by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Splashy, colourful and loud as a tie-dyed turban, Beeba Boys is an arranged marriage between a Bollywood drama and Reservoir Dogs, with the match made by Tom Ford. Sadly, however, this is not one of those weddings where love blossoms over time and the couple bonds into one happy unit.
The film is loosely inspired by the brief life of Vancouver Indo-Canadian gangster Bindy Johal. In filmmaker Deepa Mehta’s version, however, the protagonist is an overcooked caricature of Johal’s media persona.
Jeet Johar, played by Bollywood actor Randeep Hooda, is no longer a street thug trying to secure a piece of the local drug trade – typical of the vast majority of Vancouver’s real-life disorganized street level Indo gangsters.
This bogeyman is the established head of a sinister group of snazzily-dressed goons whose operation is as well-oiled as their looks. Meet the Beeba Boys (beeba being a maternal term of endearment meaning ‘good boy’), with Johar as the established Kingpin don of this Hell’s Kitchen.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts.[/quote]
Mehta’s Jeet is a homicidal maniac with limited emotional range. He broods, threatens people, broods some more, gets angry and shoots someone, and then broods some more.
He is a human automaton – ironically his son in the movie compares him to Megatron – who somehow happens to be the head of a sophisticated drug operation, though we never learn how Jeet becomes the Scarface of Vancouver. We see less of Jeet actually running his business than dressing up to run his business.
This flimsy treatment of the protagonist twins poorly with a plot that seems templated, and disjointed in its formulaic shifts. It feels like Mehta is checking boxes trying to get all the ingredients into this recipe: gangster threatening rival, gangster going to jail, gangster in court, gangster courting his moll, all stirred together with a couple of cultural scenes, and voila the souffle. The pieces do not sum to a whole greater than its parts.
Epitome of hyperbole
Particularly weak is the vapid relationship between Jeet and his love interest, Katja (Sarah Allen). It is the classic trope of the innocent girl falling for the bad boy. But Mehta’s treatment is lazy, even hinting at a mild case of Jungle Fever.
Chance circumstance tosses Katja within pheromone-sniffing distance of Jeet Johar and suddenly its mating season in Beeba-land. With little else between them, we are expected to invest in their explosive connection.
It is the epitome of hyperbole: hyper-masculine Jeet doesn’t court women as much as he summons them to his bed. The relationship drags through the movie more as a distraction, eventually sopping with Bollywood-style melodrama to fill the void left by the lack of chemistry.
Hooda’s searing on-screen presence and his few scenes of emotional authenticity salvage his character but in the end, the screenplay renders him as flat-footed as Katja, without the bounce in his legs to take us anywhere beyond the designer-upholstered basement of his parent’s house where he lives and runs his gang of Beeba’s.
Film missing important context
Period pieces and culturally specific underworld movies benefit from narration, take for example City of God (set in Brazil’s favelas) or Goodfellas (Italian mafia in NYC). The viewer is given the context to follow the storyline and to know why any of this is worth watching. Utilising this device in Beeba Boys would have helped frame scenes for viewers unfamiliar with Sikh cultural references.
A prime example is a macabre wedding sequence featuring a dead groom at the start of the film. There is dancing, singing, and a general big-fat-Indian-wedding celebration centred around a blue-faced corpse.
It feels straight from a Tarantino playbook – nobody is alarmed, not even the children when the dead man topples over. Is this the Beeba Boys’ way of pouring out a 40-ouncer of malt liquor to mark the death of a comrade or has Mehta planted a hook for a sequel, Beeba Boys II, the zombie thriller?
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Unfortunately the film resorts to ‘gangsta bombast’ instead of treating the subject matter with more respect.[/quote]
Over her 20 plus years of film-making Deepa Mehta has made a significant contributions to Canadian and South Asian cinema which has firmly embedded her as an icon in the Canadian canon of film. She is as good a filmmaker as any in the South Asian genre. Given the right script, she is capable of producing resonating, finely textured features like Earth.
Beeba Boys is her first crack at gangster noir, a rare genre in Canadian cinema. Unfortunately the film resorts to ‘gangsta bombast’ instead of treating the subject matter with more respect.
There is a story worthy of exploring in the life of Vancouver’s real life beeba boys who enter the drug trade. They are typically 2nd generation young men from stable middle class families. Many have college educations. Yet they are lost and seem to enter this world seeking direction. Too many – over 150 in the last 20 years – leave it only once they are lost for good.
The film provides little insight into why Vancouver should be the grounds for the rise of the Indo-Canadian gangster as opposed to Toronto, New York, or other cities with significant Sikh populations. If religion is the root cause, as Mehta’s film seems to suggest at times, it still does not explain the disparity in violence between different population centres.
Given its specialised focus, the film will find viewers upon general release, and the trailers will surely create an impression. But like the young Indo-Canadian men who have died in Vancouver’s drug trade, Beeba Boys lives too fast to leave much impression.
Published in partnership with the South Asian Post.