Meeruthiya Gangsters is a stoner comedy whose chief ambition is to stay out of joint.
Directed by Zeishan Quadri, who contributed to the screenplay of Anurag Kashyap’s crime saga Gangs of Wasseypur and played the character named Definite, the 128-minute takes its own sweet time to get around to whatever it wants to convey – which is, in its cheerfully nihilistic way, nothing. As six kidnappers hatch frequent plots to amass money in the canteen of the college where they are supposedly enrolled as students, the screenplay luxuriates in their insouciant banter and complete lack of urgency. It is not romantic attention that these men lack. Many of them have girlfriends, who, in a welcome twist to the genre, are smarter and more resourceful than their partners and don’t get punished for it.
The men are obsessed with income redistribution. Money is plentiful in their part of the world, but in the wrong hands. Thus when the employee of a spice baron is kidnapped, the ransom is handed over as easily as a 100-gm packet of turmeric. The kidnappers do want to be respectable, and there is some fleeting anxiety about trying to get hired by a multinational. In a nifty skewering of the opportunities supposedly presented by the presence of global capital in small-town India, the employment effort ends in a shady hotel room where the company’s regional head demands alcohol and women in exchange for hiring letters.
The police force makes half-hearted attempts to track the kidnappers, and only Mukul Dev’s long-haired officer seems to be interested in doing his job. Dev’s presence in this movie is a clever in-joke about the number of times he has played a dope fiend. Why does he even bother? Kidnapping and being kidnapped seem to be ends unto themselves in this movie’s universe, and perhaps Dev’s character cares only because he has nothing better to do with himself.
Quadri’s writing isn’t half as sharply funny or piercingly deadpan as it thinks it is, but that’s par for the course in a movie that celebrates the virtues of taking the easy way out. He aims for low-key sniggers, but some of the humour has the volume turned all the way down to zero. The clunkers in the meandering and episodic narrative fall every time the director tries to be cool, such as in the slow-motion action sequences and the longest fast-forwarded sequence in the history of cinema. But there are also gems: a kidnap is nearly derailed when the potential victim starts arguing over a trifle; a faked shootout almost becomes a real one when the bullets are switched.
The cast includes veteran comedians like Sanjay Mishra and Brijendra Kala, but their old-fashioned hamming pales in comparison to the relaxed performances by the six leads. Jaideep Ahlawat, Akash Dahiya, Shadab Kamal, Jiten Sarna, Chandrachoor Rai and Vansh Bharadwaj mesh perfectly with one another and hilariously convey the essential futility of their collective existence. Like most stoner comedies, Meeruthiya Gangsters makes its point without trying to.