Dubey is a kinky man. The politician (Anil George) gets his kicks out of the pain and pleasure of others, which is evident in the sequence in which he hires a masseur to massage his wife and invites the man to undress her if he so wishes.
Dubey will later hire hitmen to erase his collaborators and rivals, but he is only one among several men and women who have erased the line between good sense and good taste a long time ago. If there is an honourable man among the rogues in Kushan Nandy’s Babumoshai Bandookbaz, it is Babu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui). A cool-headed gun for hire who works for ruthless politician Sumitra (Divya Dutta) and her minions, Babu’s life is transformed forever after he loses his heart to Phulwa (Bidita Bag).
Babu’s sex life perks up admirably with the arrival of Phulwa, a textbook small-town hussy guaranteed to divest men of their inhibitions. But his professional life collapses due to competing interests involving Dubey, Sumitra, the police officials on their payroll and rival hitman Banke (Jatin Goswami). Banke idolises Babu, or so he claims, and becomes an ally or a competitor, depending on which way the script decides to blow.
The lust for flesh mixed with the lust for power result in a healthy dose of between-the-sheets activity – here is one corner of India that will score highly in a sex survey. Nawazuddin Siddiqui relishes his role as a giant on the field and the bedroom, and Bidita Bag delivers on her key result areas – to chase and be chased.
The movie has many deftly written and directed scenes and enough cruelty to keep it ticking along, but its momentum slips ever so often and its moral concern barely peeps through. There is always far too much going on in this patch of Uttar Pradesh badland for Babu to emerge as the last hero standing. Ghalib Asad Bhopali’s crackling dialogue is a constant in the thicket of twists, which result in several false endings.
The absence of morality, police corruption, bloodied contest for political power, swagger and women who behave like men are now familiar enough to be classified as cliche. Babumoshai Bandookbaz takes some cues from Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), but it tries to forge its own mythology. The nihilism is dialled down – these crimes have serious consequences – and is in inverse proportion to the perversity.
Nandy parades an admirable bunch of venal characters, all of whom are perfectly played by the cast. Anil George’s menace is matched by Divya Dutta’s heartlessness. Although Bhagwan Tiwari has played the tainted man in khaki before, he is effective here as the corrupt police officer who keeps impregnating his wife in the hope that some day, she will deliver a daughter instead of a son.
The only role women have in this world is to be bedded or killed – Sumitra suffers a particularly gruesome end – so perhaps this is the one time when the girl child’s entry into the world will not be celebrated.
Like most cautionary tales about crime, Babumoshai Bandookbaz too struggles to create empathy for its amoral lot. Babu is the only character with a modicum of psychological shading, but he loses his way at the exact moment and spot when Phulwa’s sari slips to reveal her cleavage. Like Babu, the movie too struggles to move beyond that life-transforming moment.