In the 2000s, Jaideep Sahni was on a hot streak. Of the seven films he wrote that decade, three are landmarks: Company (2002), Khosla Ka Ghosla (2006), Chak De! India (2007). Each of these films had an impact on the Hindi cinema that came after, not something one would claim for Bunty Aur Babli (2005), another Sahni-penned title of that era. Shaad Ali's film was just a good deal of fun—a smartly written caper vehicle for Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji, one of the last memorable Bollywood hero-heroine pairings.
When Bunty Aur Babli 2 was announced, everyone was up in arms about Bachchan being replaced by Saif Ali Khan. Turns out they should have worried about the absence of Sahni. Varun V. Sharma doesn’t offer much more or less as director than Ali, who had Avik Mukhopadhyay to shoot his film. But there’s a significant gap between Sharma's writing and Sahni’s. The voiceover that began Ali’s film had a rough poetry. There’s a voiceover at the start of this film too, but merely functional. It's been a while since I saw the original, but I think Sahni’s metaphors will hold up better than older Babli saying, “I’m from UP—I can look up at a bird in the sky and tell its gender”, a line which badly wants to be Gangs of Wasseypur’s ‘ek pankh se…’.
Bunty and Babli have given up the trickster life and are living under their real names, Rakesh and Vimmi. They have a kid, he has a spare tyre, she's washing undergarments. They’ve traded in excitement and danger for life as middle-class schnooks, and would probably have stayed that way if it wasn’t for an outbreak of elaborate cons—by Bunty and Babli. Inspector Jatayu (Pankaj Tripathi) throws them in jail, but when it becomes clear they aren’t pulling the jobs, he recruits them to find the imposters.
We're introduced to Kunal (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Sonia (Sharvari Wagh) as they embezzle money from horny uncles under the pretext of sending them on a sleazy vacation. Sonia's dream is to be a suit; Kunal seems content to hang around her. They’re annoyingly nice—smugly executing their schemes, giving away most of the money to charity, trying to “expose the system”. Like a lot of young Hindi film actors today, Chaturvedi and Wagh seem hyper-aware of the camera all the time. Scene after scene ends with the two of them grinning and preening, as if a still-photographer is lurking off-screen.
It’s not just that we have to swallow the idea that Kunal and Sonia won’t recognize an obvious con job if they’re not orchestrating it. What’s depressing is the film’s reluctance to stay even a little ahead of the audience. If you’re bringing in Brijendra Kala’s character from the first film, why not let him enter in the middle of a job, a little reward for viewers who remember him? Instead, we see Rakesh and Vimmi approach him for help in advance of laying their trap.
Mukerji’s clothes are a monument to bad taste—it’s hilarious that someone like Sabyasachi (name-checked twice) was brought in and asked to design a series of outfits with giant flowers on them. Yet, they seem somehow right for the unselfconscious Vimmi, and Mukerji’s more enjoyable here than she’s been in a while. Khan gamely plays a slob—he’s a better sport than other stars his age, which isn’t to say his Bunty is memorable in the least.
Thankfully, there’s no Kajra Re remake; even YRF knows better than to poke that bear. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with Bunty Aur Babli 2—just a bunch of small disappointments adding up to an unsatisfying whole. By the end, Babli is speaking the language of studio franchises: licensing fee, copyright, brand. Perhaps this is the light in which the film should be viewed: an old property revived not because there was something new to say, but just because it was there.
Bunty Aur Babli 2 is in theatres.