Like so many mainstream films these days, Bachchhan Paandey (named after the character played by Akshay Kumar in Tashan), comes to Mumbai via Tamil Nadu (or Andhra Pradesh) and South Korea.

The film, adapted and written by producer Sajid Nadiadwala and directed by Fahad Samji (Housefull 4), is a very mangled remake of Jigarthanda (2014), which in turn was based on A Dirty Carnival (2006). The biggest change is that the character of the male filmmaker in the earlier films is replaced by a woman, which could be an unintentional hat-tip to female directors crashing through long-standing showbiz patriarchy.

Or it is just that the makers of Bachchhan Paandey thought a romance might be better than male bonding, since the eponymous bloke is surrounded by adoring acolytes anyway?

So, Myra (Kriti Sanon) talks a producer (Ashwin Mushran) into letting her attempt a biopic on a real-life gangster from Bagwa (in interior India, the viewer is helpfully informed). The gangster with one stone eye, is legendary for his cruelty, killing for sport and terrorising the town. He drives around in a classy vintage convertible, burns to death a journalist whose report, illustrated by a cartoon, displeased him, and does not even spare a child who flinched from him in fear.

The violence with which the gangster is introduced is so off-putting, that no amount of white-washing helps later. Still, the writers and director aim for a Munnabhai-like goofy comic tone, with henchmen given nicknames like Kandi (Saharsh Kumar Shukla) Pendulum (Abhimanyu Singh), Bufferia (Sanjay Mishra) and Virgin (Prateik Babbar) – because he is yet to kill anyone.

Myra, in very inappropriate wardrobe for the milieu, accompanied by a sidekick, Vishu (Arshad Warsi), lands up in Bagwa to research Paandey’s life – because they, obviously, haven’t heard either of Google or of a creative imagination.

After Paandey and gang have decimated enough people, he is convinced that only he can play himself on screen. The script veers towards over-the-top buffoonery, as a Gujarati acting coach (Pankaj Tripathi) is summoned to teach the rough men how to act for the camera – the only part of the film that is mildly amusing, because Bhaves Bhoplo is such a hoot. Pity he comes in too late, just like Jaqueline Fernandez who traipses by for a colourful flashback. Mohan Agashe and Seema Biswas are given even less importance than furniture.

The making of the film-within-the-the film is quite unfunny, and it is designed to get Paandey an exoneration he certainly does not deserve, never mind Akshay Kumar’s effort to play him as a comical rustic-meets-Jack Sparrow. (He has a strange dance move in which he twirls an eyebrow and his moustache.)

If the idea was to spoof the gangster films and web shows based in North India, the half dozen writers credited could not achieve it, or even add a bit of sense or originality to the films they adapted. There’s not a single hummable song. If anything in this interior India looks good, it is the landscape shot by Gavemic U Ary.

The Nadiadwala school of cinema prides itself on being “massy” so nothing is too low as long as it sells tickets, and, quite often films work on star power and marketing muscle – Bachchhan Paandey has both. What the audience goes for after the long pandemic drought is a bit like shooting blindfolded: skill has nothing to do with which bullet hits the target.

Bachchhan Paandey (2022).