(Disclosure: The writer is a big fan of the Director owing to their common city of origin: Allahabad.)
The first 5 minutes of Bullet Raja has a song called Don’t touch my body which is so ill-composed, so ill-shot that you know you are in for a long film. Patience levels are alerted at once. Mercifully, the film is bearable.
The story is about Raja Mishra, played by Saif Ali Khan. He is your average ‘UP’ guy. Which means he is jobless; looking for an opportunity. He meets Rudra (Jimmy Sheirgill), who becomes Jai to his Veeru. They are taken as ‘political commandos’ by a politician (played by Raj Babbar). So far, so good.
But the second half is such a disaster that you are taken off-guard. Plotwise, the second half is the last 10 minutes of Sholay.
Tigmanshu Dhulia has a unique style of filmmaking. He mixes heartland politics with a modern-day narrative style; but employs 70s touches in his one-liners. Till now, most of his films have got the balance just right, except Shagird and Charas: A Joint Effort. But this one goes awry.
He tries to bring out caste politics in north India. Fair enough. The film is set in the capital city Lucknow (which is well shot). Every character has a surname to notice, prominently the protagonist who wears his Brahmin-ness on his sleeve. Dhulia has even got a solid ‘buddy’ setting but it doesn’t go too far. One has to read too much because nothing is overt. And unfortunately, too much subtlety is not Dhulia’s strength. Sample this line:
Brahmin jab bhookha toh Sudama, jab rootha toh Raavan.
The film works only when such lines are thrown in, which isn’t too often. That is a big shame, considering Dhulia has flair for writing great one-liners. Watch Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns for that.
Jimmy Sheirgill is the only actor who makes his character work and he does it effortlessly. His ‘achcha achcha theek hai’ is wonderful. All others, including Saif Ali Khan, suffer from indifference. And what worse sign do you need of a film when the title role, played by a senior actor, goes so wrong. Is he the same actor who played the marvellous Langda Tyagi in Omkara? He is never in the film. The coolness doesn’t work. Lesser said about the hairstyle and beard, the better. Continuity, anyone? Sonakshi Sinha was also spotted somewhere.
What could have been a pointed commentary on caste politics in the mainstream is reduced to a simple vengeance tale. And even that doesn’t work. Dhulia can’t be accused of not putting in the effort but the result is too negligible. Time for some fresh air?
Raja Mishra, if only you had delivered on the promise. Garmi nahi badha paye, Bullet Raja.
(Amit Upadhyaya is a student of journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. By his own admission, however, he tries to spend most of his waking hours over Bollywood – analyzing, watching, and planning future movies.)