“Dekho beta Bhinder, tumhein maar nahi rahe, mukt kar rahe hain..”
When the supposed villain of the film says his first set of dialogues and comes up with this gem, you have warmed up to the film then and there.
The speaker is Sattu, and he is supposedly a dreaded Don who cannot die, no matter what happens to him, he has a twinkle in his eye no matter how badly he is hurt, and he is played by Pankaj Tripathi.
Sattu used to be having a chief henchman called Bittu, and he used to be doing most of the gory stuff, but then he decided to marry and become a father. So, he retired from the goon world, and Sattu was not happy about that. Bittu went to jail and came out a broken and grim man. He is played by Abhishek Bachchan.
In the same town or nearby is a Dhaba owner called Aloo. He wanted to be Amitabh Bachchan, but his love for a girl from the same school has resulted in many things that he did not want to be but had to. Among them was the shift from wannabe Amitabh to wannabe Mithun. He cries when he is happy. He breakdances when he is sad. He still cannot say no to that girl from school though she is married to an uncouth character very nearby. He stifles his sobs and still carries out all her wishes. The girl is Arushi (Fatima Sana Sheikh) and Aloo is played by Rajkummar Rao.
Again, in the same town, there is also Ayush (Aditya Roy Kapoor), who makes some money at a sales job, has a brother who is a lawyer, and looks like a cross between Rajkumar Santoshi and SP Balasubramanium and is trying to create a career as a ventriloquist. Ayush somehow lands up in bed with Ahana (Sanya Malhotra), and they find out that there is a sex tape that exists with them in it. Ahana, by the way, is five days away from marriage. Pandemonium!
There is also a store salesman (Rohit Saraf) and a nurse (Pearle Maaney) who can’t speak to each other because one knows only Hindi and the other only Malayalam. They come together because of a gas blast. At Sattu’s den. You may ask what is a store salesman doing at Sattu’s den. You may also ask what a nurse is doing there.
Well, that’s Anurag Basu’s weird and utmost crazy world. One incident collides into another, and there’s fission, which creates other bizarre incidents one after another as a thriller unravels.
There’s thrill, wacky dialogues like the one mentioned in the first line, there are homages from Sholay to Golmaal to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, the Satyajit Ray masterpiece in Bengali. Then, there are red vans, yellow cars, and lonely sandy roads, traversing a lot of small towns across central India. Bhilai (incidentally Anurag Basu studied here) is mentioned, but there are many other towns. There are stupid henchmen around Sattu and very intellectual assistants around Aloo. One takes that literally, because Sattu is a dish by itself and Aloo can be anywhere.
A small caper is being staged too. A little girl wanders into Bittu’s lap and asks him to be her kidnapper. It is as weird as you want it to be, all fronted by some fabulous music and songs. Pritam, a close associate of Anurag Basu in all his films, again goes into a funk with Aabad Barbaad and Hardum Humdum with Arijit Singh lending his vocal magic yet again, after Barfi and Jagga Jasoos. All the songs are intelligently played, but the headline song is picked from a Bhagwan film of yore, Albela (1951), and the song “O Betaji” plays on TV and then on a mobile as Sattu kills people. It is splendour. It is sheer magic.
This stupendous work needs to be matched by all other departments very ably. Rajkummar Rao, Fatima Sana Sheikh, and Pearle Maaney pull it off around Pankaj Tripathi very well. You cannot miss what they do on screen. Pankaj Tripathi is unhinged but in an everyday way that brings a big smile to your face. Abhishek Bachchan is more one-note, but his moments with the young girl are straight out of Tender Dad's playbooks. There are a lot of other arresting small characters that you will fall in love with.
The editing by Ajay Sharma is a hoot. It is decidedly off-kilter, using the comedic timings to shift scenes and increase impact. Also, because various stories not involved with each other actually intersect, the editing needed to be very spiffy, it is. The production design is immaculate, with each home, each verandah, and each public space receiving its own colour, hue, and feel. Very tough to achieve on sharp budgets and so more commendable.
And what to say about the writing and direction. Anurag writes with Samrat Chakraborty, and it is a hoot. Who can conceive a kidnapper going to take a ransom with three men who seem to be looking like Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara! And who don’t speak but play with the young kid as a song rolls on in the background! Genius at every level!
Hats off to Bhushan Kumar and T-Series for staying with Basu on this.
It is worth every dime!
And when blood falls on to Rs. 1000 notes, you can wash it and iron it, it comes back to being the original rupee note. Really!!
- Indraneel Majumdar
Review – LUDO
Available on Netflix
Stars - ****