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BABUMOSHAI BANDOOKBAAZ: WESTERN COWBOYS IN INDIAN COUNTRYSIDE

The title itself (Babumoshai Bandookbaaz) of Kushal Nandy ‘s film is fairly indicative of misplaced motif of the movie : it’s neither about still surviving social reverence to Babus who with suffix ‘Moshai’ have been famous segment of Bengal’s bureaucracy and are also referred as Bhadralok – a class equivalent of British gentry of Victorian age; nor its about his wielding bandook or gun in strict sense or a portrayal of a Bengali Babu leaving babudom and becoming a bandit besotted by a bandook or bullets! Instead, the film is about two trigger happy rural lumpen men firing bullets from revolvers and pistols with an occasional telescopic rifle thrown in to comply with the title of ‘bandook’, writes filmonalyst Sushil Kumar.

And symbolically, the disconnect starts from the title and spreads through the entire film.

The film’s multiple plot lines develop along such dichotomous and disconnected directions that they match the meaninglessness mayhem caused by multitudes of bullets fired in every direction, leaving one wondering whether one is watching a thriller or a social docu-drama depiction. The film is basically a medley of motifs of most successful movies made of this particular genre- both in Hollywood or Bollywood.

This film is learning lesson case for students and aspiring film makers; a wonderful illustration of always avoidable attempt to integrate far too many cinematic influences and elements into a single film. As a result, the film ends up appearing like a medley or a massive collage comprising of countless strands taken from the famed scripts, shots/shot making, storylines, screenplays, acting styles, dialogues including mode of dialogue delivery, rural feel and flavor created by location shootings, expletives laden dialogues and the list is endless even though one has excluded assessment of music which too is Billy Sagoo style of modernized medley of old hits.
Let us consider some aspects: as stated, the film is a unprofessional attempt to compress and amalgamate impact of innumerable influences, images, imagery and impressions. The depiction of two trigger happy, one upmanship driven, gunslingers is a straight lift away from numerous movies of cowboy genre (so much so that a protagonist is even shown watching cult cowboy classic The Good, The Bad, the Ugly). Moreover, these two cowboyish characters are transposed on an Indian socio-cultural countryside with almost the same behavior pattern with an intent to create countryside cowboys interested only in guns, girls, glory and golden cash. The film has hardly any connect with Indian rural hinterland setting that causes direct disconnect despite depiction of occasional familiarity with local lingo and mannerisms.

Leaving aside the Hollywood influence, the film could also be seen as a serial extension or country cousin variant cinema of Gangs of Wasseypur (GOW) ; the film has similar use of expletive laden local lingo of eastern India ;small town or qasbah feel conveyed through brick exposed buildings and totally unplanned urban landscape, irregular open drains and on top of it endless shooting between men and gangs ;and if that wasn’t enough , you have Nawazuddin Siddiqui essaying almost déjà vu role of a ruthless killer with a difference ; GOW had a linearly developed storyline, creditably contextualized in coal mafia moneymaking empire that actually existed in reality , wherein gangsters godfathers brooked no challenge to their self declared dominions of dominance that could only be challenged by drama of death; GOW was far superior as it had well etched out characters whereas BB has enigmatic characters without any contextual characterizations except possibly of Jiji (Divya Dutta) that too by showing her household and some people surrounding her and a convincing mustachioed policeman trying to manage a family and a job. At least Anurag Kashyap (director) openly acknowledged the inspiration of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather behind making GOW.
Film is an amateurish attempt to make a copycat cinema of country or western Hollywood film, of yesteryears, by transposing the style and story line on a raw rural Indian hinterland. BB creates the feel and flavor similar to rule of law that prevailed in US Mexico border in nineteenth century; where rule of law is rather maintained by individual gangsters like Babu and where law keepers are behaving like gangsters gone gung-ho and ga ga over freedom to shoot beyond boundaries of both for and against the law. The individualism stand alone seeking revenge is a motif of western movies and is difficult to digest in context of Indian countryside.

Film gives no clues on why Babu (Nawazuddin) grew into a cold blooded contract killer as his social moorings or breaking bond with family/kin/clan that bred bloodthirsty butcher is not touched upon at all. So it is with is his aspirational acolyte Banke Bihari. Both are shown as contract assassins owing allegiance to two parties on opposite side of rural politico rivalry without any clarity of context or causes behind their contests with no consideration to costs. Though bloodletting is alluded to electoral politics, there are no hints whether context is panchayat, assembly or parliamentary contest. This ambiguity persists as besides the local context, no outside players come calling to show any connection that could convey symbiotic links in the chain existing in our hierarchical political landscape.
The film distorts Indian rural reality as it seeks to create Texas text of nineteenth century in twentieth century India and falsely gives a feeling as if guns are available at every corner as revolvers, pistols and telescopic guns are shown lying in every corner. Of course, country made pistols and revolvers are available easily but not to the extent the proponent Babu purports to convey.

The film also misses to allude to the matters at stake in rural contest for which all proceed on a murderous spree at a drop of a hat/word. The usual allusions to ubiquitous matrix of feudal feuds and caste cauldron fuelled by fights over land ownership or dispossession, caste domination determined on ritual principles or assertion of rights and fights by disadvantaged are not touched upon at all; these issues are simply passed over as their treatment would have needed nuanced narrative- unlike the Hollywood cowboy gunslingers on shootout who either are bounty hunters or are seeking vengeance for atrocities against friends and families. In Western films, the individual heroism of bounty hunters or gold diggers has roots in history but gun shooters is jarring in India’ rural collectivism where such lone shooters would be shot straightaway.

In fact ,in rural hinterland, the rape of the cobbler girl by three and her living alone thereafter without family is too far removed from rural reality; and so is story of the other girl who suffered the sexual transgressions of a chacha and chose to live with a criminal. Portrayal of women with strong appetite for drinking, smoking and uninhibited sex is fine in cowboy films but its senseless transposition on real rural India social landscape can’t really be lauded.

For long in rural or semi urban areas, motorcycle specially was Royal Enfield Bullet carried an uncanny association with contractor cum gangster class and was depicted in cinema as such and BB carries this trend though modern bikes are also shown indicating how in rural areas these are becoming mass consumer items of convenience.
Perhaps Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen first truly reflected the real rural reality on India when it depicted the horrors of child marriage cum marital rape and child’s revulsion and revolt against such atrocities. It also depicted caste subjugation and violence including mass rape and revenge with State standing as easy bystander. It also used the local dialect laced with expletives and with actual shooting in Chambal ravines, the film brought dust and grime and grim rural reality to global audience. BB’s location shooting and use of local dialect incorporates this influence.

BB has also incorporated influence of Ishquiya in terms of local dialect and location shooting in small town. Besides, the wooing the same woman by guru and chela and revenge sought by the wronged woman through the criminals is a replication.

The scenes of shooting at railway drop gates are an old motif taken from countless movies including GOW. The drinking sessions over old dilapidated railway bridges is straight take away from film Omkara where Saif and Dobriyal drink in darkness.

In rural society the paid assassin as individual is still unknown and unless aligned with social group. Indian films have long highlighted individual, wronged by feudal social system, seeking revenge from the system by becoming a bandit or a Baaghi (Mujhe Jeeno Do, Bandit Queen, Paan Singh Tomar) but with expansion of Indian State, individual rebel motif got muted and rebellion became driven more by social group like Maoists, Naxals etc. For this reason, the rejection, rebellion, revolt and retreat of an individual lost its appeal in cinema as well. With decentralization of Indian democracy, these individuals got incorporated into electoral politics though still existing on edges, encouraged to enter the arena on need basis. Babu of BB is one such example taken to extremes for dramatic effect on celluloid.

The film’s story line also borrows the motif of violence begets violence with the murdered couple’s kid pointing gun on the only surviving assassin and the sound of bang bringing the fade out to finish the film( Nayakan/Dayavan takeaway) .Even the burial of lady don in sand surrounded by scorpions is a mixed motif borrowed from countless cowboy films.

It is rare that in a rural feudal landscape a lady runs an empire relying on paid assassins as shown in BB. But the story doesn’t indicate any detail of the evil empire she is running with hoodlums and police in pockets. There is no mention of what are the spoils of local war as Divya Dutta is shown as occupying a position of power- political or traditional empire bequeathed by her father. This is a Shabana Azmi’s Godmother reincarnate in rural setting but that film had a real story to tell. In fact, the setting intended to convey woman domination is unreal and rare in rural setting where panchayat elections are still to shake off the grip the males still have by fighting while keeping females in front.

The mindlessness of movie making must have become very clear in middle of senseless shootings and for that reason the story tries clichéd misunderstandings between two assassins to drag the drama beyond intermission. What else but clichéd turns are tried? attempted assassination by one of another and intervention of eight years and memory loss to build suspense. But the film fails to build curiosity due to still continuing senseless violence and mindlessness murdering without any cause.

It seems the film unquestionably accepted the premise of withering of an Indian State in the hinterland, as story line has only bad cops bothering about birth of children or protecting the warlords and hardly having any institutional backup like police station to sit in for at least for formality. BB has totally done away with role of cops like in Bandit Queen or Paan Singh Tomar where police at least come visiting in the end ; if one takes this film symbolically than the end is policeman’s role in rural India is evident everywhere.

Despite professed claim of cine realism, the pelvic thrusts and gyrations of usual Hindi film is depicted with gay abandon and even a song is takeaway on Shilpa Shetty singing away ‘ aayey hain Bihar lootney’. It also has uninhabited cleavage showing by both women as wooing motif as well as depiction of liberation of lady’s libido and lip locks mirroring cowboy movies. Despite such depiction, the passion in personal relationships of two assassins seems contrived and unreal.

Film dialogues have eastern UP and Bihar flavour and have all elements of what is called rangbaazi where just a provocative slur can lead to violence.
Looks like the film was originally scheduled to be shot in rural Bengal and hence the name; though the social cultural setting was changed to Bihar and one wonders how the film would have looked in context of Bengal countryside. The film achieved some notoriety in Chitrangda Singh walking away from the film. Nawazuddin interpreted it be her rejection to do amorous scenes with him; one can guess that even she would have been repulsed by the senseless shooting and senseless sex scenes and chose to walk away.

Despite its ambitious attempt to amalgamate strands of famous Hollywood films, the film is no patch on such works and ends up merely as a poor patchwork; it’s a hodgepodge and dodges all that can be done to make a good cinema. May be, there is too much attempt at cerebralism in celebrating such cinemography. The film can be also termed as a tribute to Tarentino style of cinema whose best example Pulp Fiction has similar storyline of senseless paid shooters which people liked perhaps its links with American reality.

Women’s social and sexual liberation is still a dream in rural countryside that still has segregated sex roles. The portrayal of both girls as liberated and seeking and indulging in uninhibited sex in rural context seems unreal. Though films like Angry Indian Goddesses, Parched and Lipstick Under My Burkha depict women’s attempt at libidinal liberation but they allude to urban reality and taking this aspiration to UP Bihar ( where such simple act as choosing a partner in matrimony can lead to honour killing)interiors is still way off and unconvincing.

The inspector on side of Jiji is brilliant in portraying an archetypical pot belied policeman who is unshaven, and has half opened shirt as uniform. It seems he is equally amused by his role of acting as protector of law as well as protecting the law breakers. His character is slightly etched out through his occasional visits to home for conjugal continuation is funny; he seems to have infinite capacity to procreate for both pleasure and posterity. He is symptomatic of policeman unable to complain about contradiction in commitment to protect as well destroy law in countryside Copland.

I had stated about the segmentation of cinematic landscape of Hindi cinema in my article on Bareilly ki Barfi.One should not forget that UP and Bihar’s population is nearly one third of India’s population. The socio cultural setting and dialect will surely appeal to fast emerging townsfolk who can’t easily relate to Shah Rukh Khan or Ranbir Kapoor elitist storylines. The multiplex visiting middle class wouldn’t appreciate the class act of Nawazuddin but BB and films like Bareilly ki Barfi will surely have successful runs in single screen cinemas of countryside.
The film plot lines can’t hold spectator’s interest as it’s like watching episodic events with no sequential sense. Though the film has basically linearly developing storyline, the film resorts to minor flashbacks and seeks to create suspense when plot lines weaken; after all, how many times can you just fire away senselessly.
Film also uses clichéd use of students/gangsters for political ends by two rival political camps as a suspense thread. Its earlier use was in Shashi Kapoor New Delhi Times and was repeated in Sunny Deol’s Arjun in mid eighties and was recently used in films like Raees.

The film uses woman’s admiration of male body while bathing that basically started in Aruna Raje’ Rihaee where lady is admiring Vinod Khanna’s body while washing. The film also has constant use of cell phone and for real effect not once the film shows fall in call drop or auto disconnection that exists even in metros. The fear induced urinating in first shots is takeaway of several Hollywood films including shown in the Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.
The movie can be called a meaningless movie making attempt in showing mayhem. As stated it’s a medley movie and a collage containing what’s liked best in best cinemas.

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