In Wrong Side Raju, when Raju Bambani (Pratik Gandhi) goes to his former employer Amitabh Shah (Asif Basra) seeking urgent financial help, he is readily offered money. Moments later, Raju is told what he is required to do in return—turn himself in for a crime possibly committed by Shah’s son. A shocked Raju rejects the offer and walks off. As he is about to leave the shiny office cabin, as though he has forgotten something, he pauses and turns back. Has he changed his mind? We see stacks of cash still lying, tucked in a cheap, worn-out cloth bag. We realise he has come back for the latter. The walk back could have been such a crackling moment—a symbolic drawing of battle lines between Raju and Shah, who belong to the two extremes of the film’s socio-economic spectrum. Shah is a high-profile advocate and a real estate mogul and Raju, a driver by the day and a bootlegger by night. But it is spoiled when Raju spells it out—“I’ve come back to take my bag". The tonal shift is jarring and the scene is emblematic of a larger issue with Wrong Side Raju. It shows the hard edges of a complex-plotted crime thriller but dilutes them by dumbing down things it doesn’t need to explain.

Raju’s intimacy with Shailey (Kimberley Louisa McBeath) the half-French girl travelling alone in Ahmedabad, for instance, feels like it belongs to another film. They get close much too easily. It is too dreamy to be true in the film’s world where the interaction of characters from different social backgrounds are treated with certain realism.

The Gujarati language film revolves around an accident that takes place in a highway one night killing two people and injuring one. Initially, it is Shah’s bratty, foreign-returned son Tanmay (Kavi Shastri) who is the prime suspect. But at the same time, Raju, whose scooter, with scotch bottles and all, is mysteriously found in the crime scene is taken in charges of selling illicit liquor. Writer-director Mikhil Mushale, along with co-writers Karan Vyas and Niren Bhatt, employ a fragmented, non-linear narrative to tell the story in two tracks—before and after the accident. But it becomes too convoluted to keep track of the events. A puzzling narrative such as this would have been redeemed by an ending that satisfyingly ties up the loose threads. But the big reveal in Wrong Side Raju is convenient and rushed. The reason we don’t buy it is the lead character’s failure to convince us that he is capable of doing certain things. Raju is shown to have interesting dualities—a bootlegger who doesn’t drink; an ambitious, enterprising baniya who is also a hapless, innocent romantic. Gandhi, a refreshingly “normal"-looking hero with a Dhanush vibe, plays it earnestly. But he is unable to bring the ambiguity required for the role.

The directors, writers and producers of this film are a bunch of film-makers who have ushered in a new-age sensibility in Gujarati cinema by picking up themes and stories relevant for the urban demographic. Wrong Side Raju is a first in Gujarati cinema in many ways—for instance, in the way it is shot (by Tribhuvan Babu, the cinematographer of Anurag Kashyap’s TV series Yudh) and given a sophisticated album (lovely songs by Sachin-Jigar, but an overbearing background score). But it has to up its game to make its presence felt among the vibrant, new regional cinemas of the country.

Wrong Side Raju released in theatres on Friday

Close