It was intriguing to see the first look of Tamannaah’s Babli Bouncer. The idea of showing a woman in a male-dominant professional space is less explored. It was comforting that this story was being told by Madhur Bhandarkar, who earlier dabbled in this space with Heroine and Fashion.
Both the films managed to finely entwine their female protagonists to the film and fashion industries, tracing their rise, fall, and rise again, and what it takes them to survive the sectors controlled by the powers that be. While Babli Bouncer doesn’t enter the dark territories of its predecessors and exudes innate charm even when facing multiple hurdles, the film doesn’t really do justice to the idea at the centre of it.
The film follows Babli (Tamannaah), who hails from the neighbouring villages of Asola and Fatehpur Beri on the outskirts of Delhi. The villages are known to breed bouncers who serve as the workforce for the clubs of the country’s capital. Amid the body-building men, we have Babli who seemingly unticks every point on the checklist of being the “epitome of femininity”.
She burps loudly. She rides heavy motorcycles. She cannot make round rotis. But Babli doesn’t want to conform to these patriarchal ideas, and why would she when she can lift more weight than the men in the neighbourhood?
However, she is the subject of ridicule for her ‘un-ladylike’ behaviour and even gets reprimanded by her mother. Babli’s support system comes in the form of her father (Saurabh Shukla) and friend Pinky (Priyam Saha). Babli’s marriage is fixed with a city bouncer Kukku (Sahil Vaid), but the former has feelings for an acquaintance-turned-crush Viraj (Abhishek Bajaj) in Delhi.
On one end, a marriage she doesn’t want, and on the other end, a love and career that she desperately craves for. Then starts Babli’s journey to Delhi where she grows as a person, and understands her own strengths.
What makes the film interesting is how Babli is in charge of her own safety, and needs. Be it when she fights off assaulters on the lonely streets of nighttime Delhi, or when she is tagged as the “bad influence” to the girls of her village, Babli stands for herself, and more importantly, by herself.
Indeed meeting Viraj was an agenda to move to Delhi, but it is not very often that we see a woman pursue the man of her dreams. Even though these scenes might push the movie four steps forward, scenes like the one where Babli and Pinky fat-shame their unnamed school teacher by referring to her as dhol pushes it back by the same four steps.
Babli Bouncer also makes you debate on what genre it is trying to be. Is it Babli’s coming-of-age story? Is it a social drama on societal expectations of women? Is it a dramedy of sorts? In fact, the film is so all over the place that there is very little space left to explore the bouncer angle.
Given the film’s initial propensity for this profession, it definitely had a larger scope to explore the idea of tying physical strength and women. Instead of just tagging women as the ‘weaker sex’, Babli Bouncer shows them as people in power, who are in charge of the protection and security of others. But the writing of the film leaves this angle hanging dry.
However, Babli Bouncer gives enough room for Tamannaah to shine. She not only manages to pull off the Haryanvi accent but convinces us of that she has the physicality of a female bouncer. Nevertheless, even if Tamannaah does stand out in Babli Bouncer, she can’t really save the film, which is devoid of any high points.
The film moves in a rather straight line, and despite several characters having the potential to be more than just cardboard cutouts, the makers fail to flesh them out. Imagine the potential of having Pinky finding a job and living a life of independence, Viraj being the subject of an infatuation or even the conflict that could stem out of the protagonist’s polar opposite parents. But these characters hardly rise above the generic.
Babli Bouncer is also a film that is highly forgettable. It isn’t one of those films that we go back home with, and ponder over the journey of the protagonist. Here, everything is just too vague and rudderless that it almost feels like being ushered out of a deadbeat club that has really good decor, but a disappointing vibe.
Director: Madhur Bhandarkar
Cast: Tamannaah Bhatia, Priyan Saha, Abhishek Bajaj, Sahil Vaid,
Streamer: Disney+ Hotstar