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by Deepanjana Pal May 4, 2013
Instead of the usual disclaimer at the start of a film that the following feature is a fictional work, Shootout at Wadala begins with a notice that tells the audience that the film's story is inspired by S. Hussain Zaidi's book From Dongri to Dubai, about Mumbai's underworld. From this we may deduce that director Sanjay Gupta's film about Manya Surve, the first recorded victim of an 'encounter' with the Mumbai Police, is intended to be not just fun, but also educational. Here are some of the things that Shootout at Wadala has taught me.
1. In the 1980s, tanning was big business in Mumbai. Everyone in Shootout at Wadala has the kind of tan that would make Snooki look natural.
2. There used to be a mysterious neighbourhood in Mumbai that looked like the set of an abandoned cowboy film. It had a bar called Horseshoe Bar, where dancers (who looked like they'd forgotten most of their belly dancing costume) danced on tables and trucks. The bar had a dusty courtyard in which cowboys could have had shotgun duels, but since this was India and the '80s, it became a parking lot festooned with Chinese paper lanterns.
3. If you're looking for a murderer, he's the guy whose jaw juts out as though it's trying escape the rest of his face.
4. You could do tai chi classes in Pune's Yerwada Jail.
5. Missionary position sex, at least when gangsters do it, really is a workout. After some passionate groping, when it's time to really up the ante, John Abraham's Surve gets under the covers and does push-ups with his girlfriend (Kangana Ranaut) below him. No wonder he's the only one who breaks a sweat while she looks dazed and confused for most of the film.
6. When someone is shot repeatedly, they may not die but their body will break out impressive disco dancing moves. Having seen both Manoj Bajpai and Abraham's manoeuvres, I must say Bajpai is the winner. He could give Mithun Chakraborty a run for his Disco Dancer money.
7. The hair on Anil Kapoor's back has grown back since Race 2.
If you think knowing the plot of the film would help you appreciate the nuggets of wisdom better, you're vastly mistaken. True knowledge needs no context. Still, if you're so inclined, here's the plot of Shootout at Wadala.
In the 1970s, there was a good, Marathi mulga named Manohar Arjun Surve who studied in Kirti College. He wore kurtas, prayed regularly, didn't cheat in his exams and had a chaste romance with the girl he hoped to marry, aai shapath. Unfortunately, this poor lad becomes an accessory to murder that his stepbrother commits. Instead of just arresting him, a policeman pulls off his belt and whips Surve with it in the college hallway ' miraculously, the policeman's pants don't fall off ' and then packs Surve off to jail with his stepbrother. In jail, Surve's stepbrother is killed by a man with a jutting jaw (who, incidentally, also has the kind of hair that you expect in a Sunsilk advertisement. What conditioner did they give in Yerwada Central Jail, one wonders?). Largely to save his hide, Surve decides to beef up and learn some self-defence moves. The stepbrother's murder is avenged and Surve becomes boss of the prison. He then breaks out of jail with a friend, Sheikh Munir (Tusshar Kapoor), and shows up in Mumbai. There he meets Sunny Leone, starts a feud with a gangster duo, sets up his own gang, robs a few banks, kills a few people and then gets stuffed with bullets in an encounter with the police. This is not a spoiler. Shootout at Wadala begins at the end, with a bloody Surve in a police van, and the story is told in flashback.
The film isn't entirely joyless. In the first half, there are some zippy dialogues that are cheesy, but funny. These are lines written to get the crowd hooting and many are bang on target. Anil Kapoor, Ronit Roy and Mahesh Manjrekar, who play policemen, deliver a few sparklers. When a crowd at a multiplex starts whistling ' and it isn't either Sunny Leone or Priyanka Chopra or Sophie Choudhry gyrating on the screen ' you know it's a job well done. Unfortunately, Shootout at Wadala's script lacks tension. Part of the problem is the complete absence of logic. There's no build-up in Shootout at Wadala; only senseless roaring and blood-letting. It's as though screenplay writers Sanjay Gupta, Sanjay Bhatia and Abhijit Deshpande figured the only way to kill time till the climax was by killing people.
Also, the film is a competition to decide the worst actor of them all. Abraham's idea of a gangster is a scrunched-up face and his pecs seem to be capable of more expression than his facial muscles. Ranaut's attention seems to be focussed on maintaining her centre of gravity while wearing perilously long (and spiky) false eyelashes. Sonu Sood deserves some praise for not wearing kajal even though he is playing a Muslim gangster, but unfortunately that's about as much nuance as he can infuse into a character inspired by Dawood Ibrahim.
There is some truth in Shootout at Wadala. Manya Surve was indeed a real-life gangster, and he did have a sidekick named Sheikh Munir. The big encounter between Surve and Mumbai Police happened when he came to meet his girlfriend, as is shown in the climax of the film. It's also obvious from the dubbing of the film that originally, it had kept the actual names of the two characters inspired by Dawood Ibrahim and his brother, as well as those of the policemen played by Kapoor and Roy. Ultimately, though, it seems the film's thinktank decided to err on the side of caution and renamed all the central characters besides Surve and Munir.
Nothing seems anywhere close to real or realistic in Shootout at Wadala, besides the hair on Anil Kapoor's back, the bags under Jackie Shroff's eyes and Sunny Leone's cleavage. (Which, apparently, is more distinctive than her face. A young gentleman sitting next to me had no idea who she was when the camera showed her pouting face, but the moment its gaze had travelled a few inches lower to her upper torso, he exclaimed, "Oy! Sunny Leone!") The Mumbai in the film is a fantasy city and its gangsters are a joke. Director Sanjay Gupta seems have been attempting to do a Quentin Tarantino with Shootout at Wadala, given the over-the-top violence and slick dialogues that skid all over the film. But gangster films are slippery territory and Shootout at Wadala becomes more mindless and trite than fun.
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