Tag Archives: 1998

Movie Review: Gunda (1998)

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

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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.

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Retro Review: Dil Se (1998)

4 Stars (out of 4)

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Over the years, several people have recommended Dil Se to me. Based on the DVD cover, I expected a good but fairly typical romantic drama. Boy, was I wrong. Dil Se takes the genre in unexpected directions, enhancing a well-told story with surreal dance numbers.

The couple on the DVD cover meet on a train platform on a cold night during a downpour. Amar (Shahrukh Khan) assumes that a figure huddled under a blanket is a man and asks him for a match to light his cigarette. A gust of wind blows the blanket away to reveal a lovely woman named Meghna (Manisha Koirala).

Amar flirts clumsily with the taciturn beauty, until she finally asks him to buy her a hot cup of tea. While he’s helping the sleepy tea vendor prepare the chai, a train pulls into the station. Amar arrives on the platform, cups of tea in hand, to see Meghna seated on the train with some rough-looking guys. She gives him one last look as the train pulls away.

They meet again a short time later in Northeast India, where Amar is covering the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence from Britain, for the national radio station. What should be a happy time is marred by ongoing clashes between the army and groups of separatists. Amar interviews the revolutionaries to better understand their goals.

When, in the course of his work, Amar comes across Meghna, she pretends not to recognize him at first, which only intensifies his pursuit. Amar’s pursuit is aggressive, almost as though he feels entitled to her. Still, she doesn’t reject him as forcefully as she has grounds to. She eventually tells him that she’s married. Amar’s attempt to apologize results in him being beaten up and left in a ditch by the men who were on the train with Meghna the first night they met.

Amar is understandably confused, as is the audience. Who is this girl? Is she interested in Amar, or not? Is she telling the truth? It’s no wonder why he finds her so alluring, despite the danger to his personal safety.

There’s an aura of danger surrounding Amar as he files his reports. He’s in essentially foreign territory; he doesn’t speak the language or understand the people. His bravado masks the fact that he’s out of his element, whether talking with terrorists or walking through the desert after his bus breaks down. The only thing he understands is how he feels for Meghna.

Enhancing that feeling of disorientation are the movie’s musical numbers, arguably the best part of the movie. It’s easy to incorporate a song-and-dance number by having the characters join in a parade that just happens to be passing by. It takes guts to make the romantic leads run from soldiers as the city explodes around them during a love song.

The numbers are symbolic rather than literal. This is the ideal way to include musical performances in a movie, as it provides a visual representation of a character’s mindset. It elevates the performances beyond mere devices for selling soundtrack CDs, especially since A. R. Rahman’s amazing songwriting sells itself.

I’m not qualified to say if the choreography in Dil Se is the best ever, but I’m confident that it is some of the most challenging and well-executed. Choreographer Farah Khan demands that actors throw themselves into her dances whole-heartedly. There is no way to half-ass her moves.

The most impressive dance number in the movie, “Chaiyya Chaiyya,” takes place on top of a moving train, traveling through tunnels and over bridges. It’s nearly seven minutes long. The dance is so technically stunning and the setting so precarious, thinking about the practicalities of its filming temporarily brought me out of the movie. Still, it’s so cool that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

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