1.5 Stars (out of 4)
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Ungli feels like a movie where the creators decided to base a movie on a particular topic, but forgot they needed to actually tell a story in the process. There’s no flow to the plot, and it’s unclear who the main character is. Note to filmmakers: the audience won’t hear your message if they are asleep.
The Ungli Gang — with “ungli” translating as “the middle finger,” as far as I could tell — are an odd assortment of people dedicated to exposing corruption in Mumbai. The gang members are journalist Abhay (Randeep Hooda), doctor Maya (Kangana Ranaut), mechanic Kaleem (Angad Bedi), and computer engineer Goti (Neil Bhoopalam).
Their first caper is to kidnap a trio of crooked pension officers. They convince the men that the phony bombs strapped to their chests will explode unless they keep running around a track, like a boring version of the movie Speed. Police and media are called to the track, where the officer’s corruption is exposed.
The caper earns the gang the kind of widespread public acclaim that never happens in real life, with news reports showing people cheering, “We love Ungli Gang!” Writer-director Rensil D’Silva relies heavily on man-on-the-street news footage — one of my biggest movie pet peeves — to bulk up a thin story.
After a single successful prank, the Mumbai police commissioner freaks out and assigns an officer to hunt down The Ungli Gang. That officer is ACP Kale (Sanjay Dutt), a man with a reputation for… something or other. It’s never explained what.
Kale recruits his informally adopted son, Nikhil (Emraan Hashmi) — the classic Bollywood loafer with a heart of gold — to infiltrate the gang. This doesn’t happen until forty-five minutes or so into the film, at which point Hooda’s character loses his position as the ostensible main character to Nikhil.
In the span of twenty minutes, Nikhil joins the gang, learns their backstory — they want vengeance for their injured CrossFit instructor (seriously) — frolics in a montage about friendship, and betrays them to Kale. I’m not a criminal mastermind, but if someone begged to join my gang, then injured himself just minutes before participating in his first job, I’d be suspicious.
If Nikhil is the character who needs to evolve during the course of the film, why doesn’t he become a major player until the movie’s halfway over? How did this disparate group of vigilantes become experts in espionage? Why is their motivation for vigilantism kept a secret until the second half of the movie? Why isn’t their quest for justice the main goal of the story rather than Nikhil’s slow journey to discover that — shocker! — police officers are fallible?
Shoehorned into the disorganized story are two useless romantic subplots. Bumbling Abhay can’t get the attention of his pretty coworker, Teesta (Neha Dhupia), which makes sense only if she has never actually looked at him. Nikhil woos Maya simply because she’s the only woman in the gang.
Before that, Nikhil smooches another female character who’s never seen again. He tells her that he has a reputation for kissing, a preposterously direct reference to Hashmi’s willingness to lock lips onscreen. Just because Hashmi is willing to do it doesn’t mean that it makes sense in the context of the story. It’s the single laziest element in a film replete with shortcuts and ticked boxes on a checklist.