Grit gets delivered with panache as Dum Maaro Dum provides us with Bollywood's take on a crime drama. Rohan Sippy's film hits many of the right notes by stepping outside the boundaries that many Indian films place around themselves. This is a tightly paced, stylishly shot ensemble piece that has the good sense not to overstay its welcome.
Our tale revolves around the drug trade that has infected Goa. Apparently not all the tourists are there for just the sun and the sand. Some also want the jollies that are being provided by a number of gangs including those run by the Russians, the Nigerians, the British, the French and the local mafia. As you can see, the crime landscape is pretty crowded but thankfully there is one master criminal who helps keeps things organized. His name is Lorsa Biscuita (Aditya Pancholi) and he is a businessman at heart. If some of his ventures claim lives, then that is just the cost of operation. When he's not playing mediator between all the local gangs, Lorsa answers only to one man, the mysterious Michael Barbossa. Nobody has ever seen Barbossa but he has come through time and time again by securing the stash of all the gangs when they have drawn the unwanted attention of the authorities.
Every machine has cogs and that's where Lawrence (Prateik Babbar) comes in. He wants to go to college overseas with his girlfriend but the lack of financial aid has him thinking about becoming a drug mule to raise funds. Before he can get too far with his plan, ACP Vishnu Kamath (Abhishek Bachchan) busts him at the airport and sends him to prison. Lawrence downplays his role in the overall operation while his musician friend Joki (Rana Daggubati) provides moral support. It becomes apparent that Kamath has bigger fish to fry and Lawrence may prove to be the perfect lure to reel them in. Kamath, along with his small task force, goes about the task of dismantling Lorsa's regime while digging deeper into the identity of Barbossa.
I've made the timeline of the film seem fairy linear but this oversimplifies Rohan Sippy's intentions. He uses the first act of the film to introduce individual characters before threading their tales together to show where they fit in the bigger picture. This sort of fractured storytelling has been done before but here it has the added benefit of delaying Abhishek Bachchan's entry into the film. He is clearly the star of the flick and awaiting his appearance helps to build anticipation. The payoff comes in the way his character gets right down to business without wasting any time. Having seen Lawrence get ensnared in Lorsa's web, it is gratifying to watch Kamath's task force assemble so quickly that the villains don't have enough time to react.
Sippy also brings exceptional energy to the early raids carried out by Kamath and his team. There is a lengthy tracking shot that follows the men through (and outside) a drug den where pushers and users are holed up. It is simultaneously kinetic, compact and revealing. Sippy's flair is also wonderfully translated by cinematographer Amit Roy during a chase through Goa's night market. From a high vantage point, we watch as Roy identifies Kamath and a number of unseen attackers who are about to ambush him in the bustling, throbbing mass of people. There is a vicarious thrill in the cold calculation that the scene entails.
Sippy's briskness also helps the film avoid a number of the usual pitfalls. Hindi movies often fall into the trap of being overstuffed so there is a little bit of something for everyone. Here Sippy, aided by Shridhar Raghavan's script, stays focused on his task of keeping things lean and mean. This is definitely a commercial film but not one that's bothered about appealing to the widest possible audience. For evidence of this, look no further than the scene where Kamath interrogates a man by sticking a bottle that's covered in chili powder where the sun don't shine.
With that said, the few concessions that are made in order to appeal to the mainstream yield mixed results. While the film is largely devoid of elaborate song and dance numbers, there is an ill-advised musical interlude that shows Kamath boasting about his crime-busting prowess. Its flashy music video styling feels out of place. Also, badasses don't boast. One musical number that fares a little better is set during a climactic rave scene and features guest star Deepika Padukone getting all sultry for the camera. This is also the highlight of the soundtrack composed by Pritam. While we're on the subject of music, I also want to give kudos to Midival Punditz for a lively background score.
For a tale featuring so many characters, there are bound to be some performances that overshadow the others. Abhishek Bachchan leads the pack with his stoic and driven portrayal of Kamath. Considering the legendary Amitabh Bachchan got a major break playing a dedicated cop in Zanjeer, it's nice to see Abhishek bring a similar intensity to his role here. Daggubati does what he can with Joki but ultimately the character suffers from being underwritten. He is weak and ineffective until the film requires him not to be. The transition is sudden and a bit jarring. Despite being Joki's love interest, Bipasha Basu performs well in a role that requires her to be more than a standard damsel in distress. Pancholi is merely effective as the scheming Lorsa. He exercises too much restraint even when some teeth-gnashing is sorely needed.
This film bodes well for the progression of Rohan Sippy's career. So far he has directed 3 films, all of them with Abhishek Bachchan, each better than the one before. Dum Maaro Dum may not have the most original premise but it has an acute sense of time and place (Goa feels like a character here) and isn't afraid to toy with our expectations (nobody is truly safe). For that, I must give credit where credit is due.
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