Badman is, in the end, an opportunity for Bollywood to laugh at itself
Cast: Gulshan Grover, Chunky Pandey, Vishal Malhotra, Anuvab Pal
Director: Soumik Sen
Available on: Voot
Rating: 2.5 stars
Villains are an endangered species. Films have stopped needing evil brutes their moralistic heroes have to trump. Bad is no longer required to balance the good. And so in Badman, a web series made available on the digital platform Voot, we first find Gulshan Grover without water in his shower, demanding that his three servants, Dang, Gabbar and Bulla, get their act together. There isn’t just irony at play here. This is straight-out parody. Playing himself, Grover tries to find a new pertinence.
So, what do villains do when they are underworked? Badman comes up with an ingenuous answer – they form a federation. At a meeting of the ‘Villains Association of Bollywood’, they discuss their declining relevance. Ranjeet aka Golu Chachu backslaps Grover and tells him, “Badmash toh badmash hi rahenge.” Grover, the ‘Bad Man’ who had played Kesariya Vilayeti (Ram Lakhan) and Tapasvi Gunjal (Vishwatma), is of course the authentic ‘badmash’, but a sudden heart attack makes him change course. He now wants to spend his life’s savings to launch himself as a hero. The four episodes of Badman detail his struggle. Actors refuse his calls. Alia says she will act with him in 2030.
Gulshan Grover, it must be said, is a sport. A majority of the jokes in the series use his age and acting abilities as their butt. Sujoy Ghosh tells him that in the sequel of Kahaani, he will get him to play the pregnant woman. Shoojit Sircar wonders how a man in his sixties will be able to play a protagonist in his sequel to Vicky Donor. (The problem, as you can imagine, is an obvious one.) Much of the humour in Badman continues in this vein. Too often does the four-part series substitute a comedy that could have been clever with one that is slapstick and goofy. A glamorous item number specialist is referred to as ‘big’. The adjective is later clarified – “In a boy’s hostel, engineering college kind of way.” You get the joke, yes, but the chuckle which follows is awkward at first, then just plain forced.
Though the dialogue might not be funny enough for you to repeat in office or at a party, Badman proves watchable because of its performances. Grover, with his self-deprecation, is the perfect protagonist who allows director Soumik Sen to go all ‘meta’ on us. Vishal Malhotra plays Grover’s lecherous son Gaurav with a shady craftiness that makes him great fun to watch. Anuvab Pal, who shares writing credits with Sen for the series, seems perfectly cast as Suresh, Gaurav’s bumbling brother who spends more time on an Oscar speech than on the script of a film he is poised to direct. Himani Shivpuri as a foul-mouthed ‘Aunty Acid’ is memorably hilarious, as is ‘villain’ Chunky Pandey.
Badman is, in the end, an opportunity for Bollywood to laugh at itself. Farah Khan takes a dig at herself with a Tees Maar Khan crack. Rishi Kapoor, Jackie Shroff, and Manisha Koirala all have walk-on parts and each of them pokes fun at the Hindi film industry’s fascination with the ‘evergreen’.
The only trouble is that you wish they’d been given better lines. Mahesh Bhatt once tells Grover, “This itch made you rich, but it has also brought you to the ditch.” (Not quite a rhyme that will leave you in a stitch.) At one point in the series, critics Raja Sen, Rajeev Masand, Deepanjana Pal and Anupama Chopra meet to decide on “a critical conspiracy.” They say they’ll give Grover’s ‘Good Man’ five stars. Badman, sadly, hasn’t seen anyone similarly conspire. So, just two-and-a-half for me, please.
Watch Badman on Voot here