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Guns & Gulaabs: If you are a pulp cinema lover, you aren’t yet late to Raj-DK’s party

The Netflix series starring Dulquer Salmaan, Rajkummar Rao and Gulshan Devaiah is a fun ode to ’90s pulp films

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 19.09.23, 04:38 PM
Guns & Gulaabs.

Guns & Gulaabs. Netflix

Raj and DK’s latest OTT offering, Guns & Gulaabs, is one of the best things to stream right now and there are many reasons why. The black comedy is as pulp as it gets with small town settings, simple plotlines, hammed-up dialogues, pulsating songs, comically caricaturish villains and over-the-top gang rivalry. For lovers of pulp, the series is a hat tip to the ’90s, a sincere ode to pulp cinema of the era that thrived both in Hollywood and Bollywood.

The plot is straightforward — there is a gang war over opium between the fictional town of Gulaabgunj and neighbouring Shergunj. Caught in the fray are morally upright (or is he?) police officer Arjun Varma (Dulquer Salmaan), violence-averse (or is he?) mechanic Tipu (Rajkummar Rao), ‘baap ka ladla beta’ Jugnu (Adarsh Gaurav) and some of their nearest and dearest ones. It’s been a month since Guns & Gulaabs dropped on Netflix but you are not late to the party if you haven’t watched it yet.

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Here’s what we loved about the series streaming on Netflix.

That ’90s show

Guns & Gulaabs perhaps works best for those who grew up in the ’90s when elders looked down on remixed movie songs; young people listened to English music on their tape decks and matched FLAMES with names of their crushes; thriller novels had trashy covers; people drank Campa Cola and Gold Spot, and rode mopeds, Yezdis and Yamaha RX100s.

Then there are the characters. Whether it was Sanjay Dutt as Khalnayak or Sadashiv Amprapurkar as Maharani in Sadak, the ’90s gave us some unforgettable characters in the form of both heroes and villains, and Guns & Gulaabs stays true to that. There is a tough cop called Arjun, a villain who is a mix of Dutt’s Khalnayak and another who channels Amprapurkar’s creepiness; and one of the heroes runs from violence but is forced into it to avenge his friend. The hand-drawn poster-like end credits are also worth a mention, especially Satish Kaushik’s name appearing on a calendar, a nod to his iconic turn in Mr. India.

The people behind the characters

One of the best things about Guns & Gulaabs is that each character is not who they seem or even want to be. And the actors make sure they are memorable.

Salmaan is impressive as tough cop Arjun, a straight arrow unmoved by threats or bribes and has a loving wife and daughter. But he slips up when he gets involved with a vamp, who is actually a nice person. Rao is chameleon-like as Paana Tipu who, on the one hand, wants nothing of his violent father’s legacy but keeps getting pushed into random acts of violence due to circumstances — from his lady love getting excited because he killed two people with a spanner to avenging his friend.

One of the standout characters is that of Jugnu Ganchi, the heir to the opium kingdom in Gulaabgunj. Under tremendous pressure to be the ‘layak’ second in command, Jugnu is entitled and petulant, and Gaurav plays him with a creepy menace that is often unnerving.

Of course there is 4-Cut Atmaram, a hitman for hire with a signature kill played with absolute glee by Gulshan Devaiah. Rumoured unkillable, he treats even his bosses with a disdain that’s epic. This is a spin-off waiting to happen because the showrunners have made us hungry to know more about his backstory and the ‘saat maut maaf’ blessing.

The three school children — Nannu, Gangu and Ikhlak — who get caught in the crossfire are equally fascinating. Especially Gangu, played by Tanishq Chaudhary, who is in love with his teacher, jealous of his friend’s affection towards the new girl and has a penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The supporting characters

From Tipu’s friend Suneel, the quintessential sidekick who is part of everything that happens in the hero’s life — from wooing the lady love (Suneel saying ‘woh humko pasand toh karti hai’ is epic) to disposing of dead bodies — to his replacement Bunty, the supporting characters are yet another hat tip to ’90s pulp movies, where their sole reason for existence was to further the hero’s story.

Unfortunately, the women in the series are also reduced to side characters with Tipu’s love interest Chandralekha (TJ Bhanu), Arjun’s wife Madhu (Pooja Gor) and his daughter Jyotsna (Suhani Sethi) all being uninteresting cogs in the wheel. Each might have characteristics that set them apart but not enough to make them important.

The casual violence

There is not a lot of gore on screen but it doesn’t mean that there is no blood spill because there is plenty of that and most of it is so casual that it is almost comical. Atmaram takes the cake with his 4-Cut killing style that he uses to drop many a body. But then, that is expected.

What is unexpected is the mild-mannered Tipu killing not one but two people by stabbing them in the eye with something as harmless as a spanner. You expect bodies to drop in a film about gang wars, but you don’t expect to see a schoolboy lighting a cigarette for a man whose throat has been slit, with the smoke puffing out of the slit in the throat. Epic!

The dark humour

There are no laugh-out-loud moments in Guns & Gulaabs, but there is humour throughout and it is often really dark. There is something funny about Tipu looking for absolution from priests after killing two men in a fit of rage and being conned into spending more money by the priest. The fact that Gulaabgunj’s mafia head goes into a coma because a wooden staircase collapses under his weight is a comical twist one didn’t see coming. Atmaram counting down seconds at the STD booth and hanging up mid-conversation, villains being made fun of for not drinking enough, a bike mechanic’s ride stalling in the middle of a getaway, a sidekick being mourned only to be replaced by a humshakal, a dying father’s message for his son not being delivered because the messenger forgot despite trying to reach out to the son throughout the series are just some of the many wacky moments that make Guns & Gulaabs such a fun watch.

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