I haven’t written a Hindi movie review since Band Baaja Baaraat, not because there have been no films worth writing about, but because none have seemed to need the extra attention, or have required that I share my point of view on them beyond a recommendation. Like the previous film by the same team, however, Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is a deceptively simple but intricate creature, which pleases me on all the levels at which I enjoy watching movies. Once again, I’ve been given a film I do have a few things to say about.
Ranveer Singh returns in this, his second outing as actor, playing a conman who travels through India, swindling young women out of money using a variety of schemes. In Delhi he uses his position as boyfriend of the effervescent Dimple Chaddha (Parineeti Chopra) to con her father into buying property he doesn’t own, in Lucknow he quietly convinces the in-laws of young widow Saira Rashid (Aditi Sharma) to part with a payment for a large order of hand-crafted fabric he has little to do with, and finally in Bombay he cons the hard-nosed corporate employee Raina Parulekar (Dipannita Sharma) to pay millions for a fake painting. The publicity behind that last scandal gets the three women together and they decide to track down their common foe and con him into returning their lost money and more. To do this deed, they take on the help of Ishika Desai (Anushka Sharma), an exceptionally talented sales woman at a local department store, to be his fake new mark. To con the conman, what can be a more challenging game?
A year ago, I described Baand Baaja Baaraat as resembling a golgappa, an explosion of street-side flavours all forming a startling and appetising whole. To continue the street food analogies, I would have to say Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is more of a Bombay Sandwich. A Bombay sandwich is a similarly deceptive beast. Seemingly made of perfectly ordinary ingredients — tomatoes, onions, cucumber, potato, all sliced and layered between mass produced white slice bread and enhanced with butter, a herb chutney and some workman-like ketchup — you’d think this food, made on street corners by people with a small glass box on a stand, would not be much to write home about, but if you are a fan of food without the pretension, the Bombay sandwich, is delicious, filling, a marvel of food preparation and so much more than what it seems. This film is like that, layered, complex, including entirely predictable ingredients, but the resulting package is surprising, refreshing and endearing in its directness and lack of ostentation.
True to their word a year ago, the film-makers have returned with a film that is very much in the same vein; It is a simple and straightforward tale about enterprising people. This in itself is strange for the world of films, often filled with amateur dramatics by people who are constantly letting circumstances get the better of them. Here a spirit of experimentation and entrepreneurship is lauded and admired rather than ridiculed. Ranveer Singh has grown into an even more refined actor in this film, in a role that requires more restraint than the village-boy character of the previous film did, and Anushka Sharma is similarly more understated and worldly than her firebrand Delhi-girl of the last film. These two are very likely some of the strongest acting talents we have at the moment, and their youth gives us the possibility of many years of interesting performances ahead. The cast delivers handsomely, including a rich collection of supporting characters to tell the story. The three ladies of the title have well fleshed out characters and major roles to play in the film to rival the top-billed protagonists, with Parineeti Chopra doing an exceptional job at incidental humour in her debut performance.
All the hallmarks of Band Baaja Baaraat are here, the exceptional attention to detail brought in by the director Maneesh Sharma, Habib Faisal‘s excellent dialogue, this time lent a touch of sophistication over the rampant colloquialisms of the previous film, a nice shift that suits the tone and setting of this one. The film is exceptionally shot by cinematographer Aseem Mishra, who makes Goa look more attractive and like more of a real place than all the films I can remember that showcased it before. The same goes for the various cities mentioned, which are given their own distinct visual treatment. Set in a more gentrified section of the social milieu, the dramatics have been cut back further in Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl, with much being conveyed in silences, subtle body language and good editing, a brave move in a world of Hindi films approaching ever greater levels of circus-kitsch in the name of irony and intellectual homage. Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is unapologetically clean, minimal, calculated, and entirely free of cheap tricks, clawing melodrama, and unnecessary twists.
The real wonder of Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl is that like the Band Baaja Baaraat, it embraces the methods and madness of its subject matter. If the previous film was in many ways one long wedding celebration, this film is a very elaborate con. The trailers will have you expecting a very slick and extremely ‘cool’ film with the cool protagonists acting cool all the time, as numerous high-concept cons are in progress. The reality is much simpler, less dramatic, and much more heartfelt. Ladies Vs Ricky Bahl remains about the people, and the cons are straightforward, fairly practical and do not try to break new ground in convoluted scheming. More importantly, you might walk in expecting a huge showdown between the two protagonists, the allegedly warring con artists, but what you are given is a story that’s as much about the three less-than-scrupulous women who are conned, as it is about the two people on most of the posters. The alleged supporting cast are more often the focus of this film, and the hero and heroine are the means to an end; Albeit a very talented and extremely entertaining means to an end.
As a big fan of heist films, I know one of the oft repeated rules of the genre is that you can’t really con an honest person. That is the unsaid crux of this story; No one conned is truly honest, with the conman merely exploiting what they want in all the cases. And as the audience, this film demands of you a certainly honesty too. If you are a true lover of movies for all the things that make them one of the greatest mediums of storytelling and entertainment, you will love the con of this film, of giving you something very different from what you might have expected. If you’re in it for the frivolous glamour and to gossip about the steamy blatantness of it all later, you are likely not going to get it. Like the Bombay sandwich, all you may see is bread and vegetables, when what you’re given is so much richer than the sum of its parts. Needless to say, I am an ardent admirer of both the Bombay sandwich, and this little masterpiece of a film, and I hope Maneesh Sharma and gang continue to makes these surprise packages of entertainment whenever the mood suits them.
P.S. It seems unfair that only I should have Jigar da tukda, one of Salim-Sulaiman‘s excellent musical contributions to this gem, stuck in my head on loop, so here you go.