Movie Review: Gunday

February 14, 2014

(The views expressed here do not represent those of Thomson Reuters)

Ali Abbas Zafar’s “Gunday” is a film set in the 1970’s and 80’s, amid the grime of the coal mafia. It is supposed to be a gritty film about two friends and their undying bond, which is broken when a girl enters their lives.

“Gunday” is a throwback to the cinema of the 70’s and 80’s when the wronged hero was still virtuous; the heroine was seductive but still coy; and the system was something you had to fight against to get what was rightfully yours. Director Zafar gives us a more polished version of those films.

Bikram (Ranveer Singh) and Bala (Arjun Kapoor) are friends who escape from Dhaka in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh war and find themselves orphaned and homeless in Kolkata. They quickly discover there is money to be made in wagon-breaking — robbing coal from trains and selling it at subsidized prices in the market.

They grow up; develop rippling muscles; run across sooty coal fields in slow motion; and are dressed in white. They also graduate from being small-time robbers to philanthropic gangsters who run schools and orphanages, which are funded by their kaala dhanda (illegal business).

But Zafar doesn’t devote too much time to specifics. He establishes that Bikram and Bala are into illegal activities; are wanted by the police (specifically by Irrfan Khan, playing police officer Satyajeet Sarkar); and that their friendship hits a roadblock when they both fall for cabaret dancer Nandita (Priyanka Chopra).

The rest of the film plays out predictably, but at a glacial pace. Instead of upping the ante, Zafar wastes time in song sequences and delays the inevitable conclusion. The film re-creates the angst most Bollywood films of the time depicted, but that angst is now airbrushed and polished to such a degree that it doesn’t ring true.

When Ranveer Singh’s character — with his shiny hair, shaved chest and perfectly sculpted muscles — rants to Chopra about how the system has failed, it seems fake. Chopra, who doesn’t have a hair out of place while taking a bullet or getting kidnapped, also overdoes the coy act.

Neither of the lead actors can muster up the acting chops required for the role — their anger and sense of victory at having beaten the system is forced.

The film works as a half-hearted attempt at re-creating cinema of the past, but the temptation to sanitise that raw anger is what spoils it for “Gunday”.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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