Mumbai, 24 Aug 2017 21:13 IST
Kushan Nandy's film carries within its mangled remains a very good story packed with some stunning dialogues.
In 2015's Academy award-nominated drama Trumbo, the defamed scriptwriter approaches every biblical novel with the line, 'There's a good story in there... somewhere.' That line may well apply to Kushan Nandy's Bihari gunslinger saga Babumoshai Bandookbaaz. Filled with rapid repartee, desi dialoguebaazi, and some seriously steaming scenes, the film is entertaining but messes up the most basic task — storytelling.
The film begins with, and belongs to, Babu Bihari's killer with swag. Walking into a construction company, he murders a man at point-blank range before walking out with a casual smile. From then on, Nandy introduces us to the world of Bihari. Lusty politicians with a penchant for violence, policemen acting as informers for assassins, and a proper business model that offers scope for success for coldblooded killers. Yet, there is something very domestic about the entire enterprise. As Bihari puts it to the victim before killing him, 'Hum rozgaari se gaddari nahi kar sakte [I cannot betray my profession].'
But like in every great piece of pulp fiction, problems arise when Bihari falls in love with a woman. Phulwa (Bidita Bag) is his 'phirst love phirst sight'. When Bihari murders two politicians on her say-so, she agrees to be his moll. Except, killing the two politicians throws a spanner in the works for Bihari's contractor Saritaji (Divya Dutta). Soon, he is hired by Dubey (Anil George), a rival politician, to kill three of Saritaji's men, except that there is another assassin fighting for the same contract, Banke Bihari (Jatin Goswami).
Babu soon befriends the younger assassin, who admires him, and teaches him some skills. Babu also beats the disciple at the game, but he does not know that Banke has been hired to kill him as well. Except, Babu survives and returns after eight years to learn the full extent of this betrayal.
This is Nawazuddin Siddiqui's film through and through. The actor is in form as the cold-blooded, Kishore Kumar-singing, lecherous assassin. With some snappy dialogues, written by Ghalib Asad Bhopali, the film is akin to Siddiqui's breakthrough, Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012). Except, here the actor is unleashed like the true-blue 'hero'. He thrashes men, makes love, dances and sings, and returns from the dead.
Jatin Goswami delivers a credible performance, going toe to toe with the senior actor in some scenes. Bidita Bag is quite effective as the wild, lusty Phulwa, but her diction wavers in some scenes, creating a jarring note. It is in the supporting cast, however, that the true gems are to be found. Actors like Bhagwan Tiwari, Murali Sharma and Divya Dutta add dimensions and complexities to their characters.
Despite these pluses, Nandy fails to control the tempo and narrative form of the film. While the first half is scintillatingly paced, and tempered with stunning dialogues, the second half feels stretched. The return of Babu from the dead, and the slow unravelling of the mystery, could have been handled with a little more care. It feels incomplete. The major twists in the film (Banke killing Babu, and the revelation at the end) land with a whimper on the screen. These were explosive moments that could have transformed the film into a masterpiece.
Nandy does paint a charming domestic life of the assassin, set up against a backdrop of Kishore Kumar songs. The scenes of sex and eroticism (for which the Pahlaj Nihalani-led CBFC pulled the film up) seem a tad overdone. While they make sense to explain the passion and frenzy of Babu and Phulwa's sudden romance, their presence in the second half feels unnecessary. The item song by Shraddha Das could also have been removed. The portrayal of women using sex as a tool for power is a cliche, and often unnecessary.
Nandy also finds it difficult to stitch the film into a smooth narrative. The deviations and digressions in the second half, to explain the events in Babu's absence, serve to dissipate the entire plot. It is a strange phenomenon that directors find it necessary to explain every element of their plot to the audience through their characters.
As for the characters, the second half does not allow them to emerge as complete human beings. The character of Banke, an entertaining foil, is somewhat off-key in the second half. His motives, plans, and actions are often contradictory. Even Phulwa, the femme in cherchez la femme, feels a little random in the second half. Her motive, the key to the film, just does not fit in with the rest of the story.
Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a wonderful little film that is entertaining, thrilling and chilling. Led by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the film acquires a certain charm. But it fails to capture the mystique, darkness and drama that it is building up to in the second half. While it ends with a wonderful twist, it still feels underdone.