Initially, on paper at least, Guddu Rangeela seemed mildly promising. Director Subhash Kapoor had made two uneven but enjoyable social comedies, Phas Gaye Re Obama and Jolly LLB. This one was rumoured to be in the same vein and starred Arshad Warsi, who suffers through more bad movies with less damage to his reputation than any actor working in Hindi cinema today. Then came the warning signs. The tendency nowadays is to stuff all the best lines into the film’s promos. If you find yourself cringing during the trailer, you can be sure you’ll be doing a lot of that while watching the film.

Rangeela (Warsi) and Guddu (Amit Sadh) are two small-time crooks wandering around Haryana. In urgent need of money, they reluctantly take on what seems to be a straightforward kidnapping assignment: Pick up a deaf-mute girl, return her to her family and collect the money from Bangali (Dibyendu Bhattacharya), who does “PR for the underworld". Yet, once they land in Shimla with their hostage, they realize that the girl (Aditi Rao Hydari) can not only hear, but she’s the one who masterminded the kidnapping. Turns out she wants their help to blackmail her brother-in-law, a khap leader and minor politician who has killed, at different points in time, her sister, Guddu’s father and Rangeela’s wife. It also turns out her name is Baby. I honestly don’t know which revelation is more shocking.

The brother-in-law is played by Ronit Roy—and if there’s one Bollywood actor who needs a change of pace, it’s him. It’s not just that he plays a rage-filled borderline psychotic in every film he does; the problem is his presence, central to films such as Udaan and Ugly, robs films such as Guddu Rangeela of their fun. This is essentially a lesser Ishqiya, and it deserved an Ishqiya-style villain—sardonic, slightly comical. Instead, we get Raging Ronit, burning and killing and glowering, forcing the heroes to also burn and kill and glower.

There’s a lot else that’s wrong with Guddu Rangeela. Logical sinkholes open up along the surface of the plot; the humour is mostly SMS-level; Guddu asks Baby “Degi?" and “Legi?"—easily the worst trend Chetan Bhagat has initiated; and there’s a lot of anti-khap sermonizing, which no one can take seriously coming from a film like this. All the audience gets is a couple of small victories. There’s some nice work on the edges by character actors such as Bhattacharya, Brijendra Kala and Rajiv Gupta. The camerawork by Jamie Fowlds is flashy and impressive; he seems particularly fond of aerial shots and brings a jumpy energy to some of the action scenes. As for Warsi, he doesn’t embarrass himself (he rarely does), but the film doesn’t tap either his comic skills or his shaggy charm, and ends up with very little to watch.

Guddu Rangeela released in theatres on Friday

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