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.

Namak Halaal (1982)

There is no shortage of plot in Prakash Mehra’s Namak Halaal and yet, when you boil it down, not a lot really happens. It is by no means a great film, but I am inordinately fond of the excesses of masala story telling and I have a sneaking affection for this one. Released in 1982, it has a very 70s masala feel right down to the casting and music, with a touch of cartoon action and comedy. Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor star, supported by Waheeda Rehman, Smita Patil, Om Prakash and Parveen Babi.

Savitri (Waheeda Rehman) and Bhim Singh (Suresh Oberoi) are devoted to their employer, Sanyal (Kamal Kapoor). When Sanyal is killed by enemy Girdhar in an ambush, a dying Bhim Singh makes his wife promise to look after Sanyal’s son Raja even if it means losing their own boy, Arjun. It is a veeeeeery long deathbed speech with lots of detail. Savitri takes Arjun to his grandfather (Om Prakash) and the old man blames her for his son’s death. She cannot prove her innocence so leaves and agrees to stay out of Arjun’s life. Savitri is honest and a competent businesswoman and manages the hotel empire while Raja is educated abroad.

The adult Raja is played by Shashi Kapoor. Looking a bit old and tired for the playboy role, Shashi nevertheless makes a stylish entry via a downhill ski race assassination attempt.

The beanie is not a good look, especially compared with Bob Christo’s splendid headgear.

Meanwhile Arjun has been raised poor but honest in Lakhanpur. His grandfather despairs of Arjun being able to stand on his own feet once the old man passes on, so decides to send him to the city to make a man of him. Prakash Mehra posits a correlation between libido and intelligence that I found quite amusing – hopefully it was meant to be a joke! Arjun is simple but not stupid, and quickly takes the measure of those around him. Amitabh’s performance is the element that holds everything together. He gives as much nuance and conviction to the silliest dialogues as he does to the most dramatic moments. His physical comedy is a treat and even when scenes drag on far too long (e.g. a fly induced slapstick fight) he keeps me watching.

Mumbai being the vast metropolis it is, of course the same dozen or so people see each other everywhere. Thank heavens there are no actual bells that sound for every cosmic coincidence in the film or I would have been deafened. Arjun is helped by his friend Bhairon and via the classic Pag Ghungroo (mixing comedy, dancing and lyrics that give the club audience a dressing down), scores a job interview at a fancy hotel owned by Raja and managed by Girdhar’s son Ranjit (Ranjeet) who is out to kill Raja on daddy’s instructions.

Ranjit took very little persuasion to go to the dark side, but his outfits were very subdued, one of my few real disappointments in this film.

Raja has become convinced that Savitri is trying to kill him to inherit the family fortune. His bitterness is evident in cryptic dialogues and he tries to offend her at every turn. In contrast, Arjun is a happy, simple fellow whose life is good. Arjun is a loyal employee and quickly tumbles to the danger his boss is in.

Actually if you don’t already know what Namak Halaal means, you will by the end of the film it is said so often! He takes it upon himself to protect Raja.

Waheeda is elegant as ever, and she gives Savitri both backbone and presence. Savitri speaks up for herself and refuses to accept blame when she is not in the wrong, but is pragmatic about her ability to change anyone’s mind. It was odd seeing her as Shashi’s Ma when they are around the same age but she was far more convincing as Savitri than he was as Raja! The filmi principle that you can’t grow up to be a complete person without being raised by your birth mother is quite strange to me. I was really pleased to see Arjun stick up for Savitri when Raja dismissed her as not a ‘real’ mother.

Of course as soon as he finds out his mother is alive and who she is, his life is perfect and she insta-loves him back, but whatever. I did giggle a bit at his definition of maternal love.  Eventually even the very obtuse Raja forgives the blameless Savitri albeit for the flimsiest of reasons.

Poonam (Smita Patil) can’t resist Arjun and he is certainly smitten with her. She works at the hotel and lives alone with her blind brother, and I think feeling supported and having a laugh were probably the things missing in her life. Smita Patil is a good match for Amitabh and their characters are the most likeable in the film. They have issues, but after an initial jump to conclusions they talk things through and it seems so nice and sensible. Maybe that is just in comparison to everyone else. They share one of my all time favourite rain songs. I like the way their relationship plays out, Amitabh is so gleefully naughty, and the backdrop is like a mini-golf course version of Bombay. It’s just a delight. And Smita must have been in that rain for a while as the colour bleeding from her sari border is quite noticeable at some points.

Parveen Babi is terrible as Nisha, the femme fatale caught under the thumb of Girdhar. She has such a lovely face, but only one expression. The sparkly costumes display her figure to good effect but her dancing is awful. She has one of the best ever disco cabaret stages in Jawani Janeman and her sole contribution is to block the view of the sets.

As she is supposed to be a seductress it might have been nice if it looked like she had a pulse. But she and Shashi are well matched as both are at less than their best.

Om Prakash is his usual grandfatherly type here, and he does some not very funny comedy when he tries to surprise Arjun. It did result in the fun drunking song Thoda Si Jo Pee Lee but still, overall I could have done with less of Daddu and his woe-is-me-ing. The support cast includes Kamal Kapoor, Satyendra Kapoor, Suresh Oberoi, Viju Khote, Chandrashekhar, and Ram P Sethi all doing what they do. Tun Tun makes a brief but unforgettable appearance as a party guest.

Bappi Lahiri provided the music with Kishore Kumar in excellent singing form for Amitabh and Asha Bhosle adding fun and flirty vocals. It’s a fun soundtrack that works best in conjunction with the picturisations.

Beth kindly listed many of the insane goings on, so if you feel the need to do more research before jumping in do take a look at her review. Otherwise, just take the plunge! I can almost guarantee that you won’t have seen anything quite like this. 3 ½ stars!

Suhaag (1979)

Whatever you do, don’t confuse this classic Manmohan Desai masala treat with this.

(General Beverage Warning: We advise persons of a nervous disposition not to watch the clip and also warn anyone holding a beverage to put it down as we do not wish to be responsible for any damage to electronic devices.)

Suhaag opens on a dark and stormy night, as Durga (Nirupa Roy) gives birth to twin boys. Denied legitimacy by their father Vikram (Amjad Khan), Durga is forced onto the streets but not before vowing her sons will take revenge. In desperation Durga follows Jaggi (Kader Khan), the first man she meets straight to a brothel where he sells her to the madam. We don’t know why anyone would want a crying, knuckle-biting nahiiin-ing prostitute but they seem to. Her first client is an undercover (really!) police officer who bungles the arrest, allowing Jaggi to escape with one of the babies. So now we have a villainous father, virtuous mother and twins separated at birth!

Years go by, depicted in a neat montage. Amit was sold by Jaggi to a begging gang run by (according to the subtitles) Pascal (Jeevan) before becoming the chappal obsessed Amitabh. Kishan grows up with the support of his mother and the helpful Inspector Khan. After many years, the brothers clash in a fight sequence with lots of banter and silly choreography.  Jennifer Kapoor had fun playing dress-ups with her husband as Shashi models an excellent superfly pleather suit as well as his police uniform.  Amitabh wears his neck scarves and white flares with customary panache.

We learn that Kishan is a ranking police officer, while Amit is a hard drinking petty crim with a good heart but weak resolve. Amit is in love with Basanti (Rekha) and spends a lot of time disrupting her workplace – the local brothel. These two really do have some chemistry. Check out the expressions in this song as he reminds her she can’t dance forever so she may as well pick him.

In a raid to track down cop killers, Kishan  invades Basanti’s brothel, and rescues Amit into the bargain.  The men quickly become friends. Kishan is cranky and intolerant, used to giving the orders, and likes having another guy around to absorb some of his mother’s fussing. Amit is drawn to the warmth of a family and home, and sees what he might have had if not for his orphan’s fate. Durga does lots of pining over her lost son as she stuffs food into Amit and Kishan. There was no significant song, birthmark or locket to help identify the lost boy, so there was ample opportunity for the Coincidence Department to run amok before the truth came out.

Kishan goes undercover to a disco run by Gopal (Ranjeet in an eyepatch!) and there meets Annu (Parveen Babi). He takes his policing very seriously, even when Boney M’s Daddy Cool kicks in.

Many masala laced incidents ensure that Annu and Kishan are headed for marriage. Amit acts as go between and Amitabh gets to show his comic flair in these scenes as he tries to please Kishan and his adopted Ma. It wouldn’t be complete masala without another set of separated siblings – and guess who Annu’s sister is? Basanti!

The heroines are minor characters, but do have some important scenes. Parveen is the lightweight – she doesn’t do much other than fall for Shashi and play a fun but unconvincing drunk scene. Rekha’s Basanti is shown as a more complex woman and one who could be the perfect life partner for Amit. When he needs to clean up his act and stop drinking, he relies on her to help him through the first night of sobriety.

She isn’t a plaything for men despite her occupation and has her own very good reasons for working in the brothel. Nirupa Roy as Durga is a frustrating character. On the one hand she is strong enough to be a single mother and raise a successful son, and imposes her will on the impulsive Amit. But she is so spineless and wishy-washy when it comes to Vikram, it just beggars belief.

The film plays with many masala conventions (read this excellent post by Beth at Beth Loves Bollywood). Amitabh and Rekha appear as Annu’s Punjabi brother-in-law and sister and no one recognises them, Amit directs dialogue at the audience, Shashi flashes a smile at the camera after meeting Annu. There are lots of teasing references to family in the dialogue – Amit calling Durga Ma, Vikram calling to threaten the zealous policeman and identifying himself to Kishan as ‘tumhara baap’, and a whole lot of bromance. Vikram has a very ornate lair replete with design features like a dragon wall decoration and a stuffed tiger – although it suffers from some serious design flaws including being above ground and having abundant natural light which isn’t really lair-like. He has a kind of ticket booth in the middle of the lair, and retires behind the smoked glass to deliver his edicts. Who thought that one up? And there’s even some extremely dubious Bollywood Medicine.

Things accelerate once Vikram decides to eliminate the pesky policeman Kishan , and hires Amit to kill him. Jaggi is back on the scene, and it turns out Gopal is his son so we  have the whole gamut of family drama. There is a pivotal incident at the Navratri celebration which results in Kishan suffering chandelier related blindness, and demanding Amit avenge him.

Kishan refuses to give up despite his injury, although we did wonder how helpful Amit’s hand signals would be to a blind man:

All the tangled threads start to draw into one gigantic ball of string as the film nears its end. Why Durga would be so complaisant about taking Vikram back into her life is beyond us, but that is truly not the strangest thing that happens. Amit and Kishan discover their relationship, and Durga cries. We learn how Gopal lost his eye, Annu and Basanti are reunited, helicopters, explosions, Vikram reveals his true colours before repenting, Durga cries, Pascal schemes, and Amit and Kishan kick some villainous butt. And don’t forget the dubious medical procedures. Did we mention Durga cries?

There is a pleasing symmetry in the love stories of Amit and Basanti, who might represent the better versions of Vikram and Durga if things had been different, and of Kishan and Annu who are every filmi Ma’s aspiration. The ending of the film resolves most of the loose ends and there is a sense that some justice has been served even if there are questions as to how and why and WTF?

The soundtrack is vintage Laxmikant Pyarelal and their lush big band sound is perfect for both the rollercoaster plot twists and the more intimate moments. The songs are excellent and serve to further the story so are an integral part of the film, and the stars all seemed to have a great time performing them.  The set design and costumes reflect a big budget and minimal restraint, which is very pleasing to see!

Temple says: The first time I watched Suhaag I was mildly annoyed by what seemed to be excessive coincidences. Once I thought about it further I have come around to thinking those coincidences help give the film a satisfying internal logic and structure as things link together. As I wrote that I pictured a helix…Good heavens! It may be Masala DNA! It does actually make sense to me that if you live and work in one area all your life then you do know everyone or at least cross paths with the same people over and over. Coincidences in this film arise from people and what they know rather than lockets and birthmarks, and I enjoyed seeing the minor characters having their own stories going on throughout the film. Most of the characters behave in ways that are consistent with their earlier actions and so they have a whiff of credibility, albeit in bizarre circumstances. Even Durga behaved consistently, although I do think she was stupid about a few things. If I have a disappointment it is that Parveen’s character was dull but there was so much going on, I don’t think there was room for more complexity. I liked the Amit/Basanti relationship as the writers gave Rekha a lot more to work with than they might have, Amitabh was in his element and they got a couple of great songs into the bargain. Rafi’s voice was perfect for Amit’s mix of sentiment and cheek. I am a fan of Shashi Kapoor and his pairing with Amitabh (aka the Shashitabh) is a delight. It’s strange to think that this frothy entertainment released in the same year as the much darker and also amazing Kaala Patthar. The heroes get some snappy dialogue (Amit and his chappals is just classic), and the humour is actually funny. That’s reason enough to praise Manmohan Desai! I have to admit that I didn’t think twice about the ‘only in Bollywood’ medicine, or villains escaping a blazing warehouse in a boat…on dry land… so perhaps my masala consumption has had a lasting effect. Nevertheless, I have watched this film so many times and I always enjoy it and never fast forward. I give Suhaag 5 stars!

Heather says: Suhaag isn’t one of my favourite Shashitabh films, nor do I think it’s one of Manmohan Desai’s best. This is despite the fact that it has every single Masala plot point possible, which really should ensure a great film. Perhaps it’s the sheer number of co-incidences which litter the story at every turn, or that occasionally it feels as if the actors have played these roles so often that I’ve seen it all before. But it just doesn’t work as well for me as many of Manmohan Desai’s other excellent films. My biggest problem with Suhaag however is the very dodgy medicine when Kishan is blinded. Now normally I can just brush this off and treat the absurdness of typical Bollywood medicine with the disregard it deserves, but I just can’t in this case. It really annoys me! My subtitles call Kishan’s problem cortical blindness, which should mean that the part of the brain that sees is not working. In which case an eye transplant, even if that were possible, would do no good whatsoever. Temple has told me that her copy calls it corneal blindness which is just as ridiculous for a whole heap of different reasons. Even with careful listening I can’t work out what the doctor says but since his other pronouncements which follow are also totally anatomically and physiologically incorrect it doesn’t really make any difference. I’m not sure why this particular Bollywood medicine irritates me so much but it really does taint the whole film for me, no matter how many times I’ve watched and tried to ignore it.

Despite the problems I have with the second half of the film, there is still plenty that I do like. The costumes are fab and I love the interactions between Amit and Basanti. For me Rekha is the standout in Suhaag with spot on characterisation. She is as dazzling as ever, and the film comes alive whenever she is on screen. Shashi and Amitabh are always watchable together and make the most of their partnership particularly in the comedy scenes. The inclusion of more than one bad guy and so many threads to the story ensures plenty of Masala mayhem and I do enjoy the first half of this film. I just skip the rest. 3 ½ stars from me.