Release date (India):
November 28, 2014
Emraan Hashmi, Randeep Hooda, Neil Bhoopalam, Kangna Ranaut, Angad Bedi, Sanjay Dutt
Sanjay Dutt’s character is to Ungli what Anupam Kher was to A Wednesday – a voice from within the system legitimising a vigilante; an honest policeman expressing grudging admiration for an ordinary citizen showing the finger (ungli) to the law. The watchdog played by Naseeruddin Shah in Neeraj Pandey’s 2008 film was a nameless person who called himself “common man”. Six years later, in keeping with the vocabulary of the times, the term of choice is “aam aadmi” for the four youngsters who join hands to fight corruption as the Ungli Gang.
That being said, let’s be clear that this review does not equate Ungli with A Wednesday. Although both work on the same premise, the crimes committed by the Ungli Gang are minor in comparison. They don’t blast bombs to kill alleged terrorists like the “common man” did in A Wednesday; instead they do milder stuff like impersonating policemen and abducting corrupt folk. Some of the stunts they pull are in fact quite amusing (watch out in particular for the autowallah, I can’t say more). In the hands of a more skilled writer, the deeds of this well-meaning quartet could have been presented to us without an endorsement and could still have translated into an entertaining package tapping into the frustration of the citizenry with the “system”. Unfortunately, director Rensil D’Silva’s writing of Ungli is anything but skilled.
For a start, the screenplay is half-baked. The Ungli Gang are hot-shot crime reporter Abhay Kashyap (Randeep Hooda), computer engineer Gautam (Neil Bhoopalam), Maya (Kangna Ranaut) who is vaguely described as an “intern” while we are left to figure out whether she’s interning as a doctor, nurse or something else in the hospital where we first meet her, and auto mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi). Ungli’s early scenes with Randeep, Neil, Kangna and Angad hold out considerable promise. Subsequently, all four characters are poorly fleshed out, with Maya and Kaleem getting the worst of it. Although the four are the protagonists of the film, I came away feeling as if I barely knew them despite the 114 minutes spent in their company.
This leads us to the film’s second great failing: lack of focus. The screenplay seems unsure whether to make the Ungli Gang its centre-piece or just supporting players revolving around Emraan Hashmi, possibly because he is the established box-office draw in the cast. Emraan here plays a disgruntled policeman called Nikhil Abhyankar who is disgruntled for no apparent reason. After the Gang has been placed firmly at the heart of the plot in the tightly executed opening minutes, the introduction of Nikhil and the effort to weave his story into theirs is disjointed. The move to then prioritise him is disruptive, confusing and ultimately kills the film.
Add to this the project’s indecision about whether to be understated (which is the tone it adopts with the Gang) or be a larger-than-life drama revolving around a swashbuckling Emraan. This becomes apparent in Milap Zaveri’s dialogue writing for Nikhil and the elderly policeman Ashok Kale (Sanjay Dutt). Both are made to utter grandiose lines of the sort that might have sounded clever in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai because that film was consistent in its tribute to 1970s/80s Bollywood-style dialoguebaazi. Here, they are jarring to the point of being ludicrous.
The result is a film that wastes four talented young actors. It’s a crying shame that a heroine emerging from a triumph like Queen has been reduced to a shadowy presence in Ungli. Kangna looks pretty here and continues to do well in the departments of diction and voice modulation that were once her Achilles’ heel. Sadly, the film gives her the least to do in the Gang.
The often wonderful, always sexy Randeep Hooda deserves so much better than to be relegated to the background once Emraan enters the picture. Ditto for Neil Bhoopalam who played the hostile witness in No One Killed Jessica – he is leading-man material but this darned Bollywood doesn’t seem to get that. Angad Bedi has done far less films than his three co-stars, but if you’ve seen him play Jackky Bhagnani’s buddy in Faltu, you would have already witnessed his comic timing and easy acting style, neither of which he gets to display much of in Ungli.
Emraan and Sanjay get more screen space but the writing doesn’t challenge them either. It’s a relief though to see Bollywood’s 55-year-old “Sanju Baba” finally play an elderly, gray-haired man rather than embarrassing himself and us the way he did by starring as little Prachi Desai’s boyfriend in last year’s horrendous Policegiri.
The one heartening aspect of the film’s politics is that it doesn’t adopt the easy route of condemning the corruption of only the rich or of middle-class government employees. Condemning the corruption of the poor may be considered non-PC by many, but Ungli takes the brave step of highlighting the dishonesty of Mumbai’s autorickshaw drivers in the same breath as low- and high-ranked babus, netas and policemen.
Considering the loveliness of Salim-Sulaiman’s songs in Rensil D’Silva’s earlier directorial venture Kurbaan, even the music of Ungli is hugely disappointing. I still get goosebumps listening to Shukhran Allah from that film. The best we get in Ungli is Dance Basanti featuring Shraddha Kapoor in a song-and-dance cameo – she’s cute and pretty but certainly not the hottie she’s trying to be here, the number is foot-tapping but in terms of melody it is lukewarm.
That’s the word for the film as a whole too: lukewarm.
Rating (out of five): *1/2
CBFC Rating (India):
Poster courtesy: Raindrop Media
Videos courtesy: Everymedia PR
Dance Basanti: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juZN67BA_5w#t=93