The con artists are back. The con is on. And it is on the viewers this time. Paraphrasing Dashrath Singh’s opening words of wisdom from the original, Yeh jo world hai na is mein do tarah ke log hote hain, repeated ad nauseam in this outing, there are probably two kinds of films too: one that has a purpose (whatever that be – the filmmakers have something to say, they want to provide some entertainment, even if gratuitous), the other that exists in a vacuum. There’s no doubt to which category Bunty Aur Babli 2 belongs. Obviously, the filmmakers have nothing to say here, and it does not even have the sense of fun, most of it rather mindless, that informed the original.
The first thing to consider here is that the original wasn’t quite the classic entertainer it is made out to be. What it had going for it was some terrific music, a whacky turn or two by its cast and Jaideep Sahni’s script that caught the zeitgeist of small-town dreamers. It’s only misplaced social-media nostalgia that has given it the kind of halo it has acquired. Take out the music, take out the performers (barring a game Rani Mukerji) and take out the zing of Sahni’s writing, and what you are left with is the sequel.
Consider this: In the 15 years since the two tricksters first scammed their way through the hinterland, the nature of the con itself has changed. There are a million and 50 ways to con people on the Internet, and online frauds are dime a dozen. Would a scamster worth his salt really go to the trouble of setting up elaborate ones the new-age Bunty and Babli, Kunal (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Sonia (Sharvari), do with the randy old fogeys in Delhi or leasing the Ganga to a greedy mayor in Varanasi?
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But that’s exactly what they do. Because the filmmakers here don’t have the imagination to go beyond the template the first film set (one can almost hear them say, ‘We sold the Taj in the first, let’s do the Ganga this time’). Which also explains the saddest role in this film – that of Pankaj Tripathi, who plays a police officer hot on the trail of Kunal and Sonia. One can literally see the ghost of Amitabh Bachchan’s Dashrath hovering over his shoulders, right down to his name, Jatayu.
The originals, Vimmi (Rani) and Rakesh (Saif Ali Khan replacing Abhishek Bachchan and gamely putting on a lifetime of a paunch), have long retired to boring domesticity. She is a homemaker who dances at the occasional neighbourhood mundan or wedding. He is a ticket checker in the railways. They even have a teenage son, who, by the looks of it, will carry on the franchise for a long time to come. Jatayu comes calling on them after a couple of daring swindles that carry the trademark BB touch outwit the police. When Jatayu realises that Vimmi and Rakesh are not the ones involved in the new cons, he makes them an offer they can’t refuse: help rope in the scamsters or take the rap.
Offended by what they perceive as brand infringement and dilution, Vimmi and Rakesh decide to show the new kids on the block their place. After Kunal and Sonia bite into one scam too big, conning a politician – Pyari didi – of the Rs 200 crore she received as ‘birthday’ gifts, they have to find a way to launder the money. The stage is thus set for a face-off between the old and the new, between the nobility and the wannabe.
But let down by poor writing and a tiresome sense of déjà vu, the fireworks never come, though the action moves from Delhi, Fursatganj and Varanasi to a preposterous section in Abu Dhabi. This is a film that’s trying too hard to be funny with too little in it that is even remotely so. Bunty Aur Babli 2 may have double the scamsters as the original. Sadly, it’s not even half the fun.
TITLE: BUNTY AUR BABLI 2
CAST: Saif Ali Khan, Rani Mukerji, Sharvari Wagh, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Pankaj Tripathi
DIRECTOR: Varun V. Sharma
WHERE: At a theatre near you
Rating: 2 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
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