There’s some good ol’ fashioned earnestness at the core of writer-director Rensil D’silva’s Ungli, but the film is so steeped in naiveté and trades in such simplistic solutions, it’s as if you’re listening to a Class V moral science lesson. Best known for co-writing the screenplay of Rang De Basanti, D’silva borrows that film’s controversial vigilante justice resolution and uses it as the bedrock of this story. Except that the tone here is deliberately comedic, and taps into a wish-fulfillment fantasy that many will likely relate to.

Incensed by a personal tragedy, and disillusioned by a system that does little to protect the basic rights of a citizen, four friends – crime reporter Abhay (Randeep Hooda), medical intern Maya (Kangana Ranaut), computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam), and car mechanic Kalim (Angad Bedi) – turn into masked vigilantes by night, dispensing their unique brand of justice to errant folks. There’s an unmistakable thrill in watching the gang stuff wads of notes down the throats of corrupt traffic cops, or strap explosives on the chests of bribe-seeking government servants. But even as their legend grows, and they’re dubbed the ‘Ungli gang’ after their preferred symbol, upright cop ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt) is assigned to bust their heroics. Emraan Hashmi’s in the film too, as Nikhil, the sort of truant junior police officer who fakes a bomb scare at a women’s hostel so he can get some cozy time with his girlfriend. Recruited by Kale to help him, Nikhil infiltrates the gang, but expectedly he finds himself conflicted when it’s time to give up his new friends.
It all moves along predictably in D’silva’s lazy screenplay, which is stuffed with pointless subplots including a romantic track between Hooda’s slick TV journo and a female colleague (Neha Dhupia) who’s following the Ungli gang story. The dialogues in the film are particularly corny, so much so that every other gem uttered by the actors has a reverse effect on the viewer. Lines intended to choke you up will have you chuckling in your seat, while that steady supply of smart-alec one-liners will have you rolling your eyes in disbelief. Pray how do you keep a straight face when Dutt looks somberly into Hashmi’s eyes and says, “Aansoo se sirf whisky dilute hoti hai”?
The film comes entirely undone in its second hour as the plotting gets more and more harebrained. You’re expected to believe that Dutt’s greying veteran cop is shaken up on discovering that his seniors in the force aren’t evangelical angels but corrupt thugs in khaki. Basic logic takes a serious beating in scenes where a high-stakes fixer (played nicely by Mahesh Manjrekar) allows anyone who’s making a cash deposit with him to take a tour of his loaded private vault. This is escapist, masala Hindi filmmaking so we’re not meant to bat an eyelid when the Ungli gang outsmarts practically the entire police force in a scenario so improbable you exasperatedly throw your hands up in the air.
Of the cast, only Randeep Hooda makes any impression as the practical-minded leader of this vigilante gang. Kangana Ranaut surprisingly goes missing midway through the film, only to show up in the end again, but with little to do. She’s the token female member of a gang that wants you to know they believe in inclusion.
The only bits that do work in Ungli are the seemingly unscripted lighter moments between the friends, and of course the scenes in which everyone from political bullies to sadistic auto-rickshaw drivers are brought to task in imaginative ways. The film’s overarching theme – of making offenders accountable – will no doubt resonate, but there had to be a more intelligent way to tackle the same idea.
I’m going with two out of five for Ungli. It’s well-intentioned but utterly muddled.

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