In an interview I did with Ranveer Singh, the actor described the brief that director Shaad Ali gave him on the sets of the upcoming Kill Dill. The one line instruction was: Just Bachchan it, baby! Ranveer should have no problem with that, because he’s already Bachchaned the hell out of his role in Gunday.
Gunday, directed and written by Ali Abbas Zafar, is an unabashed love letter to the 1970s, the height of our romance with Amitabh Bachchan’s Angry Young Man. A time when heroes, even if they were criminals, were honourable men. When friendship was bigger than love. When the system was always the biggest criminal.
Though the story is set in the 1980s, Zafar recreates a classic ’70s vibe with punchy dialogue-baazi, scenes designed to make you applaud and a relentless background score by Julius Packiam that underlines every beat just in case you missed a high note. Gunday is all slow-motion and swagger, with nods to Deewaar, Sholay, Kaala Patthar, Kabhi Kabhie and sprinkles of John Woo’s doves and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
This masala mix works for the first half — Ranveer and Arjun Kapoor are electric as Bikram and Bala, two Bangladeshi refugees who are inducted in childhood into a life of crime. The story is both implausible and clumsy, but sheer attitude — or tevar, as we are reminded repeatedly — pulls it together.
Gunday is an affectionate collection of clichés. I think most of you will figure out what’s coming before it does. But in the second half, when Bikram and Bala are at each other’s throats, the film loses its spell.
The narrative momentum is broken by unnecessary songs and a prolonged Bikram-Bala fight, in which Zafar succumbs to the Salman Khan rule — eventually, shirts come off and well-oiled chests are hurled against each other. Still, I enjoyed Gunday because of Ranveer and Arjun.
Priyanka Chopra kills it in one nicely written, emotional stand-off scene, Irrfan Khan brings a sly amusement to his role of the cop assigned to break Bikram and Bala, and Saurabh Shukla deserves special mention; he shines in a brief role as the hapless lawyer assigned to make the boys somehow legal. But this film would be dead on arrival without the energy of the male leads — even when they are hamming, and they ham often, they are doing it with glorious style. Of the three stars for Gunday, one is for Ranveer and Arjun.