The main action centers on copywriter Puneet Sayal (a dapper Arshad Warsi) as he navigates a complicated chain of events set off by a single phone call and takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour of gangster violence, item songs, and comedy relief sadars.
The film starts off with a disclaimer:
the characters happen to be fictional, despite our sincerest efforts.
the locations, however, are real.
the story has been plagiarized from several films.”
That last line is the key to Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II because at the heart of the film is the same brother against brother story line done to perfection in films like Deewar and Parinda. The difference with WBHH is that the story is filtered through the self-aware lens of the kind of vintage Richard Linkletter (director of Slacker, Waking Life, etc.) films that were so ground-breaking in their time. I'm going to have discuss a bit of the plot but I do want people to see this, so there will be no major spoilers.
When the story begins, Puneet is shown to us as an average middle class Mumbaikar - far, far away from the filmi world. "I can identify with this guy," we're supposed to say. He’s kind of a lech and doesn’t take his work too seriously. In fact, he would prefer not to work at all but, hey, a man has to earn a living. His live-in girlfriend Agni (the fantabulous Sandhya Mridul) is a lady cop and he doesn’t take her too seriously, either, and one of Puneet's first scenes shows him trying to hook up with his co-worker before a text message from Agni interrupts.
Puneet gets another message: His brother has died.
And then we all go down the rabbit hole of Bollywood revenge sagas.
Much like Anil Kapoor in Parinda or Shashi Kapoor in Deewar, Puneet had been the unknowing beneficiary of a gangster's hard work. His brother was a crook and now that brother has died. Like Kapoors Anil and Shashi, Puneet had cut his brother out of his life when he found out about the criminal activity but the emotion felt upon his death leads to a drinking binge and fight with Agni send Puneet into the path of Vinshu (Prashant Narayanan), a gangster working for one of the big bosses in town: Ganpat.
Vishnu and Puneet become very close friends and begin to learn a bit about each other. Puneet gets caught up a bit in the glamour of the underworld life but more importantly, he gets a taste of what it is to live an immediate life – a life where every second is important. And Vishnu begins to see his life of senseless violence from the perspective of an outsider and he doesn’t like what he sees.
All the action is framed by cutaways to audience stand-ins (including Ranvir Shorey, who might be getting his own celebratory week soon if he plays his cards right) discussing the events as they are reported in the newspaper. It’s an interesting narrative device because it creates an emotional distance between the main story and us, the viewers and that asks us to look at the distance we put between ourselves and the story. Everything is real and at the same time overlaid with a thin layer of unreality, which is why the choice of Arshad Warsi for the main role was so perfect for the film.
And I’m not going to beat around the bush (and why would I during Arshad Warsi week?): Arshad is fantastic as Puneet. He balances the ironic tone of the story with some genuine emotion, giving the viewer the best of both worlds. I can't think of another actor who does this quite so well, except perhaps the master of character acting: Pran-saab.
But getting back to the story, Puneet’s story is that of Shashi Kapoor’s character in Deewar. But where Ravi Verma reacted to his brother’s lifestyle with intolerance and hatred, Puneet manages to come to terms with it in his own way, admitting that maybe his own lifestyle of easy choices isn’t entirely worthwhile.
There are some few small scenes where some of the gangsters ask Puneet what he does for work and almost sheepishly he tries to explain what a copywriter does. And later we see him at work trying to think up a new slogan (“Dil Mange More”) and a gangster says that Puneet must be cheating his boss if this counts as ‘work.’
And the gangster isn’t entirely wrong. How many of us sit at our white collar jobs and wonder if what we are doing really counts as worthwhile work? The choice of copywriter as Puneet's job cannot be a coincidence.
But for all the jabs at our comfortable middle-class, white collar emotional distance from life, the film does not shy away from the brutality of the real gangster lifestyle and the audience is presented with a quite a few violent scenes. Sometimes these are filtered through the Ranvir Shorey crew and sometimes through Puneet but in both cases we are challenged to look at our reactions. For example, the death of a passerby might mean nothing to us in terms of the story, but if that passerby had a family - a family we are shown - then the emotional levels change.
But Puneet and Vishnu aren't the only interesting characters...
Ah…Agni! She is a bit of a cipher in all of this. Mostly, she is refreshing counterpart to the insipid girlfriend characters one typically finds in Bollywood films of the type being explored here. Unlike Madhuri Dixit in Parinda or Neetu in Deewar, Agni has direct influence over the events of the film and she can take care of herself.
Even better, Puneet isn’t threatened by either her powerful personality or her choice of career.
And what Bollywood gang film would be complete without Ma. In this case, Ma is the divine Pratima Kazmi playing Ganga-tai. (And it’s criminal that she has only done one other gangster film - Ek Haseena Thi.)
She has a fascination with the yakuza and enjoys the occasional board game in between ordering hits and plotting revenge on Vishnu and Ganpat. And I love that Ganga-tai is the Bollywood gangster who takes her cues of how to be a gangster from gangster films. She is very self-consciously playing the role of Gangster Boss and therefore Ganga-tai is the complete opposite of the self-sacrificing mothers played by Nirupa Roy in every film ever. She calls on her ‘boys’ to sacrifice themselves for her and doesn’t take kindly when people take what she considers rightfully hers.
There are two other elements worth mentioning in Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II: comedy and music.
The film is a total paisa vasool because not only do we get a comedy subplot courtesy of a gang of drunk Punjabi boys on vacation, the film is packed with jokes and little throw away gags that you might miss on a first watch. My favorite includes a tough gangster trying to sip his drink at a club only to be foiled by a paper umbrella. These kinds of details just add so much!
And the music for the film is fantastic and while it is all picturized on performers in context – like Kailash Kher on guitar or as an item number in a club – it is tied in with the narrative.
I think Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II was truly a film made before its time, the precurser to things like Luck by Chance and Dev.D that have been gaining so many accolades as groundbreaking works.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to do so, and then maybe for the next Arshad Warsi week, we can discuss the plot spoilers!