Movie Review: Gunda (1998)

GundaEntertainment Factor: 4 Stars (out of 4)
Quality: 0 Stars

Buy the DVD at Amazon

Gunda was brought to my attention by a reader named Harry in the comments about my review of Boom, a movie I considered to be so bad that it’s actually good. Turns out Boom has nothing on Gunda: the ultimate So Bad, It’s Good movie.

Director Kanti Shah’s Gunda is a B-movie with blockbuster aspirations. By failing to allocate the obviously modest budget for optimal use, the quality of every aspect of the movie suffers. As a result, not a single component of the film bears even a hint of competence. And that’s what makes it so great.

To call Gunda a revenge movie is to underplay the role revenge plays in the story. It’s the whole plot! Someone kills a member of someone else’s family or entourage, which precipitates a retaliatory murder, which precipitates another retaliatory murder, and so on. That’s it. That’s all the story is about.

The presumptive lead character, Shankar (Mithun Chakraborty), doesn’t appear until about twenty minutes into the two-hour-long movie. By that point, there have already been five murders committed at the hands of warring dons Bulla (Mukesh Rishi) and Lambuatta (Ishrat Ali). Also by that point, Lambuatta and the man who hired him to kill Bulla are dead, making their inclusion in the movie totally unnecessary.

Unnecessary, but not worthless. Lambuatta is my favorite character in the film. He repeatedly shouts Bulla’s name while hanging out on an airport tarmac. Why an airport tarmac? Who knows?

Lambuatta provokes his own death when he rapes and murders Bulla’s sister. More accurately, Lambuatta rips open her shirt in public, killing her. In Gunda, rape — or the PG-rated, fully clothed version presented — is always fatal to the woman. Always.

Shankar enters the story when he stops one of Bulla’s goons from fleeing the police after committing a murder, prompting Bulla to “fix a date” for Shankar’s death. But first, Shankar and Bulla have to kill off everyone else associated with the other party.

Bulla merits a place in the American cultural lexicon as one of the greatest villains of all time. He pronounces every line of dialogue with an extended enunciation of the last syllable. He and his crew are prone to speaking in couplets that make no sense when translated from Hindi to English. Take Bulla’s catchphrase, for example:

“My name is Bulla, and I always keep it open.”

I read somewhere online that Bulla may be indicating that he’s not wearing underwear, but who the hell knows? Does it even matter? It starts to sound pretty awesome after the thirtieth time he says it.

The majority of Bulla’s scenes are shot with him and his femmy brother, Chutiya (Shakti Kapoor), sitting two-feet from the camera in the living room of their mansion. There are only a handful of sets in the whole movie, most notably Bulla’s living room, the airport tarmac, a quarry, and a dock. All of them are apparently located right next to one another.

The rest of the scenes are shot in public places, usually in parks or in the middle of busy streets. A fun drinking game would be to take a drink every time a bus tries to plow its way through the middle of a shot or is forced to skirt around a huge crowd of spectators.

Shoehorned in between all the revenge killings is a romance of truly awkward proportions between Shankar and Ganga (Verna Raj), who navigates the world with a pair of basketballs stuffed in her bra. Shankar and Ganga engage in several stiff, goofy dance numbers in which the then 51-year-old Chakraborty appears to be actively trying not to dance.

Scenes go on far too long, especially the dance numbers. Much of the film can be fast-forwarded through, but I found something charming in the relentless dullness of many of the scenes.

Many of the events in the second half of the film are beyond ridiculous, and it would be a shame to spoil them for those new to Gunda. The less prepared one is for this movie, the better. I will point out that the climactic battle in Gunda — which, again, takes a really, really, really long time — is one of the best, wackiest things I have ever seen. Ever.

And then the movie just ends. It’s brilliant.


70 thoughts on “Movie Review: Gunda (1998)

  1. Andy

    I believe you have truly earned your stripes as a critic of Indian cinema. There were many, many bad movies made in Bollywood in the 90’s, some of them with superstars like Amitabh Bacchan, Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan and Saif Ali Khan.

    But Gunda is the worst of them all. I remember the hilarious time we had in college watching this movie and trying to comprehend the logic of the plot (or lack thereof, in this case).

    If you haven’t already seen it, you could watch Satyajit Ray’s movies where everyone is crying because they have no food to eat and lost much of their family. You might find Gunda bearable in comparison, but you never know until you watch it.

    1. Kathy

      I’m glad I’ve crossed some kind of threshold with Gunda, Andy. Anyone can watch a classic like Sholay, but only the truly devoted dare enter Gunda territory. πŸ™‚

      Where should I start with the Satyajit Ray movies in which everyone is starving and their family is all dead? Are they unintentionally funny, or are they actually good? Here’s a list of his movies that my local public library has on DVD:

        The Apu Trilogy
        Mahanagar (The Big City)
        Jalsaghar (The Music Room)
        Agantuk (The Stranger)
        Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players)
    1. Kathy

      Shrey: I own the DVD, and I’ve watched it three times since August. I’ve forced my husband and brother to watch it. (They both thought it was hilarious.) I love Gunda.

  2. Nicky

    Oh My Mad,Kathy ! i laughed all the way through your review .It has a rating of 7.8 in IMDB & it has a full Wikipedia page…..WTF …. I am buying this DVD right away and will watch it with my friends.

    By the way checkout this video,hope you find it funny.

    1. Kathy

      I hope your friends appreciate you for introducing them to Gunda, Nicky. πŸ™‚ That video is great! What movie is that scene from? I must see it! From now on, I’m ending all of my phone conversations with, “Bloody!”

      1. Nicky

        They should appreciate,bloody !! πŸ™‚
        I have no idea about the movie, Kathy! tried in vain finding about it…..many people in the Youtube comments section also wanted/tried to know.

          1. Andy

            I want to tell you one important thing. The movie is “Witness”, in Malayalam language, released in 1988. Bloody!

  3. Siddharth Tilwankar

    Hi Kathy,
    I am Siddharth , I do follow your blog and believe that u give an interesting perspective on Indian cinema.
    And now that you have watched “Gunda” , I believe you should get an Indian citizenship for this brave and courageous act πŸ™‚ !!
    As far as Satyajit Ray movies are concerned one , ideal start can be ” Aranyer Din Ratri” , which can be termed as contemporary even today.Agantuk could be a good start – its amusing but it’s more like a subdued play shot as a movie.
    You will witness Utpal Dutt – one of the known actors in Bengali and Bollywood movies. He was the cornerstone of the original “Golmaal”.
    Keep up the good work!

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for the kind words, Siddharth. I’ll do my best to live up to my honorary Indian citizenship! πŸ™‚

  4. Sid

    It might surprise you but Gunda is considered a cult film and has an audience of its own.. Its an absurd film I agree, but this is what made Kanti Shah famous in India. Kanti Shah is known because of his B-Grade Cinema which have sleazy double meaning dialogues. Surprisingly, Kanti Shah has his niche audience and his films run in Single Screen theaters in small towns in India..Other B-Grade films that have a cult following are from Directors Tulsi & Shyam Ramsey. Veerana, Bulandh darwaza and Purana Mandir are a few examples. You can find them listed in Mondo Macabre’s website. Mondo Macabre list the weirdest of horror films that have a cult following from around the world.

    1. Kathy

      If any film is worthy of a cult following, Sid, it’s Gunda! What’s so great about Kanti Shah’s dialogue is that it makes no sense when translated into English. You can sort of tell that there’s supposed to be a bawdy meaning to it, and you can hear the rhyming scheme, but the subtitles read as gibberish. It’s so funny.

      Thanks for the recommendations for other cult directors. I fear that you may have steered my site in a whole new, ridiculous direction. πŸ˜‰

  5. Siddharth Tilwankar

    One more film that has got cult following in recent past (and being unintentionally funny) is Desh Drohi by Karen raz khan…..just for going into that ridiculous direction πŸ˜‰

    1. Kathy

      Ha! They have a copy of the DVD at my local library. I fear this website is heading in a goofy direction. πŸ˜‰

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  7. parth

    Watch Shaitani Dracula. You’ll find thst compare to this, Gunda is like 100times better.
    I think it’s available on YouTube.

  8. Sarthak Garg

    There are two types of people on this planet..
    1) Those who have seen Gunda
    2) Those who haven’t seen Gunda

    You should consider yourself privileged to be among the former.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for sending a link to that review, Kunal. It’s great! I highly recommend it for anyone who has or hasn’t seen the movie. Now I need to watch Gunda again…

      1. pranav joshi

        The cult following of gunda has spread to such an extent that even my math teacher reccommended it to me in my 12th grade a year ago. Pity i havent seen it yet. I admire your effort to comprehend the conundrum called Bollywood. Being a freelance critic myself, i believe that cinema of a particular country often holds the key to understand its cultural and social setup.

        1. Kathy

          Thanks for the kind words, Pranav! Gunda is the rare movie so perfect(ly inept) that it belongs not just to India, but to the world. πŸ™‚

  9. Sagnik Nath

    There is not a single engineering college in India where at least some of the students have seen Gunda πŸ™‚ In a way,I feel the movie,with all its absurd-ism,parodies the Indian engineering student’s life .
    By the way,there is actually a fun conspiracy theory about Gunda,which states the events of the film actually take place in the future to 90’s India,an ideal future in which Indians have a high spending power and industrialization knows no bounds.Notice that a lot of the scenes take place at an airport.Also a coolie,as played by Mithun, who is supposed to work at a railway station instead works at an airport.Also how the hell can a coolie afford to live in a bungalow?? The explanation: Airfare has become so dirt cheap,that Indians now commute by horde on airplanes instead of trains. The Airplane has become the staple mode of transport. And cars have become a near obsolete entity. There are so cheap that they are bought by the 100s and used in warfare as in the final action scene for the sole purpose of being blown up by a rocket laucnher.No financial burden there. And finally,the fact that Mithun uses a cell India…in the 90’s,when cell phone towers were yet to be made

    1. Kathy

      You are blowing my mind, Sagnik! The brilliance/stupidity of this movie is so vast that this conspiracy theory actually seems possible. Some cable TV network in the U.S. needs to start running this movie at midnight on weekends so Gunda can build a cult following here, too. πŸ™‚

      1. Sagnik Nath

        haha!!!! Yes I have a gut feeling Gunda,if aired in the US,might pose stiff competition for Game Of Thrones or even True Detective for it’s surrealism and insane amounts of WTF moments πŸ˜€
        On a side note,if you really enjoyed Gunda ,you should check out another of the director Kanti Shah’s films: Loha. That will make you go apeshit over Indian cinema too πŸ™‚
        And then there’s the South Indian film Endhiraan,or it’s american working title “Fat Indian Terminator”

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  11. Abhilesh

    I think there are some good movies and bad movies but movies like Gunda are above all of them. Gunda is a bad movie but you can not ignore the fun in watching this. We used to have collection of these kinds of movie during our college days. You can try The Angrez (2006), you will enjoy it.

  12. shrey

    When we are depressed in college its like
    ‘Dude… i failed my test’
    ‘F*ck it… let’s watch Gunda’

    This movie is like a stress buster!!!

  13. peterparker9841

    indeed it is hillarious. It has all the stereotype of bollywood like always angry villain mukesh rishi, rape by shakti kapoor, too much crying ovr sister’s wedding, unnecessory death of a hopeless and half dead father. if you want to watch more funny movies like this try kanti shah’s loha, also clean comedies like Andaaz apna apna, muskurahat, jaane bhi do yaaro, golmal(old one).

  14. Amit Tiwari

    Wow Kathy..!
    What a drilled down review..
    And infact the line has become epic now – ” Its so bad that its good..”

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    1. Kathy

      Shrey, I need to see ALL of these movies, especially Suryavanshi, featuring Salman as a low-rent Conan the Barbarian. I’d also forgotten about how Mithun ducks for cover behind a bicycle during a gunfight in Gunda!

  20. nisha

    whoa… didn’t know gunda fever has reached America too…. it’s kanti shah’s gift to humanity… btw who do you think wins between Gunda and ‘The Room’?

    1. Kathy

      That is a HARD question to answer, nisha. If you asked me which movie I’d rather watch right this second, I’d go with GUNDA, but it’s close. πŸ˜‰ Who’s the victor in your opinion?

      1. nisha

        for me… considering the fact that gunda is entirely in rhymes, it just adds to the whole experience of it…. but i saw gunda on a weekend on laptop in college with friends… enjoyed it thoroughly but i wanna see it in a cinema hall like i saw ‘the room’ (yes, i threw spoons too).

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  22. Nishant

    Wow… Really late to this party. Your review is funny. Gives a fresh perspective as well. One thing that I would like to include is how the names of all bad guys are hilariously stupid or severely problematic
    1. Chutiya – Could mean either ponytail, because Shakti Kapoor had a ponytail (sort of) on his head, or ‘f**king idiot’ coz he acted like one, I guess
    2. Pote – Means grandson…. No idea why…πŸ˜„
    3. Kala Shetty – Kala means black or dark in hindi, a pointed reference to his dark skin
    4. Lambu Aata – This is my favorite. Lambu means tall and Aata means flour. So Lambu Aata means Tall Flour?… πŸ˜†


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