Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K (popularized as Raj and D.K), can be called proficient filmmakers of modern Indian Cinema. Shor in the City is one of the best movies of all time. Go Goa Gone is one of the best Indian zombie films. An unpopular opinion, maybe, but A Gentleman is a decent spy thriller with a good dose of action. But then the directing duo shifted gears and went into serialized storytelling with The Family Man. And while the first season was a massive hit, they faltered massively with the second season. They released a secret sequel to that show called Farzi, and that ended up being an even bigger flop, leaving no cultural footprint whatsoever. With Guns & Gulaabs, Raj and D.K. have decided to veer into something lighter within the realm of crime. Has that done them any good? Well, let’s find out.
After collaborating with writer Suman Kumar in The Family Man and Farzi, Raj, and D.K. have joined hands with him again in Guns & Gulaabs. The story takes place in Gulaabganj, which is famous for its opium farming. Some of it is used for legal purposes by the government, and the rest is obviously used for illegal purposes by the mob boss, Ganchi. In the neighboring town of Sherpur, Ganchi’s ex-protégé and current enemy, Nabeed, wants to bring Ganchi to his knees and take control of the opium business. So, he starts with Ganchi’s trusted goon, Babu Tiger, who is killed by Atmaram (popularly known as 4-Cut Atmaram). This brings Babu Tiger’s son, Tipu, into the picture. He isn’t all that interested in avenging his father, as his mind is on Chandralekha, the English teacher at the local English-medium school. Just before a major deal is about to go down between Ganchi and Sukanto (the spokesperson for a gang in Kolkata), the new cop in town, Arjun Varma, arrives along with his wife, Madhu, and daughter, Jyotsna. Since SP Mishra is already in Ganchi’s pocket, he wants to get Arjun over to his side too, and although Arjun wants to take the righteous, he has some skeletons in his closet that can be exploited. Amidst all this, there’s the trio of friends, Nannu, Gangu, and Ikhlaq. Nannu gets competitive with Jyotsna because they are that good at studying, while Gangu gets competitive with Tipu because he is in love with Chandralekha too. Am I missing something? Oh yes, there’s Ganchi Junior, AKA Jugnu, who is afraid of living and dying in his father’s shadow.
As you can clearly see, there’s a lot going on in Guns & Gulaabs, and Raj, D.K., and Suman Kumar take their sweet time to lay it all out for you, and in doing so, they cover a lot of ground in terms of themes. Ganchi represents overambition. His rivalry with Nabeed is emblematic of every petty feud between egotistical men. Jugnu is the result of toxic masculinity. Tipu embodies every man who is unable to move out of their town during their 20s. Arjun showcases moral and legal corruption. Gangu’s journey highlights what happens when a kid has to grow up too fast due to unforeseen circumstances. Nannu and Jyotsna are your typical high school love story, albeit with several twists. What is Atmaram? He seems to have stepped out of a Ramsay Brothers film and is testing out how far he can go with his devilry in this world of mortals. However, the issue that the writers run into is a lack of depth. Despite coming up with a wide array of topics, they don’t really explore them in any meaningful way. They simply keep going in circles until it’s time to give them a cathartic ending. So, that made me question whether they needed six whole episodes to do what can be wrapped up in around 100 minutes; add that to the 80-minute-long finale, and you have a decent film on your hands. Why does everything have to be a show?
Another thing that’s probably evident by now is the way the women are written in Gun & Gulaabs. Madhu doesn’t leave her home, tries to run a makeup business, and then suspects her husband of cheating on her. Chandralekha, despite being a teacher, doesn’t get to do anything substantial. Even a teenage boy with no expertise in firearms gets to fire a gun during a gunfight, and she doesn’t? How does that even make sense? Jyotsna gets a lot of screen time, but she is written in such a stereotypical fashion that it makes my head hurt. Then there’s Yamini, whose movement is limited to a hotel room. And yes, the writers can hide behind excuses like, “Back in the ‘90s, women didn’t have a lot of agency” or “This is a throwback to how women were written in Bollywood movies back in the ‘90s.” However, there’s a part-vampire, part-Jack the Ripper, with seven lives oscillating between Gulaabganj and Sherpur in the form of a character called Atmaram. Realism has officially left the chat. Raj, D.K., and Suman don’t have a good history of writing female characters, and things are not getting better. Therefore, if they want women in their stories in any capacity whatsoever, they should get women into the writers’ rooms. It’s okay not to be perfect in every department, but it’s important to admit that you aren’t good at everything and take the help of those who are better than you.
Talking about things that Raj and D.K. are good at, everything that is happening on a technical level in Guns & Gulaabs is really well directed by them. The production design (Parichit A. Paralkar), the costume design, the hair and makeup, the sets, it’s all impeccable. DOP Pankaj Kumar comes up with innovative angles to shoot every single scene. From abandoned warehouses to open highways, they have a vintage and dynamic look to them. Sumeet Kotian’s editing is what keeps the otherwise meandering plot from feeling too stale. The action sequences are fantastic. The stunt team has done a splendid job. In fact, it’s so good that one of the stunt experts falling brutally off his motorbike is included in the trailer. There’s a scene where Rajkummar Rao gets chased by a bunch of goons, and it seems like he has done all of his stunts himself. If that’s the case, then it’s really commendable. The shootouts are laugh-out-loud hilarious as they are peppered with brilliant character-defining dialogues and actions. There’s a lot of invisible VFX and CGI work that has gone into every other frame, and it’s worthy of appreciation because it’s invisible. The music is amazing. Raj and D.K.’s morbid sense of humor is on full display. Be it revenge, grief, or anger, they have an undercurrent of dark comedy. It is a little inconsistent throughout the first six episodes. However, all the elements really come together in that final one.
Everyone in the cast of Guns & Gulaabs is fantastic. Satish Kaushik, Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan, Vipin Sharma, Manuj Sharma, T.J. Bhanu, the child actors, and every single supporting actor are fabulous. As cliche, as it may sound, they disappear into their characters, and that’s why their dialogue delivery, their body language, and their micro-reactions feel organic. It doesn’t seem like they’re remembering lines from a script and echoing their director’s suggestions. The issue is that what they are saying and how they are acting doesn’t seem very period accurate. It sounds and looks too modern and not too different from what we have seen in films and shows set in the 2010s or 2020s. If the point is to show that people back then weren’t as different from what we are now, then great job. If not, then this is a massive fumble. The show is also supposed to be a throwback to 1990s Bollywood films. However, none of that flavor is present in the writing or the performances. The only outlier in this case is, of course, Gulshan Devaiah. He walks, talks, and looks like a classic Bollywood goon who is trying to copy a fictional anti-hero he idolizes. He embraces all the stereotypes his character is synonymous with, and that is what makes Atmaram iconic. The rest simply pale in comparison. FYI, all the actors do elevate the material they’re working with, but it’s not enough, in my opinion.
Overall, Guns & Gulaabs is an average show. The writing is a major letdown, but everything that it does visually is interesting to look at. The nighttime sequences are disappointing because, apparently, Hindi movies and shows still can’t do low-light photography properly. At least Bollywood movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s had good-looking nighttime scenes. So, if you are trying to make the audience remember the good old days, they could’ve gotten that right. Well, the upside of watching Gulshan Devaiah’s shenanigans is that I want to watch some Ramsay Brothers films or any old-school Indian horror film. Am I interested in a potential second season of this show? Well, not really, because Raj and D.K. have so much going on that I don’t think they can pull it off. I am a fan of their older work, but it has become a case of diminishing returns. They need to improve their directorial skills, space out their projects, or hire skilled artists who can take their IPs forward. Now, even though I’ve said it’s “an average show,” I think it’s my duty to warn you about a last-minute twist that’ll definitely make or break the series for you. Therefore, be prepared for it, and once you are done processing it, share your thoughts with us.