The Bonnie and Clyde musical is coming back, and I must object.
No disrespect to this apparently beloved show based on the true story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. But since 2005, the world has had a fantastic musical Bonnie and Clyde adaptation, which deserves respect. I am talking, of course, about the Bollywood film Bunty Aur Babli, starring Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukerji.
When their small-town big dreams fall apart, Vimmi (Mukerji) and Rakesh (Bachchan) team up for a light grift that turns into a series of increasingly risky, high-profile, and wildly fun scams. More alive and happy than they’ve ever been, the duo decides to get married and continue living as alter egos Bunty and Babli. But a police commissioner (Amitabh Bachchan) threatens to catch them in the act.
Even though it couldn’t exist without Arthur Penn’s celebrated 1967 biopic, Bonnie and Clyde, Bunty Aur Babli does what so many Indian remakes fail to do. It improves upon the source material by adding its own voice and identity. The film is authentically Indian, from vibrant costumes to speech and mannerisms to the specificity of Bunty and Babli’s marks, allies, and aliases. Bollywood films well into the 1990s often juxtaposed romance and comedy with violence and tragedy, but the 2000s were often dark or light, with fewer shades of gray. Writers Aditya Chopra and Jaideep Sahni commit to humor and sincerity, never turning to fight sequences or the criminal underworld to drive the narrative. The result is, in my most humble opinion, a rare remake that outshines the original.
Bachchan and Mukerji — a beloved pairing both on- and off-screen at the time — are at the top of their game, as winsome in their comedic timing as in creating two criminally likable, silly, and three-dimensional characters. Whenever Vimmi cries, Mukerji launches into a low, distinct wail, a sound that should be the most annoying thing in the world (it is to Rakesh), but pops off the screen and elicits a laugh every time. Bachchan’s physical comedy mostly consists of falling from his height of 6’3,” which somehow feels new and delightful every time. The senior Bachchan brings every ounce of the charisma, gravitas, and skillfully deployed humor that made him India’s biggest star to his turn as DCP Dashrath Singh, keeping us grounded even as the film’s final act veers toward melodramatic.
The result is, in my most humble opinion, a rare remake that outshines the original.
What works so well about Bunty Aur Babli — which many films, shows, and on-screen couples can’t replicate — is that the central relationship didn’t have to be romantic. Rakesh and Vimmi’s rapport moves between mind-meld scheming and arguing like an old married couple, which they do from the start. It’s fabulous emotional chemistry with little to no sexual tension. But that works because this is a team, a partnership, above all else. His first declaration of love comes seemingly from nowhere, but it solidifies rather than muddles their dynamic for the rest of the film.
I don’t particularly want to spoil this movie that’s been out for 17 years and even yielded an aggressively mediocre sequel. But it’s worth noting that Bunty Aur Babli isn’t an explicit remake or even admittedly based on the true events behind Bonnie and Clyde. Director Shaad Ali Sehgal’s team takes enough creative liberty to avoid legal murkiness, and part of that comes from where the story goes — especially in the film’s second half. This is the same film industry that remade West Side Story with just one casualty by the time credits rolled, so you can enjoy Bunty Aur Babli without looming dread.
I rewatch Bunty Aur Babli at least once a year. There are few films, even in Bollywood, that provide such a boost of pure endorphins without heavy emotional stakes (meaning it’s the perfect choice for any mood). Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack follows the film’s feel-good ethos right down to a frankly absurd rap performed by Amitabh Bachchan during the credits, but after all these years I wouldn’t change a thing any of it. Everyone deserves a movie this enjoyable, and a chance to have their hearts stolen by the world’s most clever and charming thieves.