The nostalgia that Gunday evokes is unmistakably 70s Bollywood. From its best-friends-versus-the-world premise to clap-trap dialogues delivered with clenched teeth and flared nostrils, to the messy hand-to-hand fight scenes…the ingredients are certainly in place. For a while, the film succeeds in grabbing your attention too with its striking period detail and some nicely mounted scenes. But rolling out at 2 hours and 34 minutes, it can’t help feeling like a slog.
Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor are Bikram and Bala respectively, two buddies who were displaced as kids after the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Fearless and pushed to the wrong side of the tracks, they return to Calcutta becoming petty coal thieves, and then quickly go on to control the local black market. A senior cop (Irrfan Khan) is transferred to the city to “break them”, even as a pretty cabaret dancer (Priyanka Chopra) becomes the object of both their affection, predictably driving a wedge in their seemingly unshakeable friendship.
It’s all formulaic stuff, and director Ali Abbas Zafar cheerfully pilfers bits and bobs from the best of 70s Bollywood, including Sholay, Deewar, and the Yash Raj banner’s own Kaala Patthar. He gives us slo-mo entries for the protagonists, heroes who swear undying friendship, lofty lines peppered with keywords like jigar and zameer, and just about everything that you’ve seen a hundred times before. The problem with Gunday isn’t only that it’s derivative, but also tediously boring.
The film’s leading men too, although unquestionably sincere, don’t have the sheer machismo or the sex appeal of such action stars as Amitabh Bachchan and Vinod Khanna in the seventies. Don’t get me wrong: Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor sportingly strip down to flaunt their waxed and oiled chests in what turns into an unintentionally comical action scene. The camera caresses their gleaming torsos as they land blows on each other in slo-mo (again!), the whole sequence looking like a deodrant commercial.
Priyanka Chopra is annoyingly coquettish in her early scenes, but quickly finds her groove, and a few solid scenes to show what she’s got. Expectedly, it’s Irrfan Khan who leaves the lasting impression. Whether plotting against his prey, or reminding another officer not to mix feelings with duty, he chews up the scenery every time he’s on screen.
Gunday isn’t unwatchable, but it’s certainly a case of potential squandered. The film has an authentic look and feel of 70s Calcutta, some robust cinematography, and a few good tunes. It’s also got two live-wire leading men whose on-screen chemistry sadly isn’t mined for enough laughs.
I’m going with two out of five for director Ali Abbas Zafar’s Gunday. Watching it is a lot like eating the same thing for dinner four times in a week.