Guns & Gulaabs review: This explosive cast of Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan deserved a better Raj & DK series
Guns & Gulaabs review: This explosive cast of Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan deserved a far better Raj & DK seri
At one point in the trailer of Raj & DK's gangster comedy Guns & Gulaabs, a character demands, “Iss story ka point kya hai?” I think it's a fair question to ask the makers of series like The Family Man and Farzi. I'm all for Raj & DK getting crores as budget, hours of screentime, and a cast as dynamic as this, but their concoction of all of the above never remains consistently fun and wacky.
Empty '90s nostalgia
Raj & DK manage to transport us back into the ‘90s via a fictional hill station called Gulaabgang (say, a Dehradun or Mussoorie of the ’90s). Besides motifs like Campa Cola and a pink ladies perfume called Pink Mamba, the director duo truly bring out '90s nostalgia through a track involving schoolchildren.
The show kicks off with two boys debating whose love is deeper, by engraving their girlfriends' names on their arms with a compass. Later, a girl and a boy fall in love while walking their bicycles besides each other instead of riding them home. And the petty yet evocative classroom politics, of the class monitor forfeiting his badge to the new class topper, and of the class monitor writing the names of nuisance-makers on the blackboard. These children get as much screentime as the rest of the prolific cast, but their integration with the main storyline seems more force-fitted than organic.
There's a lovely bit where the class topper is recruited by his resourceful friend to ghost-write love letters in English for a Hindi medium-read mechanic. The kid has a process to write love letters: he must listen to English music on his Walkman and do the final touches by spraying his mom's Pink Mamba on the letter. In a hilarious sequence, he writes as a Bryan Adams song plays in the background, much to the confusion of the mechanic and his sidekick.
But besides these cute elements, there doesn't seem to be a larger reason for placing the story in the ‘90s. What are Raj & DK trying to stir within us, that goes beyond nostalgia porn? Sadly, there’s only a deafening silence no matter how hard you shake it, like a gullak at the end of the month.
Raj & DK populate Guns & Gulaabs with a bunch of quirky criminals. They draw a parallel between Chhota Ganchi (Adarsh Gourav), the son of the town's most dreaded gangster Ganchi (Satish Kaushik), and Tipu (Rajkummar Rao), a mechanic and the son of Ganchi's loyal but dispensable gang member. Both carry the burden of their dad's deeds. While Chhota feels the dire pressure to step into the gigantic shoes of his father, but keeps failing miserably, Tipu is clear he doesn't want to follow in his father's footsteps, but ends up killing men with a mere spanner like casual strokes.
Yet again, this track of bearing the father's legacy looms large over the plot, but never comes out with force because it's bogged down by the rest of the show that's full of random side plots, inconsequential chase sequences, and downright boring scenes. All of these elements keep drifting apart further as the narrative progresses, and never come into a coherent whole, just like the seasoned cast who go about their roles in isolation, but never unite for what would've been an explosive celluloid moment.
Rajkummar Rao is the funniest of the lot. He has the longest arc and does as much justice to it as he can. Watch out for his early bits, especially when he forgets his father has died, while flirting with a love interest (Read: "Han, pitaji theek hain… arey, pitaji toh mar gaye). Adarsh Gourav also has an enjoyable arc with smart touches and a grand culmination. But the simmering intensity within the young actor is wasted by the series' divided focus. Dulquer Salmaan lends integrity to his role of a cop, but is saddled with unnecessary character traits, predictable grey shades, and a side-plot of adultery. Honestly, Shreya Dhanwanthary popping up for randomly blackmailing Dulquer and dropping a truth bomb on him in the end feels like a revenge arc after what he did to her in R Balki's Chup last year.
Gulshan Devaiah's character is the quirkiest and he makes sure to have fun with it. That's it. Let's not even discuss the women characters. Or maybe, let's do that because someone should give them their due, if co-writers Raj & DK and Suman Kumar don't. The only noticeable one from the lot is Chandralekha (TJ Bhanu), a schoolteacher. She seems to be turned on by gutsy confessions and casual crimes. That's a fascinating dark touch to a schoolteacher, but Guns & Gulaabs is obviously not interested in fleshing it out further.
The series gives a good send-off to the late Satish Kaushik. He gets some cracker lines, a wicked personality, and even a tribute when his name appears on a calendar in the closing credits of the first episode. But his most memorable scene is the one when the wooden floor beneath him starts creaking and cracking. Say no more.
Raj & DK could've taken a cast like that and turned a show with them into gold. But they turn too indulgent to give it any kind of depth, coherence or even colour beyond a point. I recommend when they write their next script, they use a bit of Pink Mamba and a Bryan Adams song to get back into their groove. If that helps, at all.
Guns & Gulaabs is streaming on Netflix India.