'Beeba Boys': TIFF Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

Randeep Hooda headlines a gangster farce set in Vancouver’s Punjabi community.

Acclaimed Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta takes a break from drama to cast a humorous eye on the Sikh gangs springing from the Punjabi community in Vancouver. Beeba Boys gives a farcical once-over to these ruthless gangsters, who talk like Tarantino mobsters, dress like style-conscious Goodfellas and live with their moms and dads. (The title translates as “Good Boys”.) Though Bollywood star Randeep Hooda top-lines as the gang lord, it’s too quirky a project to travel far, and its main appeal should be to Indians in Canada and the U.S. where the offbeat humor should make the most sense.   

There's certainly a dose of ethnic sociology here, but it feels like Mehta just wanted to have some fun with an unexplored genre. Gangster films in general are not a Canadian thing, so she is going out on a double limb here, both as an auteur director who's slumming it, and as a genre-busting maverick. The combo of crime drama and comedy inevitably invites comparisons with the masters like Tarantino and Scorsese, but Beeba Boys is far lighter fare. It has its funny moments but isn’t very sure-footed in this department, and most of the jokes revolve around the Sikhs' ethnic culture.("I think he tied his turban on too tight this morning.") It's a far cry from films like Anurag Kasyaps’ Gangs of Wasseypur, which raised the bar in terms of screen violence and outrageously sophisticated gags.

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The titular gang are the 30-something followers of the carefully tailored, semi-psychotic Jeet Johar (Hooda), as charismatic as he is ruthless. The Beeba Boys signature is bespoke suits in bright colors that contrast nicely with their turbans. Jeet lives at home with his parents and small son (he’s a single father), while he starts a gang war to take over the Vancouver drug and arms trade. His antagonist is the old guard Sikh Robbie Grewal, just as ruthless as he is. People get kidnapped, blood is shed, bodies are burned. None of it seems like real violence, though.

Crossing the line between the two gangsters is Nep (Ali Momen), a small-time criminal who gets on Jeet’s side in prison, but is also seeing Grewal’s daughter Choti. He flits back and forth like a double agent, playing a dangerous game. Also on the margins is Katja (Sarah Allen), a sexy Polish manicurist who Jeet notices when she does jury duty at his trial. A  well-drawn character, she's too naïve and sincere to survive as a moll.

Hooda, whose credits range from Monsoon Wedding to Jism 2, does a good job navigating between authoritative criminal leadership and tongue-in-cheek business, like interrupting a business meeting to tell his mother (played by a wonderfully deadpan Balinder Johal) where to find his dirty underwear. (Under the bed, of course.)

 


Production company: Hamilton-Mehta Production
Cast:
Randeep Hooda, Ali Momen, Sarah Allen, Waris Ahluwalia, Gulshan Grover, Balinder Johal, Gia Sandhu, Ali Kazmi, Steve Dhillon
Director, screenwriter: Deepa Mehta
Producer: David Hamilton
Executive producers:  Anthony Hixon, Hussain Amarshi, David Hamilton
Director of photography: Karim Hussain
Production designer: Arv Greywal
Music: Manjeet Ral, Mychael Danna, Biggi Hilmars
Costumes: Joanne Hansen
Editor: Colin Monie
Sales Agent: Mongrel International, Noble Nomad
103 minutes

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