Kushan Nandy’s Babumoshai Bandookbaaz is a low-calorie version of Gangs of Wasseypur. The dusty and lawless north Indian hinterland is ruled by corrupt politicians and equally dodgy policemen who allow contract killers like Babu Bihari (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) to run around unfettered. Here, men treat women as chattel and bullets as currency.

In this terrain, the ones who get caught in the crosshairs of rival political entities (Divya Dutta and Anil George) are two competing shooters—Babu Bihari and the younger operator, Banke Bihari (Jatin Goswami).

Nandy takes time to put all the pieces in play, testing the viewer’s patience in the bargain, and yet the characters and their motivations hardly manage to connect with the viewer. Part of the weakness may be apportioned to the inadequate explanation of Babu’s origins and his transformation into this coveted gun for hire. We hear snatches of the story when Babu meets his nemesis Banke, who has modelled himself on him. Babu’s ego is sufficiently stoked and he soon accepts Banke as his student. As friends, Babu brings Banke home and introduces him to the love of his life, Phulwa (Bidita Bag).

However, student and mentor are pitted against one another when hired for the same job. A friendly wager soon goes wrong. There’s deceit, connivance, retribution and deference to the karmic cycle (what goes around, comes around) as killers are romanticised and their romances depicted as rough and ready. But one thing’s for sure—no one can be trusted.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui reprises a character we have already seen him invent, perfect, and now simply redo. He’s fearless, arrogant and calm; he coldly shoots his targets, delivers dialogue for maximum effect, with a wicked smile teasing the corners of his mouth, swagger, fake Ray Bans and all. Goswami is a fitting sparring partner for Siddiqui and brings a likeable quality to his roguish Banke. Bag is sufficiently sensual, Dutta requisitely assertive.

Bullets fly fast and furious and every character is touched by greed and madness. A cop is a baby-making machine, another cop has a prostrate problem and the women call the shots on who dies. If only there had been more life in this story and its telling.

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