Lost in Translation

Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Irrfan

Watching a film like Gunday makes you ask if the concept of rushes no longer exists. You know, the short cuts that a film’s crew watches when it is still being made. Where the producers decide whether the product they are seeing is what they were being sold; where the director ponders whether this is what he set out to make. For if that were to happen, then Gunday would still be in the can.

A no-brainer from beginning to end, the film is packed with clichés as old as commercial Bollywood cinema goes. Ali Abbas Zafar gives no reason why anything in the film happens. Why was the film set in the 1970s Kolkata, or Calcutta as it was then known? Was it just to establish a logical thread between two young boys running away from Bangladesh after killing a paedophiliac army officer and their landing in the nearest Indian city? Or was it to establish logic between stealing coal, which was then largely mined from Dhanbad in neighbouring Bihar, and the rise of the two boys to full-grown men who exercised a hold over the city because of their bravado?

If it was the former, then the boys could have been runaways from Pakistan or Timbuktu and it wouldn’t have made any difference to the story. But, if it was the latter and the intent was to show a metaphor between the black coal and the blackness in the two boys-turned-men, then what could have soared to poetic heights of an ode, only dirges into shibboleth.

The same remains true of the actors. Where they could have breathed life into two young men, who have known nothing but suffering, both Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor end up looking like buff blusters wearing clothes that belonged to a different era, but very much rooted in the here and now. To some degree, Singh does show signs of having worked it out, but that, as the audience realises, is only flattering to deceive.

Kapoor, for his part, makes a mess of what was essentially his Amitabh Bachchan moment.

Even Priyanka Chopra, as a cabaret dancer in her entire sexiness poured into the role, can do nothing. Quite frankly, she is a bit annoying.

Were it not for the support cast, Gunday could have actually been worse. The only good parts of the film are when Irrfan Khan is on screen, or even off it; he even does the voiceover, the other good part. As the police officer who takes it upon himself to bring these two men to justice, Khan is as usual, prolific. Sadly, his is the part that gets the least screen time.

It is not difficult to guess what director Zafar must have been thinking. The film’s monochromatic-toned poster, the era in which it is set, the dialogues, all point to an attempt to bring back the golden action film of the 1970s, like Sholay, Deewar, Kaala Patthar, etc. However, what one can’t fathom is why he did not see that all it was becoming was a poor cousin, more like the formulaic cinema of the late 80s, when 40-something Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rishi Kapoor and even Bachchan were playing college kids, romancing girls less than half their age. Even more inexplicably, why did Aditya Chopra not see it? The writing on the wall, after all, must have been obvious even while it was being written.

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