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Last Updated 26.08.2019 | 8:33 AM IST
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Subhash K Jha speaks about Bullett Raja

Yaaaaay….dosti! Hum nahin chhodenge. Kaise chhodenge? From Raj Kapoor

and Rajendra Kumar in Sangam to Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan in Sholay, filmy

friendships have flourished with formulistic fervour in our films.

It takes guts to turn the conventional formulistic cinema about male bonding and revenge into a

tightly-wound intelligently-scripted and judiciously executed drama of political subterfuge in

Uttar Pradesh, a favourite haunt for Tigmanshu Dhulia’s cinema, here turned into a hotbed of

intrigue and drama.

Bullett Raja is woven around characters who are not particular about the company or the

morals that they keep. Politicians and entrepreneurs hobnob with criminals and criminals end up

becoming heroes of the masses just because democracy in India gives us little to choose from.

Saif Ali Khan‘s Raja Misra (no ‘h’ in the surname, plij) is a scummy sort of Robin Hood in

Lucknow whom we meet initially as he escapes with his life from goons in screeching cars by gate

crashing into a wedding. There he meets Rudra (Jimmy Sheirgill). Then begins a kind of affable

bonding between the two guys that goes beyond the precincts of the maudlin dostis we’ve seen in

our films so far.

Saif and Jimmy, brilliant actors both, bring a kind of brusque but unbreakable friendship

between each other; a bonding that you know only death can break. And it does.

Dhulia, in his most mass-oriented cinematic outing to date, brings a lot of Jai-Veeru’s

Sholay bonding into play. The two actors do the rest. They gamely sink their teeth into

the morass of Indian politics, giving a stirring dignity to inherently unsavoury episodes from

the murky politics of Uttar Pradesh.

Dhulia’s skills as a raconteur of remarkable aptitudes was most evident in Paan Singh

Tomar. Here he attempts something even more daring. He merges mythological and historical

allusions into current politics, weds heroism and hooliganism without causing any discernible

damage to his work’s aesthetics.

Saif’s character, a mix of goon and boon, gun and grins doesn’t tire of

reminding his adversaries of his Brahminical roots. He also has a strange penchant for quoting

from the scriptures at the most inopportune moments. Saif, in a very desi very hooch-like avtar

of Butch Cassidy, gets away with it.

This is a film about the scummy people who govern apna desh mahaan from the fringes. They

are the kind of characters who either end up rich or dead. We can only curse them under our

breath. And yet the spoken language of the characters remains liberated from overt profanities.

(Is Anurag Kashyap listening?). The same goes for the characters themselves, so lowly and yet

redeemed by unexpected bouts of humour and even compassion.

The way Saif’s Raja Misra meets Sonakshi‘sketchily-written character and the manner in which the

script allows him to warm up to her without wasting time is a marvel of scriptural balance.

Indeed Dhulia in his most nakedly commercial outing catches the routine friends-on-a-rampage

plot by its lapels and goes for the kill with splendid skill.

This is a fearless film. It is not afraid to celebrate the much dreaded and abused traditional

filmic formula. And then, Dhulia takes his audacity from city to city in Uttar Pradesh. The

jagged but constantly coherent plot takes the very conventional characters (good-bad heroes,

bad-bad villains, a damsel in distress and lots of decadent politicians) on a bumpy journey

cross the politics of the cow-belt where there are no sacred cows. Only brazen wolves.

It is as if Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western has shifted to a grimy dusty belligerent town in

India’s heartland where the gun is king. Kissiko nozzle na lag jaye. Giggle!

The film’s reckless momentum is sustained and controlled by Dhulia’s technicians who hit the

right notes while taking a route that hardly affords safe options. Dangerously careening towards

an anarchic world Bullett Raja swerves away from catastrophe underlining the plot and

succeeds spectacularly in creating a world where rampage is the rule.

The soundtrack is remarkably authentic, and I don’t mean the awful songs. Our

cinema , even the most mature variety, still adheres to the radio-play style of dialogue

delivery where only one character speaks at one time. Tigmanshu Dhulia allows the words to spill

out of his characters as and how they appear natural.

Saif’s in full command of the spoken and unspoken language. Here is an actor who can bring

gravitas to his character without weighing it down in self-importance. Saif has great support

from the ever-reliable Jimmy Sheirgill. Their bonding is remarkable, and sometimes wickedly

over-the-top.

In one of my favourite sequences, Saif prepares to throw the Sonakshi character out of his home

because…well, his friend disapproves. It’s wryly comic situation lifted by the actors’

understanding of gender frisson.

Or watch Jimmy in the sequence in a hotel room where he enlightens the bell-boy with historical

data on Jhansi Ki Rani.

It is priceless .And no wonder the bell-boy refuses a 1000-rupee tip.

Dhulia’s treatment of violence in the hinterland is sharp and constantly tongue-in-cheek. Midway

through the mayhem he brings in Vidyut Jamwal (described picturesquely as “Chambal Ka

Chowkidar”) to bring our scummy hero Raja Misra under control.

Do Jamwal’s dexterous kicks succeed in stemming the mayhem? Boy, oh, boy do they! Bullett

Raja is a subverted comic book adventure. Dhulia goes masala with a bang. And what a

bang-bang! Guns, gals (yes, even an item song by Mahie Gill where she insists she doesn’t want

to be touched when all her movements suggest quite the opposite) grime and glory come together

in a layered tale of corruption, politics and kinetic camaraderie.

The songs break the pace. But then you really can’t have a formula film without the song breaks.

Just like you can’t have Indian politics without the scummy elements.

It takes a politically savvy storyteller of Tigmanshu Dhulia’s skills to convert the lowest ebb

of our politics into an occasion of high drama.

More Pages: Bullett Raja Box Office Collection , Bullett Raja Movie Review

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