The plot of Gunday kicks off from the violence that surrounded the creation of Bangladesh. But nobody expected the film be an illuminating history lesson about the subcontinent.
The snazzy pre-release teasers did however raise visions of a fast-paced, entertaining buddy flick set in the tumult of early 1970s Calcutta.
Sadly, Gunday delivers only on bits and pieces of that promise.
A large part of the story actually unfolds in the mid 1980s but the film makes a complete hash of the period details.
A glimpse of a hand-painted poster of Zanjeer is thrown in to establish 1973; a Disco Dancer number is played on the soundtrack to denote the passage of a decade; and a song sequence from Mr India is unspooled inside what is passed off as Esplanade’s Metro Cinema to indicate that we are in 1987.
But everything else – including the leading lady’s midriff-baring outfits and backless blouses that obviously belong to a later era of fashion – is a free for all.
And since it is Kolkata, the Hooghly and the Howrah Bridge are a constant presence, so are references to fish and football.
Gunday is smartly mounted and studded with a few lively song and dance routines. But the parts do not quite come together to create a gripping whole.
Written and directed by Ali Abbas Zafar, the film suffers in the end owing to slipshod editing and a hackneyed storyline that runs out of steam all too quickly.
Neither Ranveer Singh nor Arjun Kapoor is a finished article yet. So salvaging the half-baked script, despite their best efforts, is way beyond them.
Priyanka Chopra provides a few of the film’s brighter spots, but none of them is luminous enough to offset the relentlessly vacuous bluster of Gunday.
Irrfan Khan, in an extended guest appearance as a tough talking cop on the trail of a duo of young goons, towers head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. But that certainly isn’t a surprise.
In fact, Gunday springs no surprises at all.
The pivotal characters of the two Bangladesh War orphans are particularly flat.
The boys have seen the worst and they have good reason to be hugely aggrieved with how the world has treated them.
But neither emerges as a compelling flesh and blood embodiment of rebellion.
They are out-and-out criminals whose justifications for their crooked ways ring hollow.
No prizes for guessing that one is happy go lucky and loquacious, and that the other is the easy-to-provoke type.
The central conflict of their lives emanates from their sheer desperation to live down the past and shed their refugee status.
In the bargain, the two men break the law at will, indulging in gun-running, coal pilferage and illegal trade in anything that they can lay their hands on.
They repeatedly get into the crosshairs of a police officer, but the latter is unable to bring them to book in the absence of incontrovertible evidence.
Priyanka Chopra dons the guise of a cabaret dancer whose charm ensnares the two buddies to such an extent that they fall out with each other.
Unfortunately, the drama that ensues is painfully dreary.
Owing to the fact that the film pans out along largely predictable lines, one ceases to care either about who gets the girl or about the fate of the cocky policeman’s bid to outwit the over-confident outlaws.
The death knell of Gunday begins to ring loud and clear from pretty early on. It takes no time to reveal its true nature – it is merely an attractive shell that conceals an insipid core.
Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor flaunt chiseled pectorals and sing and dance with gusto.
Priyanka plays the coquette to perfection, but her character is never more than a cardboard cutout.
The eye candy on liberal display in Gunday isn’t buttressed with enough narrative energy.
It really is difficult to keep a two-and-a-half-hour film from losing its wheels when its engine room is bereft of the propellant of genuine inspiration.
Gunday is like the dusty minefields it is set in. Its loud explosions deliver loads of coal, but no trace of any diamonds.
It is certainly not the ideal date film on this Valentine’s Day weekend.