Guns & Gulaabs series review: Just that 90s show

Rajkummar Rao, Gulshan Devaiah and Adarsh Gourav propel this black comedy series suffering from a lack of narrative urgency.
Guns and Gulaabs: Starring  Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan, Adarsh Gourav, Gulshan Devaiah and TJ Bhanu in lead roles, this web series created and directed by Raj and D.K. is set in the 90s. The show
Guns and Gulaabs: Starring Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan, Adarsh Gourav, Gulshan Devaiah and TJ Bhanu in lead roles, this web series created and directed by Raj and D.K. is set in the 90s. The show

What do you miss about the 90s? Guns & Gulaabs has everything to offer. There are perfume-sprayed love letters, Bryan Adams songs (‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’), Rapidex English Speaking guidebooks, Desmond Bagley thrillers and Irving Wallace’s erotic-thrillers, STD booths, book cricket, popsicles, campa colas and Hindi dubbed martial art films (Shaolin Ka Chhateesva Kamra (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin). It’s almost like swiping through one of those nostalgic memes with titles like “If you remember these your childhood was perfect.” But the series, at times, in an attempt to be a deep drama, misses out on the kinetic energy of 90s Hindi cinema. It’s mostly frills, less thrills.

Directed by: Raj Nidimoru and Krishna D.K.

Written by: Suman Kumar and Raj & D.K.

Starring: Rajkummar Rao, Gulshan Devaiah, Dulquer Salmaan, Adarsh Gourav, Satish Kaushik, Vipin Sharma and TJ Bhanu

Streaming on: Netflix

Welcome to Gulaabganj…and Sherpur, valley and hill towns at war with each other over opium. Gulaabganj is ruled by the mafia family of the Ganchis, with a senior Ganchi (Satish Kaushik) at its head. The town has a variety of flowery characters. There is Ganchi’s eager son, Jugnu “Chotu” (Adarsh Gourav), a lovelorn mechanic turned murderer, ‘Paana’ (Spanner) Tipu (Rajkummar Rao), directors Raj & DK’s quip at the family man, Arjun Varma (Dulquer Salmaan), and contract killer Chaar Cut Atmaraam (Gulshan Devaiah), a character that can be our version of the sociopath Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men (2007). That is if Chigurh grew up on Sanjay Dutt films and The Undertaker fights from WWE.

Guns & Gulaabs revolves around the completion of an urgent opium deal with a ‘Calcutta gang’. The central plotline feels makeshift but there are a lot of entertaining distractions. Like the tender track of three schoolboys, Tipu’s crush being impressed, finally, by the number of his kills, Atmaram not letting an STD call go beyond a minute and Jugnu stealthily licking the cream of a biscuit. These absurdisms weave the humour for Guns & Gulaabs. But, at times, it feels like the series prefers being lost in the wistfulness of a bygone era. There is enough colour and quirk but it starts feeling aimless as the show progresses, only existing to lift up the lack of narrative urgency.

Whenever it lags, what propels Guns & Gulaabs are the performances. It finally feels like Rajkummar Rao is letting loose and not attempting a role with the sincerity of a frontbencher. Dulquer Salmaan is intriguing but often goes by the book. Gulshan Devaiah is delicious as the knife-wielding, bomb-throwing, golden-tooth-flashing Atmaram. He is equal parts menacing and mirthful and deserves a spinoff of his own. But the one who reigns supreme is Adarsh Gourav as Chhota Ganchi. Gourav, with his sinister smile, his dandy shirts and his fashionable gait, slips into being creepy, then funny and finally cathartic. A complete package, sitting on a bed of dynamite, ready to explode.

Nineties nostalgia weighs heavy and still lifts up this Raj & DK series. The problem is, oftentimes it is used only for frolic. Modern sensibilities peppered with the masala of yesteryear cinema might not always make for an exciting dish. Mentioning Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki (1984 film)’ and ‘Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte’ (dialogue from Maine Pyar Kiya, 1989) is sometimes not enough. What you need is an in-depth exploration into the time, into the businesses of the gangsters whether it's drugs or coal and into the griminess of their lives. There is a film that did all this while not losing out on the fun, based in Dhanbad, directed by a certain director called Anurag Kashyap.

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