It’s worth noting that the Khap Panchayat, a union of a few villages (highly regressive and patriarchal) in North India that has largely gone unnoticed for many years by Indian filmmakers, is responsible for three Bollywood movies in the first half of 2015. The first among the three, Navdeep’s Singh NH10, also the best film of the year so far, adeptly showed the promise that this conceit held; the second, Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho, which released last week, was all over the place, an absurdist comedy that, quite ironically, seldom made sense. This week’s release Guddu Rangeela prominently features the Khap Panchayat, too, and it’s a good reminder of the fact that good hooks don’t automatically transform to well-made movies.
If NH10 smartly played with our expectations by casting Deepti Naval as the film’s villain, thereby dismantling her screen image and showcasing a woman holding power in a hinterland dominated by men, then Guddu Rangeela’s casting, which features Ronit Roy playing (for the fourth time in the last five years) a controlling, hot-headed patriarchal figure, comes across as uninspiring. The problem’s not as much with Roy’s acting, which is assured for a straight-forward role as this, but with the casting, because after Udaan, 2 States and Ugly, he can bring only as much novelty to a role that’s a copy of a copy: this one, too, like the previous three, requires him to be menacing, unreasonable and domineering.
The strains of tired familiarity are present elsewhere in the film as well. Dibyendu Bhattacharya, who plays the “Underworld’s PR” in Guddu Rangeela, someone who’s both sharp and deceitful, played similar characters in Dev D. and B.A. Pass. The chemistry between the film’s heroes, Guddu (Amit Sadh) and Rangeela (Arshad Warsi), where the former is naïve and hopeful because he’s young, and the latter is experienced and, hence, cynical, reminds you of the bonding between Warsi and Naseeruddin Shah in the Ishqiya movies. Even the film’s heroine, Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari), who’s feisty and enigmatic, shares attributes with Vidya Balan’s character in Ishqiya.
We have seen these characters and scenarios before, but even with these overt limitations—familiar world and characters—Guddu Rangeela could have been a much better movie. There’s enough happening in the film, at least till the first half, to keep you interested. An early scene in the film has Billu Pahalwan (Ronit Roy) convincing a bride’s father, in a matter of fact fashion, to murder his daughter, because she’s fallen for a guy of another caste; and the guy indeed murders his daughter. The chemistry between Guddu and Rangeela is fairly enjoyable; the kidnapping subplot springs sporadic surprises to make you care about its outcome. The scenes don’t drag in these portions; the performances, even though barely challenging, are well controlled.
But Guddu Rangeela is a considerably different film in the second half. A plethora of scenes is forged out by compromising common sense, something that’s quite common to mediocre crime caper movies. Guddu and Rangeela, for instance, slip easily out of many threatening situations without any real trouble. Rangeela’s love interest breaks into a speech lecturing the Khap Panchayats about their rotten system (a scene that looks so contrived that it appears she’s speaking to us—the audience). The final showdown between Rangeela and Billu borders on embarrassing; the two, for reasons best known to them, throw their guns to engage in a fistfight. And by the time the film gets over, Guddu Rangeela ends up betraying every glimmer of promise it had shown in its earlier portions. This could have been a fun, breezy film rooted in a milieu that often throws disturbing questions at us, but ends up coming across as too convenient and banal.
An edited version of this review was first published at Firstpost