The writing and direction of Tigmanshu Dhulia, in the two sassy Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster films (2011, 2013) and Paan Singh Tomar (2010) recently, usually enforce detailed characterization. In all his films, we have seen hearty and full-bodied characters who are true to the milieu they are set in but who stand out because of their own caprices and development in the story.
His new film Bullett Raja strays far from the work he has built so far. It is a wishy-washy mix of two brazen hinterland heroes’ misadventures, a revenge drama, and a soap-opera style, hackneyed depiction of Uttar Pradesh politics. Dhulia’s dialogues (he has co-written the screenplay and written the dialogues) are insipid, and the humour, perhaps intended to be madcap, borders on the imbecile. The lead characters, Raja (Saif Ali Khan) and Rudra (Jimmy Shergill), are mere vehicles to keep a muddled narrative afloat. They have no signature quirk, as pulp heroes would demand.
Gunshots go off from the opening scenes, when Raja joins a wedding party to escape from a group of goons. It happens to be the wedding of Rudra’s sister. Both men quite inexplicably become fast friends, vowing to protect each other. The political players of the state—it could well have been set in Mayawati’s UP—adopt the two trigger-happy men and promise Raja the revenge he is seeking from a local businessman. Thereafter, a predictable sequence of events follows. Raja falls in love with a a dim-witted Bengali woman (Sonakshi Sinha), who hails from a zamindari family in Kolkata and is alone in Lucknow looking for a movie role. Raja’s opponents are a young and ardent, stunt-sporting police officer who tames a group of dacoits in Chambal (Vidyut Jamwal), a politician’s former flunky in hibernation as Radha (Ravi Kissen) and the politician himself (Raj Babbar), an epitome of all the stereotypes associated with a neta from UP.
Khan’s performance is a poor mimic of a Salman Khan staple. He seems sorely mismatched to the role, with awkward body language and speech. There’s nothing memorable about Shergill’s performance either; he seems to have slumbered through the role. After her splendid performance in Lootera, Sinha fits right in, in a lame and replaceable bimbo role. Kissen and Babbar play the only convincing characters in the film.
Technically, the film has some finesse, but nothing, including the stunt direction, editing or cinematography, is dazzling enough to remember. The cardboard montages of Kolkata include Durga idols, trams and, believe it or not, Missionaries of Charity nuns.
The only remotely interesting thing about this film is the gay subtext. Rudra and Raja have some moments together—although that’s not reason enough to watch this klutzy hybrid.
Bullett Raja released in theatres on Friday