Cast: Rani Mukerji, Saif Ali Khan, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Sharvari, Pankaj Tripathi
Director: Varun V Sharma
Rating: 2 Stars (out of5)
Banish the hope forthwith: the free-flowing abandon of Bunty Aur Babli is nowhere in sight in its sequel. Bunty Aur Babli is a laboured, overly frothy attempt to build upon the notion that the 2005 film stood on: two young people too ambitious for the small towns they belong to turn into robber-rebels who use their innate wiles to trick the greedy into parting with their wealth.
Bunty Aur Babli 2 opens in 2021. Bad loans, online frauds and phishing are the order of the day. It is rather odd for two youngsters - one of them is looking for funds for a start-up - to go to such lengths to swindle a bunch of lecherous Delhi businessmen who want to have fun on an island that does not exist or an avaricious Varanasi mayor who is led to believe he can take the Ganga on lease and use the waters of the holy river the way he wants. Aren't there easier ways of lining one's pockets these days?
The actors - Rani Mukerji, the sole survivor from the original cast, is joined by Saif Ali Khan, Siddhant Chaturvedi and debutante Sharvari Wagh - give it their collective best shot but are unable to rescue Bunty Aur Babli 2 from its dreary fate.
When it is obvious that everybody on the screen is trying exceedingly hard to rise above the pedestrian, and is under pressure to rekindle mass enthusiasm for an idea that worked absolutely perfectly in 2005 but fizzles out 16 years on, the purpose of the endeavour is not only undermined, it is defeated.
Directed by first-timer Varun V. Sharma (who is also the screenwriter), Bunty Aur Babli 2 is a tedious concoction that pits the original con artists nonpareil against a pair of cocky upstarts who defraud people using the methods, names and insignia of the crooks who were never caught and whose exploits are now part of folklore.
The 'brand' violation gets the goat of Rakesh Trivedi (Khan) and his wife Vimmi (Mukerji), who have settled into staid, small-town domesticity. The latter is happy with her faux designer clothes; the former is content selling tickets at a railway station to fulfil his father's wish.
Parents of a teenage boy, the Trivedi couple is pulled back into the life they left behind a decade and a half ago by deputy superintendent of police Jatayu Singh (Pankaj Tripathi). After a daring swindle by two fraudsters who call themselves Bunty and Bali hits the headlines, the policeman believes the two scammers of yore are back in business. He arrests the middle-aged Bunty Aur Babli and locks them up in the police station.
The new Bunty and Babli strike again and Jatayu infers that he is on the trail of the wrong suspects. He sets Rakesh and Vimmi free but ropes them in to lay a trap for the real culprits and catch them red-handed. His plans go awry because the wily young hustlers are always a step ahead of him. Eventually Rakesh and Vimmi resolve to get to the bottom of things and punish the posers.
The action shifts from Delhi, Fursatganj and Varanasi to Goa and Abu Dhabi after Kunal (Chaturvedi) and Sonia (Wagh) flee with a large sum of money recovered by income-tax officials from the home of a corrupt politician. But they have no idea how to turn the unaccounted wealth into money that they can spend without the fear of being hauled up for thuggery. Into the breach walk the flimflam couple who once operated as Bunty and Babli with impunity and, as it transpires, haven't lost any of their enthusiasm.
The first half of Bunty Aur Babli 2 is passable. The second is barely up to scratch. The writing is pedestrian and the actors, especially Rani, embrace excess for the purpose of delivering mirth. There isn't any percentage in tomfoolery that spins out of control in a film that is trying too hard to be funny.
The role written for Pankaj Tripathi, an actor whose comic abilities have never been in doubt, is particularly sketchy, especially if one holds it up against what screenwriter Jaideep Sahni had conjured up for Amitabh Bachchan in the Shaad Ali-directed Bunty Aur Babli. Rakesh Trivedi and Vimmi Saluja, two young daydreamers, had met at a railway station and gone on the run after pulling off a series of daring con jobs - including the sale of the Taj Mahal. Kunal's ambitions are pretty much of the kind that Rakesh nurtured two decades back. His daring deeds, however, are part of plans hatched by his girlfriend, who aspires to start a food app and bid goodbye to trickery.
An introductory voiceover by Tripathi - it has shades of the Big B's Yeh jo world hain na is mein do tarah ke log hote hain opening salvo in Bunty Aur Babli - states the obvious. Time was when the dreams of youngsters trapped in the boondocks of Uttar Pradesh were built around what they saw on television, heard on radio or read in newspapers. Today, their ambitions spring from their exposure to social media.
Rakesh and Vimmi belong to the past; Kunal and Sonia represent the present. The clash of two generations of scam artists would have been infinitely funnier had the Bunty and Babli of earlier times been allowed to set the pace for the two youngsters instead of the other way around.
Comic timing comes easy to Rani and Saif. They are saddled with wisecracks that are devoid of wisdom. Siddhant and Sharvari, who don a variety of guises, make an enthusiastic screen pair. Once again, the script plays spoilsport.
As Bunty Aur Babli 2 winds up, the senior duo moves into top gear and begins to teach the younger pair a thing or two about the art of conning people. But it is a case of too little too late. Given the note on which the film ends, another sequel seems very much on the cards. But if it's going to be a misfire of this magnitude, it might be better for Bunty and Babli to retreat right back into their shells. We will be more than happy to live with the memories of 2005.