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In a crowded field of movies that actively go looking for mischief, Bluffmaster, producer Ramesh (Sholay) Sippy’s labor of love, stands out. More urban chic than Dhoom, more stylish—though not more romantic—than Dil Chahta Hai, here finally is a film that nonchalantly wears its we’re-Indian-deal-with-it charm on Abhishek Bachchan’s pair of designer shades. An inner-city tale that can appeal to the inner kid as well as the adult, surprisingly solid-footed Bluffmaster may be this decade’s most refreshingly neo-cool movie.
Few Hindi film backdrops take Mumbai at its barebones face value the way Bluffmaster does. For criminals of all stripes, that city remains a megalapolis littered with broken dreams and fleeting promises of vast, instant wealth. He who twists the truth—or at least spins it most ingeniously—walks away with the cake. This urban paradigm proves to be an ideal breeding ground for the likes of Roy (Bachchan), a white-collar medium-loot shyster smugly set in his ways.
After being dumped by his girlfriend Simmi (Chopra) when she learns of his dubious career choice, Roy reluctantly takes under his wing Aditya (Deshmukh), a rank low-life on the criminal food chain. Together, this disparate duo—one a struggling playboy, the other an undershirt-clad inner-city waif—scheme to con an underworld don (Patekar) at his own high-rolling, huge-stakes game. The results prove to be unpredictably knotty, hysterically funny, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Loosely paralleling the 1997 Michael Douglas movie The Game, Sridhar Raghavan’s superb script and steady handling by director Rohan Sippy (son of producer Ramesh Sippy) combine for the most stylishly original Hindi film since 2003’s Dil Chahta Hai. Has Roy mastered his destiny by going shotgun with a bottom-feeding sidekick? Or is the urban cowboy’s blind ego, in taking on a cunning gangster, about to unleash a proverbial self-induced genie that refuses to return to the bottle? Empowered by finely textured writing that seldom resorts to vulgarity even in its double entendres, Bluffmaster delivers chutzpah and substance. The results are a sizable gain in forward-thinking, and intelligent writing, editing, and characterization.
Not to be outdone by the highly fluid unfolding of the plot, it’s the musical delivery that clinches this deal. Bluffmaster may have the most Hollywood-like musical score for a Hindi film to date. An ensemble of ear-friendly tunes by gifted names is making a beeline for the charts. When was the last time a Hindi score sampled hip hop (Mehmood’s chart-busting sizzler Sabse Bada Rupaiah), a couple of trendy stops by Indian-UK hipsters Trickbaby (sample their “Neelaa,” used in the movie, and taken from their Hanging Around CD), as well as Hindi classics from S.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar? This is one heat-seeking songpack!
After Dhoom, Bunty Aur Babli, and Sarkar, Abhishek Bachchan has niched into playing a smooth city-slicker, clever enough to sense the changing direction of the winds before the weatherman makes his pronouncement. Bachchan’s shrewd career move pays huge dividends here.
Aniruddh Chawda writes from Wisconsin, on America’s north coast.