“Golden era” of HBO programming, hai, ya box office ka golden time chal raha hai, ya sunehre din hai yeh Indian streaming platforms ke, whichever of these are true, if not all
One thing is for certain, we are lucky ki Raj and DK ka ITNA kaam dekhne mil raha hai iss lifetime mein. Itne prolific, itne inventive. Sab….hamaare liye??
Set in the 90s, shot in Dehradun, Guns and Gulaabs revolves around opium ugaane waale, khareedne waale, aur alleged kaanoon ke rakhwaale, as some bhole some not so bhaale towns-people find themselves getting involved, one degree of separation from murders and crime at a time. The opium taskari expands economically as rapidly as the country was at the time, and everyone wants a piece of the drug-laced addictive pie.
At 7 episodes, the last one being so long, it actually has a cheeky interval built in, Guns and Gulaabs is more expansive than Farzi I dare say. Farzi’s Shahid-Sethupati combination is seen and raised — Gulshan Devaiah-Rajkummar Rao-Adarsh Gourav-Dulquer Salmaan-Vipin Sharma- Satish Kaushik. No major female actors are given any top billing unless you count Shreya Dhanwanthary’s 3–4 scenes, which I’m squarely putting away under “cameo”.
Raj, DK, and writer Suman Kumar provide you with a basic setup of the local geography, where the local thana is, so long it will take you to get there on a bicycle, Tipu ki tyre puncture ki dukaan kitni door hai, eent ki bhatti la layout kya hai. Jaise maino concentric circles tighten hokar nucleus ki tarf condense ho rahe ho dheere dheere, saari locations, or unke nivaasi are all being pushed toward each other without realizing.
Episodes, called chapters here, are like a school book because one major character Chandralekh played by TJ Bhanu is a school teacher I don’t know if am I reaching……pastiche the 90s in the most fun ways. From hired killer from Bombay, 4 cut Atmaram’s delightful and oddly currently trendy mullet, to police waala Arjun’s collections of audio cassettes, the show is nostalgia porn for those who talk about the “good old days” a lot. For others, the time period setting seems to be the obvious choice to help turn this dramatic tale of contraband and murder, into a comedy of errors. Elaborate plans are made on landlines, not knowing who is calling on the other end, and conspirators have to keep their voices down at PCO booths. Love is expressed through perfume sprayed, handwritten love letters, and not by sharing relatable memes on Instagram. Joh time ham aajkal cell phones par waste karte hain, who 90s mein cell phone na hone ki wajah se waste hota tha, par in gaps mein, jahaan do feuding sides ek doosre se baat hi nahi kar paa rahi hai, confusion aur chaos create karne ka kitna sahi mauka hai.
Kitchy opening title sequence created by Harkat Studios, scored by Aman Pant invites you into a terrarium like Gulaabganj. Kaun villain hai, kaun hero isko establish karne ki zero jaldi mein, the show allows you to observe the surrounding, walking in scorching heat, like its some sort of perverted Westworld, you rich people watching the locals are allowed to feel good about your cozy, lazy lives. Each character is created for a specific type of action, performing their “type” as you drive past slowly. Maybe it’s Raj and Dk, maybe it’s the people in this village looking to self-identify as type, ki is dreary, dry land mein kuch karna hai, toh ek characteristic pakad ke uspar zyada focus karna hoga.
Everyone in Gulaabganj has a secret. The late Satish Kaushik is Ganchi, desperate to score the biggest illegal opium sale he’s ever done before, but also secretly hoping his son would take over. Son Jugnu, played by Adarsh Gourav tries to be what he thinks his father wants but secretly wishes for a different life. Arjun is the ideal man, works for the government, loves his wife and child, par he might have more secrets than everyone around him. These cupboards mein confined skeletons motivate nearly all the characters on the show. From a school child secretly in love with his teacher, to a hidden gun to be retrieved at an opportune moment, the show gathers most momentum when everything starts tumbling out into the open. In the initial few episodes, after all the aforementioned panorama of the village and people are done, I couldn’t QUITE figure out where the story was headed. References to the Chamber of Shaolin, Sanjay Dutt, and even a mention of the MLM craze so many housewares fell for back then, are lovely decorations, around a thin middle part of the show. Most disappointingly, the incredible Gulshan Devaiah vanishes for a long period of time taking his impossibly watchable character 4 cut atmaram with him. Dulquer Salman despite his formidable screen presence never gets too creative with his character Arjun. Rajkummar as Paana Tipu is given the most satisfactory character arc and you best believe the actor RUNS with it. Motivated by one-sided love, Rajkummar, who has played a village/small town lad in so so many things, still manages to bring a hilarious jumpiness to Paana Tipu, a man perfectly capable of murder, but perhaps afraid of loud noises. Reuniting with Shaitan and Badhai Do co-star Gulshan, Raj’s performance, for me, held the show together in many places where the proceedings got so dull, I paused and went to grab a snack.
Adarsh Gourav as Jugnu is the biggest revelation of the show. An internationally acclaimed actor, Adarsh samosa khaate huye bhi utna menacing hai jitna apne dost ke saamne rote huye. There are few parts scarier to watch in a thriller than a trigger-happy incompetent fool, Jugnu is that guy here. Jab-jab screenplay thoda khone lagta hai, we are given one random episode from Jugnu’s rapidly changing life and it’s always fun to cut to.
My other fav performance on the show comes from a scene-stealing Tanishq Chaudhary playing school student Gangaram. He looks like a young Amrish Puri and acts like some far beyond his age, the writing doing incredible justice to the young performer’s talents, quickly taking his “type” and peeling the curtains back to show everything that goes in the making of an angry young uncouth youth, and how easy it is to stop that from happening. A stunning performance, I hope to see more of the actor soon.
Despite able supporting performances from a superlative Vipin Sharma, Manuj Sharma, TJ Bhanu, Pooja Gor, and nearly constant gunshots, Guns and Gulaabs in the middle of its run begins to mimic the inhabitants of Gulaabganj and goes for a little siesta partly due to Sumit Arora’s unimaginative Hindi dialogue, “happy congratulations bhaiyya” said by a side character is the only thing I find myself quoting after spending many days with these people. Most of the dialogue us banal, like “Agar tujhe tere parivar ki keemat lagaane ke liye bolta toh kya keemat lagata tu?”. The show relies too heavily on the quirkiness of the people in it, dialogue straining under the weight of the collective might of the cast.
When you think Succession, say for instance, another drama laced with comedy and rich people’s crimes, after the acting the second most memorable thing from EACH episode were the lines, “ludicrously capacious bag”, “congrats on losing your betrayal cherry” and my favorite “If a deal collapses in a wood and no one hears it, is it an SEC violation?”. A Google search for Succession’s best quotes will yield 100s of articles ONLY talking about the lines. Every word takes you to the very moment it was said on the show.
Re-invigorated post its afternoon nap though Guns and Gulaabs comes alive again in the final nearly feature film-length, 2-part chapter. A masterclass in screenplay writing, this time we get many times, the show not wanting to leave any Hindi cinema trope behind, Cinematographer Pankaj Kumar and editor Sumeet Kotian then shift into high gear going all guns blazing, pun not intended into a rain of bullets and then sunset. Make sure you sit and enjoy the closing credit sequence credited to Arushi Jain, mazeylekar observe karoge toh pata chalega ek kumar sanu ka gaane mein strings and brass section Prague ke film harmonic orchestra ne kiya hai I think shayad?