It’s a pity Bollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with Nawazuddin Siddiqui anymore. He’s a terrific actor, ever willing to take bold risks, but lately he’s been made to do the same thing over and over again. Just how many variations of the smart-talking, trigger-happy criminal does he have to play before he starts to sleepwalk through such roles?
In Babumoshai Bandookbaaz, directed by Kushan Nandy, Nawazuddin plays a famed contract killer in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. A cocky fella who goes by the name Babu Bihari, and frequently carries out the dirty work of local politicians and vengeful businessmen.
Both the film’s characters and the landscape evoke the memory of the far superior Gangs of Wasseypur, but the plot here is threadbare. Frankly the film is all treatment, and as it turns out, the treatment is all Tarantino.
Nandy and writer Ghalib Asad Bhopali conjure up a heady cocktail of violence, sex, and dark humor, and populate the film with a gallery of rogues. These are men and women with no moral compass, no lasting loyalties, and very little by way of redeeming features. Divya Dutta is particularly menacing as a shrewd politician, and Jatin Goswami shines as a younger hitman who idolizes our hero. In one of the film’s best scenes, the two gangsters, fresh off a killing, complain about inflation and compare salaries like normal middle-class folk. Another recurring joke involves a policeman routinely taking his wife’s calls in the middle of tense shootouts, making a mental note of the chores she has heaped upon him.
Typically, these men love as passionately as they kill, and the narrative is propelled as much by their tumultuous relationships with their women. Bidita Bag plays the feisty cobbler Babu takes up with, and she’s a good find, confidently holding her own in Nawaz’s presence.
This film is like that pulpy bestseller that’s hard to put down even though it’s predictable and offers nothing by way of insight or profound discovery. It’s a guilty pleasure at best, provocative and titillating. But it’s also overlong and derivative, and gives one of our finest actors little room to do much more than repeat himself.
My problem with this kind of film is the desensitizing effect it tends to have on us with regards to crime and killings. So many shootouts, such scant regard for consequence. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five for Babumoshai Bandookbaaz.