BUNTY AUR BABLINR
If you've never seen a full-fledged Bollywood musical before, Bunty aur Babli is a good way to start. This enjoyable comedic romp features all the elements that Bollywood is famous for, including an achingly chaste romance, abrupt shifts in tone and plot and, of course, colorful-and slightly surreal-musical numbers in which the actors' lips never really seem in sync with the music. The film also contains a small but recognizable level of social commentary beneath the glitz and glamour. The two main characters are both young small-town dreamers who desire a life that's greater than what their modest homes can offer. At a certain level, Bunty aur Babli can be viewed as a cry of frustration from a new generation of Indians eager to take full advantage of their country's ongoing socioeconomic transformation. But don't strain too hard searching for a message-the movie's primary concern remains entertaining the audience.
That it does, with a storyline that's based heavily on Arthur Penn's 1968 classic, Bonnie and Clyde. In this case, Bonnie is a lovely young woman named Vimmi (Rani Mukerji), who decides to flee her humdrum life in a backwater village by entering the Miss India pageant. Clyde's stand-in, meanwhile, is Rakesh (Abhishek Bachchan), a business-savvy twenty-something who refuses to settle for a life as a railroad ticket taker like his father. Unfortunately, reality kicks them both in the teeth when they venture out into the big bad world. Vimmi arrives too late to register for the pageant and Rakesh has his business idea stolen by the first person he pitches it to.
The dejected dreamers first encounter each other at the railroad station as they wait for the train to take them back home. Rather than return to their dead-end lives, though, Rakesh decides that they must press on to bigger cities where opportunity is sure to strike. In order to fund this expensive proposition, he suggests that they pull a few con jobs along the way. Going by the names "Bunty" and "Babli," the duo soon make headlines with their creative schemes, most notably tricking a rich foreigner into believing that he's purchased the Taj Mahal. Everyone loves these two crazy kids...everyone, that is, except for the grizzled Inspector Singh (Bollywood legend-and the lead actor's real-life father-Amitabh Bachchan) who makes it his mission to bring Bunty and Babli to justice.
Aside from robbing the rich to feed themselves-and occasionally the poor-Bunty and Babli don't have a lot in common with the pair of crooks they're based on. They never kill, for one thing (their only weapons are their quick minds), and Rakesh doesn't suffer from the...er, personal issues that plagued Clyde. In fact, their romance is surprisingly hot and heavy for a Bollywood film. In the movie's biggest departure from the Bollywood formula, the two stars actually share a quick kiss on the lips during a love scene-a big no-no in this kind of production. Of course, the kiss only lasts a second and they're back to exchanging longing glances and tender hugs afterwards. That's just one of the ways Bunty aur Babli quietly challenges conventions while remaining within them at the same time. It goes without saying that the Rakesh and Vimmi eventually learn the error of their ways and return to their families to lead an honorable life. But their dissatisfaction with the status quo lingers on and you leave the theatre rooting for them to rebel again. Mainly, though, you leave with the film's flashy musical numbers reverberating in your head, particularly the addictive Bunty and Babli theme song, which sports such hilariously nonsensical lyrics as "They're spinning like tops/choreographing rip-offs." If you're already bored with the usual summer movie fare, Bunty aur Babli provides a similar level of entertainment with far fewer explosions.