Yash Raj Films (YRF) has a reputation for squeezing more than one movie out of a single story idea. There is a wild story, probably untrue but entertaining nonetheless, that Bunty aur Babli and Jhoom Barabar Jhoom were actually meant to be one film about a pair of con artistes who tell tall tales about their successes. Punjab appears in so many YRF films, from Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge to Dil Bole Hadippa!, that you can take a mustard field from one movie, put it into another and not tell the difference. The banner’s most recent release, Badmaash Company, borrows ideas from both Bunty aur Babli and Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year. The movie is about a bunch of individuals led by a street-smart character (Shahid Kapoor) who bend the rules to make big bucks.
Badmaash Company taps into a national obsession with scams and scamsters, which endures despite the knowledge that the culprits are rarely penalized. Of late, sting operations featuring acts of consensual sex seem to have taken precedence over exposés of corruption, but there is nothing quite as arousing as watching several cash bundles being excavated from the innards of a government official’s double bed. Since law enforcement seems to follow the ancient Hindu calendar rather than the Gregorian one, we have to be content with a few moments of embarrassment followed by prolonged delays in uncovering the truth. That’s why the heist movie has limited success in Hindi cinema.
In older Hindi films, the cops would show up after the hero had bashed the villains to pulp. In real life, the cops are at the crime scene within minutes, but are unable to prosecute the baddies because of their inability to build a proper case despite possessing the necessary evidence. The crime thriller in India suffers the same fate as the detective novel. The knowledge that the villains may never be jailed makes a happy ending well nigh impossible.
The scamsters: Kapoor (second from right) in Badmaash Company.
Crime capers from the 1970s operated within a hermetically sealed world that bore almost no relation to the real world. The garish gambling dens and luridly lit hotels within which antisocial behaviour was practised were far removed from reality. As Hindi cinema tries to become more realistic and thereby more convincing, it’s getting tougher to pull off the perfect hit. Dhoom just about worked because it was set in real locations in Mumbai; Dhoom:2 had to relocate to another country altogether to allow Hrithik Roshan’s character to execute his robberies.
We spent several decades allegedly suffering under the mixed economy that ruled our fortunes from independence right until the late 1980s. India is now ranked as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In a city like Mumbai, there is a palpable sense of urgency to compensate for decades of government-imposed deprivation and use all possible means to get ahead. The billionaire is one of the new heroes of the Indian success story. Bollywood may never produce a Wall Street, since viewers are probably too envious of the local Gordon Gekkos to condemn their methods. One of the greatest corporate heist movies in recent times is actually Guru, which rewards the crooked ways of its industrialist hero and justifies his actions as a necessary consequence of restrictive government policies. We took years to fall in love with the system. Why would we now want to beat it?
Badmaash Company released in theatres on Friday.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org