Director: Varun V. Sharma
Writer: Varun V. Sharma
Cast: Rani Mukerji, Saif Ali Khan, Sharvari Wagh, Pankaj Tripathi, Siddhant Chaturvedi
Cinematographer: Gavemic U. Ary
Editor: Aarif Sheikh
Toward the end of Bunty Aur Babli 2, there is a sweet scene in which Rakesh and Vimmi, also known as Bunty aur Babli, are trying to emotionally reconnect with each other. She thinks he's perhaps fallen out of love with her and she reminds him how hard she works to remain attractive for him, including hand-stitching Sabyasachi knockoffs. Rani Mukerji is of course wearing an original Sabyasachi costume when she delivers the line. To which Bunty swears eternal devotion and only requests that she occasionally replace her aggression with affection. Their exchange is sincere and comic and it makes you smile because Rani and Saif Ali Khan share a lived-in chemistry that dates back to Hum Tum from 2004.
This sequence is a reminder of what Bunty Aur Babli 2 could have been but isn't. Saif takes over the role of Rakesh from Abhishek Bachchan. The actor gamely puts himself through the indignities that his character suffers – Rakesh is a middle-aged man with a potbelly in a dead-end job. His glorious days as one half of India's most celebrated con couple are long over. Rakesh drinks too much, puts too much mehndi in his hair and even gets into fights. In one scene, he is doing jumping jacks with his rotund belly moving up and down. Meanwhile, Vimmi articulates her unfulfilled longing to be a beauty queen by being made up from tip to toe – they live in Fursatganj but she insists on putting her hair in rollers every day. The two snap out of their humdrum life when another couple starts pulling cons and appropriates their brand name, Bunty aur Babli.
It's a clever set up with enough potential to create a franchise. The first film, which released in 2005, had verve, trendsetting costume design by Aki Narula and a superb soundtrack by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, including the iconic item song Kajra Re. You recall Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the too-tight choli sensuously lip-synching lyrics by Gulzar saab – killer lines like 'aankhen bhi kamaal karti hain, personal se sawaal karti hain.' That film wasn't high on plausibility either but it rode on energy, hijinks and sparkle.
Much of the sparkle in the sequel is in Babli's costumes, especially the oversized sunglasses she dons once the action moves to Abu Dhabi. Rani plays Babli with exuberance and feistiness. Her character is as colorful as her costumes and Rani revels in Vimmi's singular flamboyance. Saif, who gets to let loose in the second half, also seems to be having a good time. But debutant director Varun V. Sharma, who has adapted the screenplay from a story by producer Aditya Chopra, gives his actors little to work with. The plot is repetitive and the dialogue forgettable. Even the usually reliable Pankaj Tripathi, who is a substitute for Amitabh Bachchan, seems to be on autopilot.
But the real downer is that the film wastes its younger pair – Siddhant Chaturvedi and debutant Sharvari Wagh. Both get to don disguises and show off their chiseled bodies – she even has an emerging-from-the-sea-in-a-
This film also has an unnecessarily sanskari heart. The original Bunty aur Babli were also sanitized – they mostly looted the corrupt and nobody ever got physically hurt – but here, Varun goes a step further. The wannabe Bunty and Babli, whose real names are Kunal and Sonia, are actual do-gooders. They expose a corrupt minister and donate food to hungry children. Sonia also has start-up dreams. They are forced into a life of crime because despite their fancy degrees they couldn't get a job. The piousness sucks the thrill out of their capers.
One of the joyous aspects of the first film was the many ways in which director Shaad Ali doffed his hat to classic Hindi cinema – so when Rakesh and Vimmi execute their first con, the song Mera Naam Hai Shabnam from Kati Patang plays in the background, which was also a film about disguises and lies. Later the couple reenact Veeru and Jai in a sidecar from Sholay and on their wedding night, the title song from Kabhi Kabhie plays. Amitabh Bachchan and his filmography loom large but in the best way possible. When Rakesh and Bachchan's character Dashrath meet, Dashrath asks him where he's from and Rakesh replies Allahabad, which is of course where Mr. Bachchan is from originally. A little later, Vimmi looks at Dashrath and says about Rakesh, 'dikhte toh isi ke rishtedar ho.' These little insider jokes added to the fun.
Varun substitutes this with the character of Pappu, Rakesh and Vimmi's precocious son. This is a boy who wins bundles of cash in online poker and dances to Bollywood songs with a young girlfriend. The first time we see her, she's dancing on a stage to Kajrare, which, given the nature of the song, is slightly icky. Pappu and his antics are designed to be comic relief but he seems to have stepped in from a 90s film. Varun's other weapon is slow motion. Every second scene features characters walking away from the scene in high speed.
But swag can never replace script.
You can watch Bunty Aur Babli 2 at a theatre near you. Don't forget to wear a mask