Director: Kushan Nandy
Cast: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Bidita Bag, Shradha Das, Divya Dutta
Somewhere inside Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a dark, deliciously twisty tale about two hitmen and a sultry cobbler. Yes, you heard that right. The fiery Bidita Bag plays a woman who fixes shoes at a roadside shop. Her damp pallu droops just enough to reveal her svelte body but she uses the sharp tools of her trade to keep male predators at bay – of which there are many because we are in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh.
This is India’s Wild West with corrupt politicians, rivalries, bullets, blood and so much sexual heat that Mumbai starts to look like a nunnery. Here contract killers roam freely. They kill in broad daylight without any fear of the law because all the cops are on the take. One of the best scenes in the film has the two hitmen comparing rates – they speak casually about how hard it has been to raise the price to 25,000 rupees. It’s the landscape of Gangs of Wasseypur, Omkara, Ishqiya – except those were much better films.
Director Kushan Nandy is cheerfully referencing the Quentin Tarantino-Anurag Kashyap school. So the violence is painstakingly crafted. The characters are trigger-happy and free of moral compunctions. Murder is erotic – in two scenes, violence actually serves as foreplay. In this environment, a hitman becomes sexy. Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Babu Bihari, a man who has been killing since he was 10 years old. Babu likes cool denim jackets and owns dozens of sunglasses. He is such a legend that when a younger hitman meets Babu, he says: hum toh fan hain aapke. Such a fan in fact, that he has christened himself Banke Bihari. Babu and Banke become unlikely companions. But how much can you trust a man who kills for a living?
The story, by Ghalib Asad Bhopali, has possibilities and the film might have worked if Kushan had stuck to the relationship between a star and his admirer – a sort of rural UP version of All About Eve. But before we get to these two, there is reams of narrative about political rivalries and murders. So many people get shot that I lost track of who was on whose side. One of the politicians is in a constant state of arousal – in one scene, he tells a male malishwala to remove his wife’s clothes and give her a massage. This turns him on. Instead of characters with depth, we get these superficial markers to signal that this material is edgy and cool.
Babumoshai Bandookbaaz strains to be steamy. The sex is sweaty and prolific. It’s just not very interesting. Because there is just too much posturing and too much plot. Kushan seems overtly enamored by the world that he has created. The actual story only kicks in by the time we hit interval and the second half becomes a revenge saga with familiar beats. The nihilism and sameness is exhausting.
Nawaz bites into the role of this flamboyant ruthless killer. He murders with panache. But his assassin act was far more effective in Kashyap’s Raman Raghav 2.0. Watch out also for Jatin Goswami, who is impressive as the chela who tries to usurp the guru’s throne. Cinematographer Vishal Vittal imbues the film with a gritty glamour. The locations are authentic and the atmosphere is suitably coarse. But none of it helps to make the narrative more gripping.
Babumoshai Bandookbaaz has sparks of originality but they get buried in a convoluted story that is tired and tiring.