Film review: Bullett Raja

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Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Sonakshi Sinha, Jimmy Shergill, Raj Babbar, Ravi Kishen, Vidyut Jamwal, Gulshan Grover, Chunky Pandey
Certification: U/A
Rating: **1/2

At its core, almost every Tigmanshu Dhulia film has a common essence: men short on morals, often on money, striving for respect but wielding enough power to lead – a broken runner and his band of dacoits in Paan Singh Tomar; a nawab who kills for contracts and contract kills with a driver gunning for his place in Saheb Biwi aur Gangster; a nefarious gun-toting campus resident in Haasil.

In Bullett Raja, Dhulia gives us an inadvertent gangster who tastes power late and learns to love it. More themes from his earlier films make their appearance: political astuteness, double-crossings, raw and rooted dialogue, Mahie Gill singing and dancing. But here’s where the director draws a line and announces his entry into the ‘let’s take a shot at the 100 cr club’. Bullett Raja is a conscious effort to over-simplify, dispense the subtle, give trademark intrigue a miss, and have Mahie Gill reduced to an item this time singing “Don’t touch my body”. With Saif Ali Khan and Sonakshi Sinha starring, this is Tigmanshu Dhulia unleashing a film that’s more Hulk than Bruce Banner.

The unusual story works as it gets off the block – Raja finds himself selflessly helping a newfound friend (Jimmy Shergill) fend off bullets, sparking lifelong loyalty and friendship that takes the two to dizzying heights as “protectors” of the UP elite. The director’s flair comes in signature moments (for example when nabbed victims enjoy television with their kidnapper.) But something’s amiss. Absent are the layers, the richness of characters we’re so used to seeing in Dhulia’s films. There’s a lot more telling than showing too. When Raja becomes the most feared (and by extension respected) man in all of UP, we mostly know of this by dialogue.

But it is when the girl enters that BR unravels entirely and the flow is wrecked. One inexplicable, unnecessary, and unevenly paced sequence after the other, the film changes track and enters the realm of the Dabangg clones. Even though the screenplay is relatively unbent by Dhulia’s standards, it still rises above the rest in the genre he’s wrestling in.

Bullett Raja

What should’ve been a gangster bromance at its core that transforms into a revenge tale; Bullett Raja’s narrative is marred by the appearance of his love interest. She keeps swiping him away to relatively exotic locales of Bombay and Kolkata for no good reason (well, they had to sing Tamanche pe Disco somewhere) but all he’s interested in is his buddy, even making sure they have adjoining rooms in the hotel. He’d ask for the extra mattress if he had his way. Even when the couple is singing, all Raja can think of is his pal. Why is the distracting and destructive Sonakshi Sinha character there at all? Oh yes, the club membership.

Saif Ali Khan isn’t entirely convincing with his UP accent but he shoulders the UP attitude with confidence. Underrated Jimmy Shergill continues to deliver in his own understated way. He has a significant role that should’ve have gone all the way and not adjusted for screen time with Sonakshi Sinha’s character that is more of the same from her performances in the likes of Rowdy Rathore and Once Upon Ay Time In Mumbai Dobaara!.

Here’s hoping Tigmanshu Dhulia ditches this spurious chase and returns to form with his brand of movies – forged from truth and insight; straight from the heart – that we’ve come to love.

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