Subhash Kapoor’s frenetic new movie takes on khap panchayats, the extra-judicial village councils that top Bollywood’s list of Current Issues to Tackle. Guddu Rangeela was supposedly inspired by the murder in 2007 of a married couple named Manoj and Babli on the orders of their local village council, and is set in the state from which the victims hailed. Haryana provides Kapoor, who also wrote the screenplay, many opportunities to deploy colourfully coarse language about posteriors.
Ronit Roy plays politician Billu Pehelwan who dishes out punishments for inter-caste romantic entanglements with the glee of a gulag supervisor. His victims have previously included the wife of Rangeela (Arshad Warsi) but Billu has allowed Rangeela to survive. The reason soon becomes clear: Rangeela lives just so that this movie could exist.
More mind-boggling contrivances follow in a film set in the world’s smallest place, where everybody is related to everybody else and nobody knows what the other person is about. Rangeela and his brother Guddu (Amit Sadh) have reinvented themselves as folk singers. They attract the unwelcome attentions of a corrupt police officer (Amit Sial), and effect the kidnapping of the mysteriously named Baby (Aditi Rao Hydari).
As it turns out, Baby is Billu’s sister-in-law. As the politician gets hot on the trail of Guddu and Rangeela, Kapoor ensures that every member of his kinship group gets their moment before the camera. This penchant for screen democracy allows Dibyendu Bhattacharya and his sidekick, played by dependable cameo maestro Brijendra Kala, to dress up as extras from a Rambo movie set, complete with bandanas, camouflage uniforms and mean-looking weapons.
Guddu Rangeela starts off on a wholly different note from the one on which it ends. As Rangeela belts out a delightfully contemporary religious song that makes references to email and Facebook, the movie promises to be an unoriginal but nevertheless entertaining rustic adventure featuring two ne’er-do-wells who carry trouble in their pockets.
But when a movie decides to put a machine gun in Kala’s hand, it can only mean one of two things: Guddu Rangeela is a comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or somebody on the set is a big fan of movies in which the knottiest of debates are unravelled by shootouts that kill the problem makers but not the problem.
Arshad Warsi is in good form as Guddu, and Amit Sadh, saddled with a Beatles haircut, works hard to keep pace. But matters get out of hand once Baby is kidnapped. There’s enough plotting here for two movies, one a serious examination of khap panchayats, and another a Hukumat-style fantasy adventure where characters behave as they please without any fidelity to realism or logic.
The humour-laden scenes often hit their spot, especially when Rajiv Gupta’s bumbling police officer Gulab Singh is around, and the cast is well directed. But the film is undermined by a tonal inconsistency and anything-goes approach.
For all his glowering, Billu is spectacularly inefficient when it comes to punishing his adversaries. But he does specialise in torture, and in one nasty sequence featuring a trussed-up Bhattacharya and a strategically deployed iron rod, Ronit Roy proves why he is among the most sought-after screen villains.
The torture scene, though, is just another excuse to land yet another joke about rear ends. So it is with most of Guddu Rangeela. Humour shows up when it shouldn’t, and when everything seems to be going downhill, the fake weapons supplier enters the picture.