Director: Ranjan Chandel
Writers: Hanzalah Shahid, Ranjan Chandel
Cast: Aditya Rawal, Shalini Pandey, Vijay Varma, Jatin Sarna
Streaming on: ZEE5
I like three-hour-long films that earn their length. The world-building tends to be immersive and languid. The stories are designed to feature time – and a sense of journey – as a primary character. Similarly, a running length of 90 minutes demands a specific narrative language. A sense of abrupt briskness needs to be inherent to the spirit of the story, and not the other way around. Bamfaad, directed by Ranjan Chandel, is a long film at heart. It features a forbidden love story, a Sairat-style eloping, a fearsome gangster, a backdrop of political rivalry – a combination of which merits the kind of simmering, slow-cooked heat of two-pronged pace that allows the viewer to invest in the arc of a mercurial young couple. Yet, Bamfaad is cut like a swift and generic action thriller. It runs at just over an hour and a half and consequently looks like a hurried highlights package of Hindi cinema’s favourite Shakespeare-in-hinterland template.
Bamfaad (which translates to “explosive”) refers to the personality of its protagonist, Nasir Jamal (Aditya Rawal, son of Paresh Rawal), a spoilt brat from an influential family who falls for an enigmatic girl, Neelam (Shalini Pandey). Nasir is introduced like most roadside romeos are – in a college exam, running a cheating racket before beating up a local goon in a bus. He has the lean athletic build of a Saurashtra fast bowler and loves being the troublemaker. His father gently admonishes him with a wad of cash; it’s all brash masculinity and beer-drinking until he sees a soft-faced Neelam. Naturally, he stalks her and forces himself into her house, but she falls for him the moment this hooligan turns sanskaari, blushes at her bold first move and puts the dupatta back onto her neck. She is floored by his unexpected chivalry. “I’m not used to nice men like you,” she remarks in her love letter, hinting that she might have a bit of an abusive past. Why else would she think a rakish hyena is a domesticated animal? Enter Vijay Varma – an actor so electric that Hindi filmmakers can’t seem to think past casting him as the misogynistic, passive-aggressive villain. Here he plays the fabled gangster who has Neelam as his mistress, thereby carving a collision path with the angry Nasir. Blood is spilled, Nasir becomes a target, and a chase across Uttar Pradesh begins (and ends before you know it). Time constantly feels like the enemy, frequent songs are used to glide over entire phases, and every single element – from the textural establishment of Allahabad to the love-at-second-sight wooing to the strange on-the-run adventures – betrays the mood-piece posturing of its central romance.
The film is structured and written to enable this unwarranted shortness, so no critique can be as simple as saying “Bamfaad should have been an hour longer”. A sentence can be rephrased only if its grammar is still correct. For instance, in a dire attempt to dramatize the tale with action rather than rhythm, almost every character is made to look extremely careless about their weapons. Nasir grabs a pistol no less than thrice from the jeans of gun-toting goons at different points in the film so that a shootout numbs the plot into rapid submission. Even Neelam grabs one towards the end. Not to mention the number of times a gun is carelessly abandoned in the middle of a violent scene. These contrivances are too visible. As a result, the few moments of symbolism feel forced: Neelam leaves a sapling unplanted on her terrace to attend to her gangster early on, an image that connects to a sapling planted at a grave in the final shot.
The performances, too, veer between hot and cold: Aditya Rawal is saddled with a role that’s all hellfire and ham, while Arjun Reddy actress Shalini Pandey’s Hindi debut restricts her to the submissive-fragile-lover stereotype. It’s not the first time she plays a heroine who gets slapped, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Vijay Varma doesn’t seem to be challenged anymore as the face of unreliable greyness, but he still disarms parts of the film with his nonchalant sense of menace: At one point, he vents at a sidekick named Sanam with a “tu toh sahi mein bewafa nikla” and strides away. Bamfaad barely survives on his energy, but culminates with the sort of self-righteous anti-climax that turns the title into more of a quick-and-dirty Diwali firecracker than a lethal nuclear classic.