GUNDAY. Director: Ali Abbas Zafar.  Players: Ranveer Singh, Arjun Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Irfan Khan, Saurabh Shukla.  Music:  Sohail Sen.  Hindi with Eng. Sub-tit.  Theatrical release (Yashraj).

10

After the mega success ofDhoom 3, Yashraj hangs around on the action thriller circuit with Gunday. However, it is one thing to have Dhoom 3’s adventure saga turn into a Box Office earthquake and quite another to have the follow up offering Gundayachieve meaningful resonance. Thrills? Check. Adventure? Check. Romance? Check. Originality? Not so much in that as fun as Gunday is in parts, the lasting impression is that there is little here that was not already seen on Sholay or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

An epic trajectory is appropriately ignited when two orphaned refugee teenage boys, victimized by the cross-border atrocities of the India-Pakistan war of 1971, find themselves in the slums of what was then Calcutta. Hardened by brutalities of war and incessant penury, the boys grow up to become Bikram (Singh) and Bala (Kapoor) and, against overwhelming odds, rise to stake a claim on the web of the local coal-running mob. For Bikram and Bala, the strangest turn is not their violently sordid climb up the criminal food chain but the fact that both of them are smitten by the come-hither cabaret dancer Nandita (Chopra) all the while both of them are being chased by shrewd anti-mafia cop Inspector Satya (Khan).

When the going is good, director Zafar (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan) and action-choreographer Sham Kaushal (Dhoom 3, Krrish 3, Ram Leela) stage some truly terrific action sequences many of which prominently feature trains as the mode of transport used in shipping the afore-mentioned coal. The non-action narrative that should effortlessly coalesce around the edge-of-the-seat thrills, however, lacks urgency in solidifying what should be a well-rounded story.

Ceasar-Bosco’s dance numbers are also ferociously energetic and effortlessly draw on Chopra’s dance skills. Nandita’s cabaret numbers, modeled after the Moulin Rouge motif, are polished and here in line with Yashraj’s rep for opulence in musical delivery.

Sohail Sen’s soundtrack has got it going on, especially with the lovers lament “Saiyaan,” piped by Shahid Mallya. Once again, however, what is happening in the foreground does not jive with what is happening in the background.

What is happening in the background is this. There is too much here that is indeed reminiscent of Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay (1975). A bromance between two men who are inseparable, sometimes use a coin toss to arrive at decisions, have many fights on moving trains, value their friendship above all else, share the same bed, urinate together and, perhaps other than the ambiguously heterosexual posturing of falling for the same woman, repeatedly remind one of Bachchan and Dharmendra from Sholay. This subtle homoeroticism alone is no reason to complain. In the story overall, however, it is distracting.

Singh is coming back after the rocking success of Ram Leela while Kapoor delivered the hit Ishaqzaade. Their Bikram and Bala are carefree mafia kingpins unafraid to get into bare-knuckle brawls with everyone from mean bosses to competing mafia dons.

As counterweight to their aloofness, there is Khan’s Inspector Satya who is a portrait of a Machiavellian company man that can often outguess his enemy. In the rush to exploit the jealousies that set in when Bikram and Bala get closer to Nandita, while Chopra gets her dues as the object of desire, the script misses out on getting more use out of the underutilized Khan.

Relative newcomers Singh and Kapoor as well as director Zafar (Mere Brother Ki Dulhan) are Yashraj faves. Because Yashraj provided both Singh and Kapoor their respective career starts, what the studio gets is return is relatively modestly priced talent compared to, say, Hrithik Roshan or Ajay Devgan. That, combined with expected future DVD sales and lucrative international satellite broadcasting rights, even a better than average Box Office of a movie likeGunday can end up as a money making proposition for the studio. Just as the studio has been marketing Parineeti Chopra in smartly-made smaller movies, we can likely expect Singh and Kapoor in more Yashraj offerings.

EQ: B

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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