Roy (Abhishek Bachchan) is a professional conman set to marry the love of his life Simmi (Priyanka Chopra), a gorgeous hotel worker unaware of her fiancé’s underhanded dealings. When the truth is revealed, Simmi is devastated and kicks a heartbroken Roy to the curb. As he attempts to ditch his dishonest lifestyle in an effort to patch things up with Simmi, Roy meets up with seemingly clueless putz Dittu (Ritesh Deshmukh), a wannabe con artist who asks Roy to take him under his wing. After seeing Simmi out with a new boyfriend, Roy agrees to Dittu’s request only to receive more bad news from a doctor after suffering a series of blackouts. A tragic end seems inevitable, but Roy soon finds out things aren’t all they appear to be and that he isn’t the only bluffmaster in town.
If there’s one thing Bollywood is no stranger to, it’s borrowing heavily from the West. Whether it be plagiarising song melodies, adapting movie plots into new stories or simply just ripping off entire scenes and pieces of dialogue, nothing it seems is sacred to Indian filmmakers when it comes to this form of ‘inspiration’. Thankfully, their saving grace is that they often manage to pull off this cheeky game of theft by producing an entertaining slice of cinema by the end of it – occasionally even more so than their original counterparts. Director Rohan Sippy (son of Sholay director Ramesh Sippy) has continued this tradition with the enjoyable comedy crime caper Bluffmaster!, an amalgamation of the Hollywood films Matchstick Men, The Game and Criminal (itself a retelling of Argentina’s Nueve Reinas).
This is all very good fun for the most part, although the film’s narrative does often seem aimless and cobbled together with new characters and plot points cropping up at regular intervals with no apparent connection – until the very end when everything is revealed to make sense (sort of). Without spoiling things too much, suffice it to say not only is this a movie about conning, but it is also a movie that cons the audience. If the viewer can put aside being taken for a ride though, there is a good deal of enjoyment still to be had. With its attempt at providing an intelligent story, but still not taking itself too seriously, Bluffmaster! is very much post-modern Bollywood at full volume with in-jokes and film references aplenty mixed in with the tried-and-tested masala formula of romance, action, music and comedy (in toned-down form). More often than not, it succeeds in supplying the unabashed entertainment its target audience is looking for.
Among the cast, most of the main participants deliver good if unspectacular performances. Leading man Abhishek Bachchan actually disappoints on occasions with a slightly subdued performance. His underplaying seems an attempt at injecting a little down-to-earthness to juxtapose his barmy surroundings, but even so, he’s often a little too cool for his own good here. Nonetheless, his quiet charisma (reminiscent of his father, Indian cinema’s living legend Amitabh Bachchan) still shines through, as does that of the stunningly beautiful Priyanka Chopra, who shares a nice chemistry with Bachchan Jr. Stealing the show though is undoubtedly veteran actor Nana Patekar, who seems to be having a whale of a time spoofing his regular on-screen persona of an underworld hardman. Stylistically and technically, the film is pleasing to the eye with some gorgeous cinematography capturing the rarely-seen beauty of Bombay’s city buildings and landscapes. There are also many inclusions of well-used wipes and split-screen effects as well as some flashy MTV-style editing, all of which help the movie to be particularly accessible to a Western audience.
Deviating from Bollywood’s usual song-and-dance formula, the music of Bluffmaster! is mostly blended into the background with no real full-blown musical numbers aside from a couple of music video-style interludes. The songs themselves are mostly made up of remixes of classic Hindi film songs and are a mixed bag. The title track, ’Bluffmaster: Sabse Bada Rupaiyya’ (‘Money Is Everything’) is made up of a vocal from the 1976 Mehmood-starrer of the same name and the drumloop from Rihanna’s dance hit ’Pon De Replay’. The new mishmash actually improves upon both its sources with its fantastically infectious and kitschy Broadway musical feel. Less pleasing is an appalling new ‘loungey’ version of S.D. Burman’s jazzy 1951 tune ‘Tadbeer Se Bigdi Hui Taqdeer’ that does an injustice to Geeta Dutt’s immortal vocals (thankfully, it’s heard on screen for only a minute or so). Playing over the end credits is the film’s promotional ‘hip-hop’ video (worryingly, an increasingly frequent custom in Bollywood these days) that sees Abhishek do his best P Diddy impression while paying homage to his father by ‘singing’ his own vocals, as Bachchan Sr. has been known to do from time to time.
At its heart, Bluffmaster! has a pleasant warmth about it, although it remains one giant wink of a film and, as such, it is entirely up to the viewer to either find that a frustrating experience or to just sit back and enjoy the bumpy ride.
With this two-disc release, distributor UTV have lived up to their newly-acquired reputation of being Bollywood’s best DVD provider (although that’s not saying much). Both the picture and audio quality of Bluffmaster! are simply superb and miles ahead of what the majority of Indian DVD companies have to offer. On the video front, the progressive NTSC transfer – taken from a HD master – is devoid of most defects such as aliasing, edge enhancement, ghosting and MPEG compression problems. The image (cropped slightly at 2.25:1 from 2.35:1) is as steady as a rock with only occasional minor speckles. Sharpness is excellent with glorious colour and contrast rendition also. Some dark scenes are a little on the dull-looking side, but other than that it is difficult to find any faults here. This is certainly among the best-looking Bollywood DVDs on the market. Sound-wise, the Hindi 5.1 Dolby Digital track featured also impresses with crystal clear audio, booming bass and a surround mix that sounds brilliant through the proper five-speaker equipment. A minor quibble is that some dialogue during the movie has a tiny amount of distortion present, though it sounded to me more of a shortcoming of the recording equipment rather than the DVD itself.
Rarely on Indian DVDs is there a commentary track present, but Bluffmaster! has included not one, but two. The bad news is that both aren't up to much. On the first, director Rohan Sippy is joined by Abhishek Bachchan and Ritesh Deshmukh while on the second, he reappears with screenwriter Shridhar Raghavan and co-star Boman Irani. Neither track makes for particularly enjoyable listening individually, although combined they do offer a fair share of interesting tidbits and amusing anecdotes. Surprisingly, it is Bachchan and Irani who have the most to say while Sippy never does much more than just mumble. Oh, and as expected, nobody makes any mention of the inspiration for the story.
The second DVD is made up of a few ordinary extras – the promotional ‘Making Of’ featurette that originally aired on Indian television, the aforementioned ’Right Here, Right Now’ hip-hop video (as well as its own ‘Making Of’) and six deleted scenes introduced by Shridhar Raghavan and Rohan Sippy, who’s thankfully more lucid than on the commentary tracks. There’s also a few maniacally-edited bloopers thrown in for good measure. Considering the film was released only a couple of months prior to this DVD release, the special features are about as satisfactory as one could hope for under the circumstances.
A plethora of European and Asian subtitles are optional for the main feature. The English translation has been adequately done, though much of the dialogue’s wit and delivery sadly isn’t carried across too well. Additionally, some lines have curiously been altered to cater to the West. As an example, when Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s name is spoken, it is translated in the subtitles as ‘Brad Pitt’. No subtitles are provided for any of the extras, which (barring the deleted scenes) are all in English.
Bluffmaster! isn’t among the best of offerings from Bollywood in recent times, but its overall top-notch presentation on DVD definitely makes it a worthwhile purchase for fans of the movie.
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