Friday, August 25, 2017


Release date:
August 25, 2017
Kushan Nandy

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bidita Bag, Jatin Goswami, Shraddha Das, Anil George, Bhagwan Tiwari, Murli Sharma, Jitu Shivhare, Naveen Tyagi, Divya Dutta

On the face of it, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a good old comic crime thriller with more plot twists than the hairpin bends on a mountain road. Look closer though, and you will see the underlying tragedy in the tale of Babu Bihari, a hitman who acquires a protégé and gets played even as he thinks he holds all the cards.

Babu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is a sharpshooter for hire in the interiors of Uttar Pradesh, a man whose killing skills have earned him a celebrity status of sorts in the criminal underworld. He is a close associate of the local politician Sumitra Jiji (Divya Dutta), but switches sides when he receives a high-paying contract from a rival. While out on the job, Babu’s mission is thwarted by Banke (Jatin Goswami), a youngster who has been assigned the same contract for reasons subsequently explained.

Banke is yet to establish a reputation for himself in the field, but he is cocky and has obvious potential. His work is managed by his girlfriend, an aspiring actress called Yasmin (Shraddha Das). Also in the picture are another murky politician, Dubey (Anil George), and Babu’s fiery lover Phulwa (Bidita Bag), a professional cobbler with whom he shares a home.

As it happens, Banke is Babu’s fan. So, they come together for a game of who-kills-who-first.

Obviously nothing is as straightforward as it seems in this scenario. There are wheels within wheels in Babu and Banke’s saga, blind alleys where you assume there is a path ahead and turns where you expect a straight road.

In the end though, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is about the pointlessness of violence and the endless cycle of bloodshed that is sparked off by those who take the law into their own hands. Or, as one marginal character says in the film, what goes around comes around. This is a theme that was pushed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s pathbreaking Parinda in Bollywood in 1989 and on which Ram Gopal Varma built an entire filmography, starting with his Telugu film Siva in the same year. More recently Bollywood kingpin Anurag Kashyap has visited and revisited this line of thinking in several films. The highlights of Kushan Nandy’s latest venture – his first after a long break – are its swag and the two dudes at the centre of the story.

Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is an extremely gory film, though most of the butchery takes place off screen. Babu and Banke are what twin Veerus might have been if they were transported from Sholay’s Ramgarh to Jiji’s domain.

They are funny in a disturbing sort of way. And in the first half, the grimness of their choices is underlined by the casualness with which they commit murder. The pre-interval portion is packed like a tiffin box filled to the brim by my indulgent Mum, making Babumoshai Bandookbaaz a stylised action flick with equal parts humour and pathos, infused with song and dance in traditional Bollywood style.

The women in Babumoshai are relentlessly objectified, but they give as good as they get, with a gaze that is no less lustful than the no-good men in their lives. They are also nobody’s fools.

Following a very dramatic moment just before the break, the tone switches completely. The second half is more intriguing than the first, though it does dip in terms of both pace and heft. Be that as it may, the film remains enjoyable for the most part.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui is the lynchpin of the enterprise, delivering a performance in which he somehow manages to amuse and yet scare the bejeezus out of a viewer. His entry into crime takes place in circumstances that are mirrored endlessly in the real world, circumstances that should shame our society but do not.

That said, his Babu is always entertaining but never a person whose condemnable behaviour is hero-ised, either by his acting or by Ghalib Asad Bhopali’s writing.

On a superficial viewing, it might seem that Siddiqui has played this character repeatedly in the past, and in many ways, Babu does indeed hark back to Faizal Khan in Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 1&2. What worked for me though was the chalk-and-cheese contrast between two extremely violent, kinky men he has played in quick succession: Babu this year and the mentally unhinged, impoverished serial killer in Kashyap’s far superior, sadly unheralded Raman Raghav2.0 from 2016. 

The rest of the cast in Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a roll call of fine talents that deserve far more than what Bollywood seems to have served them so far. The very attractive Jatin Goswami playing the smug Banke matches his star colleague Siddiqui scene for scene, dialogue for dialogue, smirk for smirk. Equally oven hot and seemingly effortless in her spot-on performance is Bidita Bag as Phulwa. The always reliable Divya Dutta as Sumitra Jiji and Bhagwan Tiwari playing her policeman sidekick Tarashankar lend an unexpected comicality to their performances in one of the film’s darkest scenes on a lonely country road surrounded by fields.

The weakness of the second half comes from the feeling that plot points are being introduced one after the other merely to surprise, without a sufficient exploration of the motivations and deceptions of several characters. The result is that while the film remains engaging throughout, it is hard to ignore the post-interval lack of substance.

To say that it completely lacks depth would be unfair though. The quiet insertion of a famous melody I shall not name here while the end credits roll, for instance, comes across as a deliberate act of subversion. And the Babu-Phulwa-Banke dynamic is interesting, to say the least.

Besides, Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, flawed though it is, comes as manna to a starving film buff in what must certainly be the worst year for Bollywood in the decade so far. It could have been better, of course, but it is fun enough to be forgiven its follies and indulgences.

Rating (out of five stars): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
122 minutes 39 seconds 

This review has also been published on Firstpost:

Poster courtesy:

Friday, August 18, 2017


Release date:
August 18, 2017
Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari

Kriti Sanon, Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajkummar Rao, Seema Pahwa, Pankaj Tripathi, Rohit Chaudhary, Sapna Sand

If you debuted with Nil Battey Sannata, there will obviously be high expectations around your next. Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, who broke into Bollywood last year with that sleeper hit starring Swara Bhaskar, is back this week with her second film, Bareilly Ki Barfi.

Nil Battey Sannata was set in the Indian city that houses Shah Jahan’s monument to his love for Mumtaz Mahal. Bareilly so far has been best known to Bollywood gazers for the many musical references it has inspired, and most famously of course for that jhumka that Sadhna lost in the local bazaar in Mera Saaya 51 years back. I wish I could tell you it will henceforth be known for Bitti Mishra.

Bitti who?

That would be our heroine (played by Kriti Sanon), a spirited young resident of the place whose father runs a sweet shop, mother is a school teacher and who is herself working in the public grievances section of the city’s electricity department. Bitti’s parents are worried sick because though they have paraded their beti before dozens of prospective grooms, she is still kunwaari.

Whether or not she is a kanya in the complete sense of the word is a separate question that they have not dwelt on, but one potential husband does. “Are you a vurjjinn?” he asks her on the terrace of her home, where she and he have been sent to bond while both sets of parents wait expectantly downstairs. Bitti snubs him, as any self-respecting woman should, and so her matashri’s lamentations for her daughter continue.

This is our introduction to both Bitti and Bareilly Ki Barfi (BKB). Bitti is a non-conformist with a mind of her own, we are told: she ignores curfews imposed on daughters alone, does the break dance and rides a mobike in this conservative milieu. Add to that her professional and financial independence, a point underlined by her supportive Dad, and you might assume writers Nitesh Tiwari and Shreyas Jain would be satisfied with their rather neat profile of a small-town woman who refuses to be constrained by social straitjackets. But no sir, they are not.

Despite all these markers of Bitti’s free spirit, Tiwari and Jain (who earlier collaborated on Dangal, which the former directed) feel the need to make smoking the overriding signifier of her sense of independence by stressing and re-stressing it, then colouring it with a bold red marker in case we have not noticed – because Bollywood has for some reason in the past decade or so decided to make the cigarette the ultimate metaphor for feminism. Apparently, courage and a sense of independence are not good enough.

Nitpicking, did you say? Actually not. This confused feminism signifies the writers’ lack of conviction and clarity that turns out to be BKB’s undoing.

First, while the film’s first 20 minutes are devoted solely to Bitti, once the hero enters the frame she is completely sidelined. This delightful creature, brimful of potential though she is, is relegated to the margins as soon as we meet Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao). From then on, Bitti is reduced to being nothing more than the object of their interest and duelling.

Second, both BKB’s male leads are victims of half-hearted writing, lost to the most inconsistent characterisation I have seen in a Hindi film in a while. The motivations for their actions are unconvincing because each man’s nature and character swings from left to right like a pendulum throughout the narrative. No, this not what you might describe as shades of gray, this is a different colour of the rainbow in successive scenes.

With a screenplay this weak, nothing can save BKB. Not Sanon’s natural charisma (this woman is truly special, give her better projects please!) nor Khurrana’s innate charm. Not the flashes of genius we get to see from Seema Pahwa and Pankaj Tripathi playing Bitti’s parents Susheela and Narottam; and from Rao when his character Pritam is being bullied by his friend Chirag.

Pahwa, Tripathi and Rao in particular pounce on every morsel of inspiration available in this largely uninspired script. All five artistes far outshine their film.

BKB even fails to explore Bareilly with any degree of detailing. Add to this one of the plainest soundtracks delivered by Bollywood this year (featuring songs by five composers) and it almost feels like Ms Tiwari and her writing team lost interest in this venture halfway through it.  

It did not start off this way. In the opening 20 minutes of BKB, there are little touches that hold out a promise of better things to come. Like a dejected middle-class Mum stuffing namkeen back into its plastic container after the departure of a possible dulha’s family from a ladki dekhna session, while her forlorn spouse packs laddoos back into their dabba. Like that scene in which Bitti lies to a cop that she is Christian and he breaks into English without batting an eyelid, as any north Indian fed on Bollywood stereotypes would. These well-observed moments are a reminder of the detailing in Nil Battey Sannata, a film that was both intensely local and universal. The rest of BKB does not live up to them.

The only positive that remains consistent throughout BKB is the humour in its dialogues (barring the decidedly silly, schmaltzy climax). Funny conversations, however, are not enough to redeem the insubstantial story into which they are written.  

My heart kind of broke as I watched BKB. 2017 has been a lousy year for quality Hindi cinema so far. Apart from a handful of indies that have shone in the dark, the rest of Bollywood’s offerings in the past eight months have been bad enough to tempt a cinemaniac to hang up her boots. Even in my saddest moments in the months gone by though, I did not dream that the woman who brought us the life-affirming tale of Chanda and Apu from Nil Battey Sannata would follow that up with the blandness that is Bareilly Ki Barfi.

What happened, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari?

Rating (out of five stars): *

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
122 minutes 49 seconds

This review has also been published on Firstpost: