Ungli: Misplaced idealism results in soporific filmmaking

If ever there were a poll conducted among Bollywood filmmakers to find out the most pressing problem ailing our country, a majority of them, especially those with scant regard for nuance and an unhealthy obsession with simplistic worldviews, would scream in unison that the reason for our sluggish growth is our “system”. Those filmmakers might even consider throwing an adjective in to underline that social monstrosity: “corrupt system”. According to these filmmakers, it’s really that easy: take an important and interesting enough social problem, rob it of its nuances, give it an external form, which can be easily identified and vanquished, introduce a few excessively idealist and easily outraged twenty-somethings, a villain so unidimensional that his mannerisms border on the unreal, and you have a film that both preaches and panders. This kind of film is not interested in exploring anything but the director’s misplaced idealism — the film quickly divides its characters into two camps: Good and Evil. The former prevails over the latter after some hand-wringing and, eventually, you get a poor excuse for a film. Rensil D’Silva’s latest, Ungli, is no different. It first lists everything wrong with India, and then puts forth a ludicrous solution. The problem, according to the film, is our corrupt system, and the solution is a bunch of young vigilantes who pay no heed to law and order. Because, just in case you didn’t know, the police is no better; it’s “corrupt” as well. It’s the kind of romantic rumination that sits well with 14-year olds, or Bollywood filmmakers who make “issue”-based films culled from newspaper headlines. The makers of Ungli, however, differ from teenagers in one crucial aspect: 14-year-olds at least have a sense of humour.

Ungli opens to four friends — Abhay (Randeep Hooda), Maya (Kangana Ranaut), Goti (Neil Bhoopalam) and Kalim (Angad Bedi) — who, after a frustrating experience with cops, form a gang called Ungli. The gang (which, we’re informed a number of times, stands for flipping the system off) consists of miscreant cops, apathetic officials and corrupt politicians. We don’t know a lot about our outrage-friendly leads, except that Maya is a nurse in a hospital, and Abhay is a journalist with Aaj Tak. D’Silva doesn’t consider it important to show us what Goti and Kalim do before they decide to become Arvind Kejriwal on steroids. Ungli barely has anything fresh or insightful to offer, but this is not the film’s ultimate undoing; it’s the hackneyed writing, which finds its way into paper-thin characters, embarrassing dialogues, flimsy plot points, which scuttles this film.

Ungli poster

What’s striking about Ungli is its consistent juvenility: the film takes us through a series of episodes that highlight the plight of common man — corrupt pension officials, traffic cops, regional transport officers. For a film that keeps projecting these elements as threats to our society, it’s incredible how they are taken care of so easily. Our heroes kidnap these symbols of venality, and lo and behold — justice is dispensed. These boys go about their business with such ease that you are forced to wonder: was it really that easy, then?

Giving D’Silva company is Monsieur Milap Zaveri, Ungli’s dialogue writer. At one point you get to hear this gem: Inspector Kale (Sanjay Dutt) is lamenting his loss by drinking whiskey in a bar alone. Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi), Kale’s subordinate, tells him: “Yahan akele baith ke sharaab peeene se kuch nahin hoga. Aansu se sirf whiskey dilute hoti hai,” quickly followed by Nikhil saying this to his senior: “Agar aap Kale hain, toh woh dilwale hain.” The only thing going for Ungli is that despite its unending puerility, the film is not crass. That, obviously, is not saying much, but given how low Bollywood films are known to plummet, you should hold on to small triumphs.

The review was first published at The Sunday Guardian

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