Fans of Dhulia, Saif, weep: Bullett Raja is a disaster
It'll take more than one disaster before I wash my hands of Dhulia. Let's just call this one a small mistake and wait for his next great film.
It sounded like a cool pairing — the darkly fun Tigmanshu Dhulia, coming off Paan Singh Tomar and Saheb Biwi and Gangster Returns, in collaboration with Saif Ali Khan playing a pulpy goonda. It pains me to say that despite a few fun moments, Bullett Raja is a stale and forgettable movie.
I love Tigmanshu Dhulia. I love that he'll go to any extent to craft a funny line, and he really knows how to construct Virat Hindu Villains. Having said that, his latest movie has a crossroad. On one hand you could call Bullett Raja better than most Simbly South-remakes because it avoids the grating visual tackiness of that genre. On the other hand you could call this film the worst Dhulia flick because it takes a clever concept and does nothing with it.
The hero Raja is an Uttar Pradesh ka goonda: a bearded, henna dyed, Bullet-riding, chick magnet macho man. Raja sucks at love, plots revenge, and — well, let's just say Bullett Raja doesn't exactly work either as a throwback or as a dark comedy thriller.
As pulpy entertainment, it fares even worse. The movie is called Bullett Raja, but the hero doesn’t do anything awesome with his Royal Enfield or his revolver’s bullets. Khan plays a cocksure swaggerer with Jimmy Sheirgill as his bestie, and together they are a UP goonda gang, wandering from place to place, perpetually doing gangstergiri. On paper, this works but not on screen. Khan and Sheirgill just mumble and snore their way through the movie, which doesn’t help us care for this unexciting duo. There’s Ravi Kishan who dresses up as a woman and at one point is shown having sex with a sari-clad woman — stuff like this fails to either funny or pulpy. Every UP-wale-daakoo character waddles onto the screen and snoozes through the set pieces.
None of the rhythm or panache or any trace of the naughtiness of Dhulia’s earlier films can be glimpsed here. There's a flimsy plot about Raja trying to find a job and being forced into goondagardi, but it exists only as a coat hanger on which to hang a random and disjointed series of skits. Toss in a horrendous score by Sajid-Wajid and you're looking at one hot mess of a movie.
Once all the boring ‘backstory’ bits are dealt with in the first half you'll be treated to a short series of dialoguebaazi that doubles as action sequences – Khan vs Chunky Pandey, Khan vs Raj Babbar, Khan vs Vipin Sharma. And after Sonakshi Sinha as Mitali the Bong actress and love interest moves in with Khan and Shergill (after having met them once, that too in a kidnapping scenario), the film gets all deep and serious as if it expects you to find and extract sincere emotion from these terribly-written characters.
Occasionally, we're offered Dhulia’s clever one-liners, but they’re offset by the wearisome look of the film. Lensed in bland shots (some characters speak directly into the camera with grim faces), Bullett Raja even looks like an unimaginative movie. Combine this dreary visual style with a deafening tone that reeks of Prabhudeva’s masterpieces, and you have what could be a textbook definition of a stillborn action comedy, also known as Bullett Raja.
Khan struts through Bullett Raja while labouring under the impression that acting is optional in this movie. We’ve seen what he is capable of in Omkara, and he was pretty darn good in Ek Haseena Thi, but he is miscast as Raja and just can’t pull off a showy gun trotting slightly OTT gangsta without coming across as farcical.
As for Sonakshi, after seeing her nuanced performance in Lootera it looked like she was moving beyond the cash grabby roles, but Bullet Raja marks her worst performance to date. The very pretty Vidyut Jammwal wanders through the latter half film doing kung fu kicks, careful to never take the spotlight away from the camera-hogging superstar hero. If there's one universal rule of Bollywood filmmaking it is this: if you cast Gulshan Grover in your movie, you better give the guy some good material to work with. Bullett Raja manages to make even Grover seem tedious, and for that, I dislike the film even more.
Did I laugh a few times? Absolutely. Like when Khan escaped those chasing him by jumping through a glass window and when he landed people around him started clapping. Give Dhulia a Word document and put Khan on the camera for 138 minutes, and you're bound to find a few giggles in the footage. But the laughs delivered in this film are painfully few and far in between. But it'll take more than one disaster before I wash my hands of Dhulia. Let's just call this one a small mistake and wait for his next great film.
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