Aiding him in achieving this are cinematographer Aseem Mishra, production designer Rajat Poddar and action director Sham Kaushal, creating a retro, sepia and coal-tinged lawless Calcutta.
For starters in Gunday, you have two boys born on the wrong sides of the tracks. Bikram and Bala are victims of circumstance and turn to a life of crime in order to survive. This takes them into a refugee camp in Bangladesh to becoming gun couriers and coal thieves. From the entry of the boys on to the screen you get a taste of the over-the-top acting that will define the gunday right into adulthood.
Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh play the two boys who are dark as coal on the outside but with hearts of gold in Gunday. Their friendship in unbreakable, until the entry of cabaret dancer Nandita, played impeccably by Priyanka Chopra. Not only does she look sexy when needed but also exudes feminine charm and strength of character. Her rendition is pitch perfect for a film that doffs a hat to 70s and 80s cinema.
Hot on the heels of the duo is ACP Satyajeet Sarkar, portrayed by Irrfan Khan with relish. In scenes with him, the ineptitude of the two lead actors is even more starkly pronounced.
Film posters act as markers of time: Zanjeer is playing in a local theatre when the boys are children and a date with Nandita is set for a show of Mr. India, clearly denoting a passage from 1973 to 1987, when the boys have become men (only in age and size, not spirit). Expectedly, competition for Nandita’s affections causes a rift between the thus-far inseparable pair (only after the infectious “Tu ne mari entry…” song), setting off a chain of events that can only end badly. As Satyajeet Sarkar says, “Chot khaaya hua dost dushman se bhi khatarnak hai” (a hurt friend is worse than an enemy).
Zafar captures the frenzy of the Durga festival in the pre-interval scene with a deft hand. You actually wish that had been the end of the film, but there is still an hour to go, an hour that is now about the fracture in a friendship and ACP Satyajeet’s plans to clean up Calcutta.
One of the biggest problems with Gunday is the gundas themselves – posing, bronzed, waxed chests and all. Plus there’s Ranveer Singh’s perfectly conditioned and blow-dried hair, which is ever so distracting and most incongruous with a coal thief. Both Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh spit out their lines trying to be heroes all the time.
You never really care for either Bikram or Bala and certainly do not buy into their “victims of the system” defence. Thank god for Chopra’s Nandita and Khan’s ACP – they add solidity of performances in an otherwise amateur acting tableau.
And that in summary is Gunday – it works only in bits and parts.
Rating: ** ½