Gunda is a 1998 Hindi movie starring the legendary Mithun Chakraborty. Usually, that should be reason enough to watch this movie but aside from being a kickass film like every other Mithun Chakraborty film, Gunda is on a different plane.
You see, I had heard about this epic film a long time ago but was unable to find a copy anywhere until now. Ten minutes into the film, I knew this was going to be my new favourite film. I wrote this as soon as I finished watching it.
The film opens at an airport runway when a goon named Lambu Aatta rendezvous with a ‘home minister’ who arrives by what I assume is his own personal helicopter. Aatta drives what looks like a Maruti 1000 (remember, this is 1998). Together they hatch a plan to kill an accomplice of Bulla, the primary antagonist in the film (and believe me there are quite a few antagonists in this one). With the plan hatched, Aatta announces how the victim of his atrocity will go to Bulla screaming his name out loud. Sure enough, that is exactly what happens in the following scene to which it abruptly cuts to.
This is important because the film is riddled with such instances where you can be sure that the next scene that appears on screen will play out just like it was described in the previous one.
In my opinion, this is one of the brilliant qualities of the film. It just cuts to the chase without lengthy explanations of why some of the things that are happening on the screen are happening. In fact, much of the movie cannot be explained, for it defies logic. But then again that is not to say that there aren’t flashes of metaphorical genius.
When Bulla’s accomplice goes looking for him with a big bloody sword sticking out of his stomach (which you can tell he is simply holding with his hands), he does so first at a seaport, then at a coal mine, and then at a shipping dock. I am hypothesising here but this must be director Kanti Shah’s not-so-subtle way telling the audience that Bulla is essentially a smuggler of some sorts. Anyway, with the aforementioned sword sticking from his stomach, the accomplice dies after stating the warning issued by his killer. This is where we meet the villains of the film, all of whom have catchphrases to go along with their names.
For example, Bulla (portrayed brilliantly by Mukesh Rishi of Sarfarosh fame) has this to say after his accomplice dies in front of him, EVERYTIME: Mera naam hain Bulla, rakhta hoon khulla. Go on, take some time out to soak that piece of information in because you will need your breath for what’s about to hit you.
After Bulla, we meet the other villains. First off is Bulla’s effeminate (possibly gay?) brother Chuttia. Yes, you read that correct but before you go OMG, his name is actually a reference to the way he ties his hair. I suppose. You know, like a choti. Here’s how he introduces himself by breaking the fourth wall: Mera naam hain Chuttia, achho-achho ki khadi karta hoon mein khatiya. Oh and he is played by Shakti Kapoor.
Continuing this mandatory rhyming introduction sequence is Potey who says “mera naam hain Potey, joh apne baap ke bhi nahi hotey”, before popping a chana into his mouth. Next is Ibu Hattela who begins his intro with the words, you guessed it, “mera naam hain Ibu Hattela, maa meri churail ki beti, baap mera shaitan ka chaila. (Pointing at his dick) Khaiga kela?”
The film is replete with sexist, homophobic remarks and does not shy away from showing women as nothing more than creatures to be sexually assaulted and murdered to satisfy men’s needs. In fact, most of the female characters in the film spend most of the time lying down being raped and/or murdered. The director obviously took the big book of political correctness and threw it out from the window of a 2784th floor apartment. And then he sat down to write prose in poetry.
Throughout the entire film, the characters hardly seem to speak in anything other than simple A-B rhythmic meters. Sample this. In one scene, one of the villains says: Zyada berber karke apne zindagi mein maut ki garbar mat kar. Or this: Tu mar gayi? Lambu ne tujhe lamba kar diya? Maachis ki tilli se khamba kar diya?
So now the villains plan their next move and Bulla kills Lambu Aatta’s brother who then rapes Bulla’s sister and then ends up getting killed himself. A few minutes later the ‘home minister’ from the first scene is murdered in front of around 50 policemen. There is so much death already happening that you realise that it’s pointless keeping count. What is important is that crime is running rampant and humanity appears to be dying a quick death with each passing day. What hope does mankind have? Enter Shankar!
Shankar is our hero, our saviour and works as a coolie in a shipping dock (owned by Bulla?). He enters the scene to stop the man who killed the minister from boarding a helicopter. What the hell is he doing at an airport in his work clothes is anyone’s guess.
Soon after his first act of heroism, Shankar (still in his work clothes) meets the four antagonists and a topless muscleman. They are not alone for Bulla has brought along his pet cheetah for some reason. Now, I don’t know if the director was trying to be clever but this seemed like some sort of in-house joke considering that Mithun was in a film called ‘Cheetah’.
After Shankar and the villains exchange pleasantries, we are introduced to Shankar’s sister Geeta who is friends with Ganga. They are G-mates.
This is where the romantic side story kicks in for Ganga is in love with Shankar who refuses her not-so-subtle advances. Here we also learn that while Shankar has taken the task of cleaning the streets upon his shoulders, he is no saint. Shankar is a flawed character and appears to be quite a drunk as he begins to jive with his coolie colleagues, all of whom are still in their work clothes. At this bar(?) where he’s enjoying some good old brown, Ganga begins singing a song telling Shankar to get drunk on her instead of the booze all the while gyrating obscenely and promoting Deepika Padukone’s ‘My Choice’ video.
After the song-and-dance, Shankar heads home and we are introduced to his pet monkey, Tinchu. At this point I am wondering if Shankar has a second job as a madari.
Some more hatching and plotting happens, a distasteful sex scene follows and then an unlicensed mixed martial fight to the death match at the dock and another song where Shankar’s wearing a yellow jumpsuit with a white turtleneck and the women are dressed as Arabian belly dancers. I already mentioned before that much of the movie defies logic. Now with the story finally moving forward, what sets Shankar on his road to rampage and vengeance that would make Beatrice Kiddo from Kill Bill proud is when his father, a police constable is beaten up in the middle of the city (Ooty?) centre. Shankar arrives on time to save his father and what follows next is the most awesome fight sequence in film history.
After beating his way through a dozen hired goons, Shankar takes on the big, bad, bad guy who is, I suppose, trained in Muay Thai as he elbows Shankar causing him to bleed a little. Thus proving that contrary to what may have preceded in the film, Shankar is an ordinary man, just like you and me, who has resolved to be extraordinary. I think, therefore I am.
But obviously Shankar beats the crap out of this guy too but not before briefly engaging in an arm-wrestling match. News of the assault reaches Bulla who is mad pissed at the unfolding of the events and he directs his muscleman Nata to kidnap (and possibly rape) Shankar’s sister Geeta. And that is exactly what happens in the next scene.
Break: This film may seem like it’s getting too predictable but that is where its brilliance lies. It’s not pretending to be something it isn’t and in my opinion, films should be like that. You feel safe knowing what you are getting into. I mean, what the hell were those extremely long periods of blackness in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey about anyway?
I digress. So we have Shankar’s sister getting sexually assaulted when a doe-eyed boy by the name of Gulshan comes to her rescue. They exchange names and she leaves. And just as abruptly as she leaves, a song breaks out. Now you would think considering the earlier scene that this song would be between Geeta and Gulshan, but it isn’t. This song has Shankar and Ganga dancing at a park in the daytime and a hill in the evening in god-awful garish clothes.
The next scene is at Bulla’s mansion where the aforementioned doe-eyed Gulshan is with Bulla and his brother Chuttia. You see, Gulshan is no hero and is actually a rat bastard who lures women with his boyish charms and sends them to brothels to prostitute the shit out of them. In fact, the entire ‘rescue Geeta act’ was just that- an act. The plan is to get Gulshan married to Geeta and let Chuttia have his way with her on the night of the wedding itself. But Chuttia has a problem.
In normal everyday language we would probably term Chuttia’s problem as suffering from low libido. But in the world of Hindi cinema, and more specifically in Gunda, Chuttia lacks aag. Fire. With a name like Chuttia you would think that’s the last thing he would be suffering from. And while it may not be a perfect world, Bulla does have help at hand.
When Chuttia expresses doubts about whether he would be able to (ahem) perform or not, Bulla hands him what is presumably a Viagra pill and says: Tere andar aag bhar degi yeh goli, phir tu phaar dega uski choli. Do ‘face palm’ now.
This is just 40-something minutes into the film and already a large number of people have died. And there’s more to come by the way. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who haven’t watched it yet but in short Shankar issues a warning to all the villains, he adopts a baby, thrashes a brothel which has beds hanging from the ceiling, there’s even a suggestion of necrophilia at one point of time. It’s just too much to explain. But I will describe one more scene.
Towards the later part of the film when Shankar is chasing after one of the villains, he finds himself in a large open field. At the field, the villain has managed to give Shankar the slip and Shankar finds his path being blocked by a sea of white HM Ambassador cars with their doors open. Looking for the corrupt policeman who works with Bulla, Shankar begins to close all the doors of the cars. What’s so great about this scene? Metaphor.
Since the Ambassadors have always been a symbol of India’s bureaucracy and VIP culture, by closing the doors of those cars, Shankar’s closing the door on the evils of those who wield their powers recklessly. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thankfully in the world of make-believe there is Shankar to act as a durbaan.
My suggestion to all of you reading this would be to see this film. It’s on YouTube and I can give it to you if you would want it. Actually scrap that. You MUST watch this film. Gunda should be made mandatory viewing by law for all citizens and become part of college curriculum. My outlook towards life has changed after watching Gunda. I suggest you do the same for Gunda is not a film. It’s sausage.
This “review” was first written on 17 April 2015. The day my life changed.
Gunda is available for viewing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTZgFw8sExQ