Babumoshai Bandookbaaz directed by Kushan Nandy from a screenplay by Ghalib Asad Bhopali is one of those instances where you have an abundance of everything and yet when looked at it as a whole, there is nothing of consequence. There is an assortment of colourful characters, there are a number of witty scenes, lots of snappy one liners, plenty of bullets flying with adequate blood and gore and a lot of cusswords and sex. Not just by CBFC’s ‘Sanskaari’ standards. There’s indeed a lot of it and some of it’s quite kinky too. Add to that, a rugged landscape of the Hindi heartland and you’re right into Anurag Kashyap territory. Unfortunately for Nandy and his team, getting heavily inspired is one thing. Delivering them right is another. The film is a glaring example of a combined writing and directing failure, unable to put together the individual elements and weave them into an organized and meaningful whole.

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The film follows the antics of a flamboyant and ethical contract killer called Babu Bihari who’s mainly hired by corrupt politicians to bump off rivals and obstacles. Things become complicated for Babu when three things happen almost one after the other. Babu is smitten by a buxom cobbler called Phulwa who coaxes him to kill two of her rapists in exchange for sexual favours and thus Babu sways from his code of killing for money. Next, he is given a contract by a politician to kill off three of his rivals who belong to camp he has been closely associated with professionally. Further complicating the matter is the arrival of a younger sharpshooter called Banke Bihari who’d been idolizing Babu from his childhood and are now professional rivals. This leads to a convoluted series of events where rivalries are sorted and allegiances are formed and dissolved in the blink of an eye and amid everything Babu finds himself to be the victim of circumstances and betrayals.

While the narrative might sound fine when put in words, the cinematic experience is nothing short of agonizing because the writer and director are clearly more interested in individual scenes and moments, cashing in on Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s quirky performance who clearly owns every moment he is on screen. But besides that, every other character seems paper thin and stereotypical or underdeveloped in their motivations and overall arcs. Half of their actions seem unconvincing and rather an attempt to fill in the gaps in a poorly arranged narrative. The worst instances would be the female characters, about which the filmmakers are almost clueless. Phulwa is introduced as this femme fatale manipulator and once her job is done, she immediately slips into the role of a love interest/housewife an again when the plot needed a misdirection, she commits an act of betrayal, none of it with any clear motivation. Then there is the character of the corrupt politician Sumitra aka Jiji whose only task is to be deliberately foul mouth and carry an ample body serving as the object of desire which culminates in her having sex with a dirty cop in a meadow. And as soon as it’s over, she is fed to the ants. Literally! Finally, there’s Yasmin who just wears red lipstick and counts money.

While Nawazuddin Siddiqui truly shines like a star in an otherwise lackluster environment, the lack of any directorial vision fails to do proper justice even to his acting skills. In a narrative which is completely falling apart at seams, even the performance begins to look incoherent and rambling after a while, especially in the second half. It’s almost like Nawaz is trying his best to work with whatever is available to him, grasping at ill-written scenarios and cliched lines. Bhagwan Tiwari as a dirty cop and Jatin Goswami as Banke Bihari manage to hold some ground of their own despite very little support from the screenplay.

While there is a palpable presence of Anurag Kashyap, what the film truly wanted to be is a spaghetti western and therein failed miserably because it lacked the one-thing spaghetti westerns thrived on- style. The images in the film are too busy trying to look real but in terms of framing or composition, they fail to generate the sleek impact which one’d expect while dealing with a subject or characters like this. Given a screenplay which is completely out of focus, interfering continuously with the economy of storytelling, the editing becomes restricted to mere placing of one scene after the other, resulting in a glacial pace without even a single inspiring cut visible throughout the film. The presence of songs proves to be further damaging to the narrating and pacing in the film.

But the strangest experience was certainly the end credits with Tagore’s ‘Aguner Parashmani’ playing in the background. Nothing would have prepared you for that!

Arup Ratan Samajdar
A student of cinema, completed his master's degree in film studies from Jadavpur University. A keen admirer of Classical Hollywood, the many New Waves and Japanese cinema, he has been writing film reviews, criticisms and essays and articles on various cultural topics.

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