Gumraah means astray. In the last 60 years, there have been four Hindi films with that title. The first was in 1963, with Sunil Dutt, Mala Sinha and Ashok Kumar. This one features that gorgeous Sahir Ludhianvi song Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se. Then there was a Gumrah in 1976, which starred Subhash Ghai. Thirty years ago in 1993, Mahesh Bhatt’s Gumrah starred Sridevi and Sanjay Dutt. And in 2023 we get Gumraah with Aditya Roy Kapoor playing a double role. As I watched this film, I wondered if Bollywood was so partial to this title because it speaks to a larger malaise. At least in this Gumraah, too much is astray.
Gumraah is a remake of a 2019 Tamil film called Thadam. I haven’t seen the original but the idea is intriguing – one murder, two suspects but both look identical so it becomes impossible to tell which one was at the site of the crime. The film is based on true cases. Gumraah begins with a gruesome murder. The lead suspect is a successful, civil engineer named Arjun. But then his rowdy look alike, Ronnie shows up at the police station and the cops, who thought they had an open and shut case, must now unravel, who has actually done it.
These cops include Ronit Roy playing a senior inspector who has a previous beef with Arjun and wants nothing more than to see him rot in prison. And Mrunal Thakur as Shivani Mathur who wants to do the right thing for Arjun. To further complicate the narrative, there are multiple back stories which include a romance, a bitter divorce, a mother who was a compulsive gambler, an utterly forgettable small-time villain who is trying to get his money back from Ronnie and Ronnie’s sidekick who is named, I’m not making this up, Chaddi. The story is forcefully twisted but the telling is so dull that in the interval, a fellow critic turned to me and asked – but is Chaddi alive or dead?
For viewers, Gumraah is a slog but for Aditya, it’s a showreel. He gets to play two distinct men and he is in almost every frame of the film. One version is the more traditional hero. Arjun woos a girl in an elevator, goes on dates and he even gets a romantic airport scene. Though this is borderline ridiculous because both are lying down flat on the floor at the T2 terminal in Mumbai and kissing while other passengers simply walk past them. I wondered what airport security would do with that in real life. Meanwhile, Ronnie is a tough guy who drinks hard and is always ready for a fight. Ronnie can also spout legalese better than any lawyer – in one scene, he’s instructing cops about custodial violence. Both versions get to take their shirt off. Aditya manages to make the two different but he can’t make either interesting.
Director Vardhan Ketkar and co-writer Sumit Arora, who adapted Magizh Thirumeni’s original story, don’t give much to Mrunal either. As Shivani, she either looks determined or confused. At one point, she’s looking at the suspect board which has pictures of both Arjun and Ronnie and asking herself aloud: What am I missing? What she’s missing is a character she can bite into.
Debutant director Vardhan Ketkar delivers a generic thriller, which isn’t half as smart as it thinks it is.
You can see Gumraah at a theatre near you.