That’s partly due to Bikram’s more shaded character and Ranveer certainly has more opportunity to show off his acting skills, but he also has so much energy that he seems to explode off the screen.  It’s noticeable in the songs that Ranveer is putting in more oomph than Arjun, and the difference in energy levels causes a lull in the second half when the focus moves onto the characters as individuals rather than as a pair and attention is focused on Bala.

Bala is a more two-dimensional character and is limited by his depiction as headstrong and angry without a sense of burning injustice or any tempering balance to offset his constant rage.  There’s also a certain inevitability to Bala’s actions while Bikram seems to be more in control of his own destiny and frequently stops Bala from rushing off to do something stupid.  Bala comes across as just plain angry and Arjun’s performance occasionally slips into simply bratty and petulant in contrast to Ranveer’s slightly more mature and definitely more nuanced reactions.  However in the scenes with the two together, Arjun and Ranveer do make a likeable pair and the film relies on their jodi to keep the masala quotient high.


Priyanka Chopra looks amazing as the sultry singer Nandita, and Ali Abbas Zafar cleverly develops a contrast between her on stage persona and sari-clad and demure appearance when out shopping in the market.  It makes her seem more of a real person and less of a clichéd love interest although she doesn’t have much else raison d’être initially.  However as the story unfolds and she becomes more involved with Bikram and Bala there is more scope for her as an actor and she makes the most of her role in the second half.  Along with Irrfan Khan she appears as a very polished performer, while support stalwart Saurabh Shukla is effective in his small role.  The two young actors who play the gangsters as children are also impressive, hamming it up for the camera and generally fitting well into the seventies vibe.


The masala feel of the story is enhanced by references to Sholay and Mr India, including a memorable fight scene to the backdrop of the later, while songs from Pakeezah and Disco Dancer in the background help settle the film firmly into its adopted era of the seventies.  The costumes also add to the cheesiness of the film, and Ranveer and Arjun are given plenty of opportunity to show off their manly chests in a variety of gaudy shirts.  Nothing to complain about there!

Although Gunday falls somewhat short of ‘classic’ masala it’s a good attempt to recreate the magic of seventies Bollywood and gives me hope that the genre is still alive and kicking.  Although the elements are all there, they don’t quite gel together to give the complete package despite good performances and plenty of onscreen chemistry between the main leads.  A little more depth to the characters would have helped, but Gunday is still a rollicking yarn that delivers plenty of action mixed up with a serving of dosti and betrayal – and that is plenty to be going on with. 3 stars.

Mere Brother Ki Dulhan

I had pretty low expectations of Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. But I’ve had a very up and down kind of week, and seeing this with excellent company of a couple of friends was the perfect antidote. The leads are likeable, it’s a pretty film, there are some beautiful locations, I laughed all the way through and the songs are excellent. The comedy was funny, and there were some pleasing references to classic and not so classic Bollywood films. There is nothing in the story that is new, but Ali Abbas Zafar (no relation to the star, Ali Zafar) has done the recycling with wit and charm. It’s a really light hearted undemanding film but I didn’t leave my brain at the door, just my worries.

The story kicks off as Luv (Ali Zafar) breaks up with his girlfriend in London. He asks younger brother Kush (Imran Khan) to find him a bride as he feels it is time to settle down but doesn’t think his parents know him well enough to pick a compatible girl. Luv tells Kush that if Kush likes a girl, he is bound to as well. So you can see where this is going long before old flame Dimple (Katrina Kaif) is trotted out by her parents. Kush and Dimple had never quite got together but he thinks the world of her and so she is the perfect bride for his idolised brother. But what to do when you realise you’re in love with your prospective sister-in-law, and she feels the same? The path to the predictable ending is much more entertaining than I expected and even kind of made sense. Not in a real world logic way, but there was enough context built into the film, and characters behaved in accordance with the internal logic of the story.

Imran is great as the boy next door Kush. He has obviously been working hard on his dancing (and should keep working on it), and that was a plus with so many good songs. His comic timing was spot on and he seemed to have good rapport with his co-stars. A lot of the comedy derives from Kush’s reactions to people and incidents and I thought Imran was able to communicate so much by expression alone, particularly his eyes. The look on his face when Dimple tells Kush that he looks like Amol Palekar was priceless!

Ali Zafar handled the demands of playing a character who was selfish and a bit immature and making him sympathetic and funny. He plays the preening NRI but when he is talking to his little brother those mannerisms drop away and we can see more of the genuine person underneath. Luv was decent in his own self centred way and while the ending was inevitable I also wanted to see him happy, or at least not become Romance Roadkill.

I really liked that both Luv and Kush were shown as fundamentally nice guys, so on one level it didn’t matter who got the girl as there was no villain or obviously bad choice. And both chaps do very good eyebrow acting so they were well matched as brothers.

Katrina’s acting was adequate and she certainly looked lovely. She always used to be the blank faced doll in the short dress, but now when the camera focuses on her eyes it does look like there is somebody home. Her performance in ZNMD was far superior to this and yet the characters could have been very similar. Dimple wasn’t given a lot of nuance, indeed she suffered from the highest WTF quotient, and she mostly played as loud and boisterous. The ‘Suicide!’ scene was a real misfire, but for the most I think Katrina delivered what she was asked to do. Dimple is a rebel, but she’s the good kind of rebel who doesn’t upset her parents.  She struck me as the ideal drinking buddy but a bit too high maintenance to want her as a friend.

It was nice to see a heroine who wasn’t passive and helpless, and while some of her choices made me roll my eyes, some had me cheering. She asks why guys can flirt with lots of girls but if she flirts, she is thought to be a slut. Kush tells Dimple not to change herself but that she must also realise that change in others attitudes would take time. While it was completely filmi, it was still nice that Dimple didn’t have to suffer or be rescued because of her ‘bad girl’ behaviour. The part of the characterisation that worked best for me when Dimple spoke about her fear of losing her identity once she was married, and what that change in her life was going to mean.

There was time for a little bit of reflection and introspection in amongst all the pre wedding shenanigans, but still done with humour.

The screenplay was generous in giving the supporting characters some good dialogue and they all had a little quirk or detail that made them stand out. I’m not convinced by Tara D’Souza as Luv’s ex Piali, but her acting did make everyone else look that much better. She seemed to be given the same direction as Katrina that loud = strong. Arfeen Khan had a difficult role as Ajju, Dimple’s autistic brother, and he was good. He had some really nice little moments interacting with Kush and Dimple, and his timing was great. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub was delightful as Kush’s friend Shobhit, making the most of being a comedy sidekick and bride hunting assistant.

The songs by Sohail Sen are a perfect match for the characters and the tone of the story. This is one of my favourite soundtracks at present and the picturisations are a highlight. From the filmi pastiche choreography of the title track to the rambunctious Madhubala (sung by Ali Zafar) or the sweetly funny Isq Risk there is not one that I didn’t like. There is even a bit of a snake dance! The film also uses songs from older films like Padosan and Caravan to signal or highlight things happening in the story.

While the film is aimed at the youth market, this could be one for the nostalgic folk too. It was that most rare of things – a modern Bollywood comedy with no fart jokes, no sleaze but with lots of humour and abundant song and dance. I don’t think there is anything new or amazing about the film, but don’t we go see movies to be entertained or amused? Mere Brother Ki Dulhan does that, and does it very well.