Bunty Aur Babli: As the sequel releases, throwback to the roaring, restless energy of the first part

The charm of Bunty Aur Babli was that despite its complex themes, it wore a veneer of restless, reckless energy, which did not just make for an entertaining film but also a sharp piece of filmmaking.

Paulami Das November 17, 2021 08:08:49 IST
Bunty Aur Babli: As the sequel releases, throwback to the roaring, restless energy of the first part

Out of all the sequels that Bollywood, perennially in love with stretching a hilarious idea thin, has subjected us in the last couple of years, no film has deserved a sequel as much as Bunty aur Babli (2005). The movie, about the exploits of Bunty and Babli, a couple who run a series of cons while being hunted down by an irascible police officer, was first-rate nonsensical entertainment.

It starred Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji as the central foul-mouthed couple, Amitabh Bachchan at the peak of his irreverence, and Aishwarya Rai (yet to be Bachchan) in an item song that set the template for a coy seductress. It was like being invited into a cinematic universe that was unabashed about its comic exaggerations — a rich world built on artifice that did not take itself seriously and knew, more than anything, how to have fun. I would go as far as saying that Bunty aur Babli walked so Band Baaja Baaraat (2010) could walk.

Infact, the film was a cinematic universe unto itself, an Indianised Bonnie and Clyde crime caper with touches of absurd rib-tickling humour (in one gag, the duo con the seventh richest man in the world to take the Taj Mahal on a five-year lease for an unimaginable amount of money); a loop-worthy soundtrack that defined the sound of the decade; outlandish fashion that became a maker of social currency; dialogue that were catchphrases (It is hard to beat Amitabh Bachchan saying “Madam, I’m your only Adam!”) — all topped off with a tempering of nakhra. Bunty aur Babli was Shaad Ali at his best — a statement that you do not get to make everyday, right after an atrocious first season of Call My Agent: Bollywood.

Its sequel, Bunty aur Babli 2, feels like a distant, self-conscious cousin. The film seems like it wants to be its own beast: besides Rani Mukherji and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, the sequel does not retain any of its old players.

Bunty Aur Babli As the sequel releases throwback to the roaring restless energy of the first part

Ali is replaced by debutante director Varun V Sharma, who also supplied the screenplay (the original was written with wit and verve by Jaideep Sahni). The film trades Abhishek Bachchan for Saif Ali Khan, a decision I am actually on board with. Not only is Khan a far superior actor than Bachchan but he is arguably the only leading hero of his generation with an inimitable comic timing, a trait that the sequel could really gain from. Sharma’s script adds a new conning couple (played by Gully Boy’s Siddhant Chaturvedi and newcomer Sharvari) and an age-difference into the mix, which depending on the approach, could either complicate matters or condense them.

There is a cop even here, except he does not have a Shahenshah-esque baritone, played instead by Pankaj Tripathi, who if the trailer is anything to go by, essays the role with his trademark gentle comedy, ditching the masculine braggado that became synonymous with Amitabh’s turn. Aki Narula’s avante-garde street fashion genes are nowhere to be found, which perhaps is a good sign for tailors across the country who will not be bombarded with innumerable requests to stitch yellow Bunty aur Babli suits — collared short kurtis an inch longer than a top accompanied with a pleated, colourful patialas — this time around.

Bunty Aur Babli As the sequel releases throwback to the roaring restless energy of the first part

The main challenge with trying to cash in on the nostalgia and cult reputation that Bunty Aur Babli amassed over 16 years later is walking the delicate line between theatrical comedy and a commentary about social inequities. Under the litany of set-pieces and gags, the film had a solid core — one that underlined their conning ways as a device of vigilante justice while foregrounding the dissatisfaction of small-town youth.

The charm of Bunty Aur Babli was that despite its complex themes, it wore a veneer of restless, reckless energy, which did not just make for an entertaining film but also a sharp piece of filmmaking.

The reason Bunty Aur Babli endures all these years later is because of the immersive quality of its details. The lived-in rustic quality of its small-town settings — Fursatganj (loosely translated to a town where everyone has a lot of free time) and Pankinagar (loosely translated to a town where one yearns to be free) — rooted the film firmly in an earthy, small-town authenticity. That in turn gave the split personality disorder that permeated the film, both in terms of Bunty and Babli’s dual identities (before they started conning, they were just small-town dreamers Rakesh Trivedi and Vimmi Saluja), and their small-town aspirations of making it in a big city, an added poignancy. The film was stylistic to a fault, and the frenetic energy of its pacing matched the speed of its proceedings.

Bunty Aur Babli As the sequel releases throwback to the roaring restless energy of the first part

This was a film that wore its illogical ways proudly on its sleeve, confident in the debauchery it was up to on screen. To achieve that, you do not just need an intelligent filmmaker but also someone who can make going over the top look like the only way to be. That is to say, that what Bunty and Babli achieved was convincing viewers that the infectious, loud tone of the film was the most appropriate language for its universe.

The best way Bunty Aur Babli demonstrated that was through its infectious, loud, and rollicking soundtrack. An economical album made of just six tracks, the music of the film had a personality and an ear for sound. It was impossible to not start humming any of the songs if you were to randomly read the names of these songs or even think of them. (I am singing 'Nach Baliye' in my head as I write this). Bunty Aur Babli songs acted as extended dialogue for the characters, conveying their inner desires, frustration, and motivations with a wink, and were integral to adding body to the narrative.

Bunty Aur Babli As the sequel releases throwback to the roaring restless energy of the first part

That can hardly be said about the soundtrack of the sequel, which is lacklustre and immensely boring. It is the kind of soundtrack that desperately wants to be cool, and becomes uncool simply because the effort shows. In both these soundtracks lie the tale of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s most exciting and most disappointing work. Then again, at least there is no autotuned Tanaish Bagchi remix of 'Kajra Re.' That is surely a good start.

Bunty Aur Babli 2 releases in cinemas tomorrow on 19 November.

Poulomi Das is a film and culture writer, critic, and programmer. Follow more of her writing on Twitter.

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