'She betrayed him the moment she fell in love with him’ reads the tagline for Anurag Basu’s film Gangster. Chartbuster songs, a love story promoted as being inspired by the infamous Abu Salem-Monica Bedi affair and then denial of the same, TV promos promising a fair amount of flesh and Vishesh Films’ expert kisser Emran Hashmi; there are enough factors put in to pull the crowds. Despite all that, there was also the expectation of the film actually being a good one as it gets off to a rousing start.
The story of the film is told in flashback by the Heroine who is caught between two loves and between her past and future. The opening scene is remarkable in the way it sets the tone of the film. Not wishing to give away the story, I will only mention here the effect it has and the expectation it generates. Over sounds of heavy rain and thunder the film opens to a car parked in a typical Bombay street, parking lights flashing, rain pounding the street. The first character you meet is the gun. Only after that do you meet Simran. (An ex-bar girl played by Kangana Ranaut) She is beautiful and distraught, model thin and with curly hair that does not look like a bad wig; and for a change, strangely real. She walks into a building and shoots a person, who in return shoots her back. We do not know yet who she has shot or for what reason. The scene is predominantly made up of top angle shots which are very effective in creating a certain ambiguity about the events here; as when hit by the bullet, Simran looks up to God as if in complaint and later again when the murderer and the unknown murdered are brought in for treatment in adjacent operating theaters. This scene in fact informs the audience in a remarkably understated way about how the protagonists would journey from love to deceit to betrayal and then to revenge. The film is structured as a minor jigsaw puzzle which becomes complete only when the cycle of betrayal comes full circle.
From the first frame onwards, gangster is the doomed love story of Daya (Shiney Ahuja), an infamous Bombay mobster. Simran (Kangana Ranaut) is a bar dancer living a simple life in a Bombay chawl who finds an extraordinary kindness in Daya. It must be for the kindness that she alone can see in him that he is named ‘Daya’, otherwise a terribly inappropriate name for a Gangster who kills ruthlessly and does not flinch when facing death. However love is an accidental impediment that the cold blooded killer could do without, for now he has begun to love life. It leads to a fallout with his underworld boss for whom Daya becomes a liability now. On the run from the intelligence agencies and his own gang, Daya sets Simran up in a safe house in Korea, while he wanders from one country to the other like a hunted prey. On the other hand, Simran, burdened with the guilt of innocent blood of a child, leads a lonely and meaningless life drinking away till she meets Akash (Emran Hashmi). A ‘bar singer’ in Korea, Akash gives Simran a new lease of life. But Daya is not about to give up the only person he has loved so easily. And it is love that makes Simran betray herself, again.
The screenplay is tight, the scenes are lucid and the story is coherent. Some sequences like the above mentioned opening scene make the film rise above the mediocre fare that is dished out every Friday. Other scenes like the Ya Ali Madad Ali Qawwali song where Daya confronts his boss, and the one where Daya and Simran are on the run, while the soulful Hamari Adhuri Kahani plays in the background are worth a second look. Other positives – overall the music (Preetam) is stirring, the songs inspired. The look of the film is fresh as the location is new to Indian screens. The brooding Shiney Ahuja is good eye candy and Kangana playing Simran looks stunning. But that is where it stops. And it is such a shame.
Shiney Ahuja and Kangana Ranaut unfortunately can not act to save their lifes. As long as they are only meant to brood and look away into the distances, they do wonderfully well. But somewhere, sometime they start speaking and ouch! At least Shiney Ahuja waits till after the interval to start speaking and even after that is very sparse with dialogues which stand him well. When Kangana speaks, her voice grates and her dialogue delivery is listless. Thus the emotionally intense scenes though well written fall flat with both main leads either screaming offensively or crying embarrassingly. Emran Hashmi as the third point of this triangle, Akash, does not surprise. He does what is expected of him, nothing more, nothing less. In other words, he kisses expertly, is nearly natural in love but when the script requires something more, he cannot deliver.
The location is beautiful but sadly wasted. It ultimately serves as a gorgeous painted backdrop, but nothing more. Nothing of the soul of the city has any part in the film. The neon lights, the golden maple trees are stunning, but to little effect. Unlike a Yash Raj bubblegum film, where locations are only meant to dazzle, I had expected more from such an interesting screenplay. Like Wong Kar Wai’s Hong Kong that permeates into the life of his every film. Imagine a foreign film that is shot in Bombay but has no real sense of anything that Bombay means or stands for – it would be criminal.
As I said in the beginning, Gangster is almost good, but finally not good enough.