During a crucial juncture of the film, Ronit Roy, who plays an out-an-out villain and Khap Panchayat leader named Billu Pahalwan (Udaan 6.0), catches on to his own khabri’s lies. He squeezes the unfortunate chap’s neck and purrs, “Phas Gaya re Obama!” For no conceivable reason, director Subhash Kapoor, whose first film was Phas Gaya re Obama, slips in this self-referential reminder, perhaps to reassure viewers who can’t quite believe that this is the work of the same filmmaker. I was disappointed that Billu later didn’t find the need to playfully nickname one of his lawyers Jolly LLB, or even address Arshad Warsi as Circuit to remind us that Kapoor was once entrusted with taking forward the Munnabhai franchise.
Those days are gone. What we get instead is Guddu Rangeela—a texture-heavy saga that begins as a B-grade Ishqiya and ends as a B-grade noodle-western Gunday. Two small-time crooks Guddu (Sadh) and Rangeela (Warsi) display all the characteristics of PG-rated skullduggery. By day, they’re cheap orchestra wallahs who organize visa-celebration functions, and do away with the criminally catchy Mata ka Email in the first two minutes.
Guddu is young and annoyingly boyish, and dresses like Munna from Rangeela. Rangeela is a seasoned pro, with a flashback that plays out like a 80s romance gone wrong. Most 80s romances went wrong on screen, so you can imagine how pained Mr. Rangeela must be. When not reminiscing about his retro tragedy, he wisely advises Guddu that true love is when one stops thinking about condoms.
Warsi, who I imagine must envision himself as Babban to an imaginary Khalu, expertly pulls of a dialect peppered with metaphors about holy cows and widows, and jokes that suggest the unholy union of mothers and tigers (result: Babbar sher). Sadh inadvertently invokes goofy Babloo Chaudhary from Duplicate, and narrates long-winding crude jokes that seem to have three acts. In short, they are your usual ‘good-hearted’ Bollywood criminals with a misplaced sense of morality: We will lie, steal, cheat, womanize and thrash, but thou shall not kidnap. Naturally, an urgent need for money coerces them into kidnapping an enigmatic girl named Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari), who they later discover to be the missing sister-in-law of the baddest baddie up North, Khap head Billu himself. It’s murkier than they expect, because Billu wants Baby back for reasons that involve sex tapes, political affiliations and elections. This is a plot that could have cut the movie short by an hour if Baby genuinely favored logic over showmanship. But this is cinema.
Kapoor depends far too much on the vagaries of his characters. More than once, the twosome scratch their heads and wonder why nothing feels right. Who can blame them? Shady sidekicks attempt to offer comic relief in what is essentially a portrayal of the repressive Khap culture in Haryana; Dibyendu Bhattacharya plays Bangali, an ally who puts this whole thing into motion, supported by the omnipresent Brijendra Kala, who has no business here except to appear happy in a Shimla cottage.
More worrying are the forced commercial elements that Kapoor crams in—two bumbling cops played by Amit Sial and Rajiv Gupta offer shades of Clouseau and chief inspector Dreyfus, while Guddu’s farcical attraction to Baby (because they’re the only ones here in the same age group, obviously) is so abrupt that you wonder if Sadh and Hydari were even aware of its inclusion in the final cut. Ronit Roy gives it his best shot, but behaves like he can literally hear the slasher background score that accompanies his facial expressions.
A gunfight in the end is shabbily cut, assuming that a shaky camera automatically suggests an edgy Saving Private Ryan intensity. Motion sickness aside, it offers a glimpse into Kapoor’s quickie treatment of a script that allows no scope for experimentation. His restlessness with the material is apparent at one point; he uses the old zoom-in-dolly-out perspective distortion technique for no apparent reason, with the cops talking nonsense in the foreground and a bike arriving in the background. There’s not a strand of urgency in this scene, which fizzles out with yet another simpleton moment by Gupta.
Directors, who write their films alone from scratch, tend to be very stubborn about their vision being realized without compromise. They even tend to edit and score it mentally while writing, always thinking a step ahead. I don’t know how much of that is true with Subhash Kapoor. Guddu Rangeela may not exactly be his passion project—more like a lazy transition phase—but he could have at least injected it with some passion. For our sake.
The movie is rated U/A: Parental supervision is necessary to help children get over Ronit Roy’s presence.
Hindi, Comedy, Drama, Color