Guns & Gulaabs, a brilliantly bizarre criminal thriller written, produced, and acted by Raj and DK, harkens back to the 1990s and explores the darkly piquant side of men (and a few women) who find strange joy in violence, mayhem, and meanness.
The exhilaratingly vivacious Netflix series unfolds in a twisted and toxic universe populated by opium dealers, gun-toting gangsters, a vicious knife-wielding assassin with seven lives, an anti-narcotics officer with a troubled past that catches up with him, and two reticent men with crippling father issues.
In this immoral environment where adults and children alike thrive on crossing the line, the gulaabs mentioned in the title and in the name of the small hamlet where the novel is situated are outnumbered. However, a ‘line of control’ divides a neighborhood dhaba into two clearly marked, impenetrable regions for rival gangs.
The two criminal cliques, one of which runs its operations out of a place named Sherpur, 30 kilometers away, are in control of the small group of innocent people who live in Gulaabgunj, a town tucked away in the hills and dotted with opium fields. They compete for control of the proceeds of an illicit opium trade that operates independently of poppy farming under government license.
The opening scenes of Guns & Gulaabs feature shots of a poppy farm, a scene in which two schoolboys talk about the girls they like, and a pursuit scene that concludes with a murder in broad daylight. Opium, love, and violence are thus all three important themes of the story, and they all appear in the first few episodes of the show.
As the plot unfolds, other supporting aspects, such as a competition between two pupils for the class topper’s badge, appear. The show, which is divided into episodes 7 and 8, runs for over an hour and a half with an intermission.
Everybody in Gulaabgunj and Sherpur is acting in their own self-interest and has a hidden agenda. The corrupt men’s evil schemes vary regularly as they pursue or run from other people of a like mind. Snatches of Hindi film music from three decades ago are sprinkled throughout the soundtrack as small-town noir and 90s nostalgia collide in a setting where mystery hangs in the air.
Babu Tiger, a valued assistant of Gulaabgunj crime lord Ganchi (Satish Kaushik) and the estranged father of motorcycle mechanic Tipu (Rajkummar Rao), was killed at the opening of Chapter 1. After losing a significant gang member, Ganchi is enraged and plans retaliation. In contrast, Tipu seems almost happy that his father is no longer alive.
Dad is gone for Tipu. Adarsh Gourav’s Jugnu is not. The latter is Ganchi’s lone son and the reluctant heir to his dynasty. Arjun Varma (Dulquer Salmaan), a member of the narcotics department who served as deputy commissioner of police in Delhi during the 60-crore Bofors? fraud that rocked the country, is assigned to Gulaabgunj with a mandate to clean up the area.
Atmaram (Gulshan Devaiah), a hired assassin who works for the Sherpur gang lead by Nabeed (Nilesh Divekar), a former protege of Ganchi, is on the prowl and carrying a slasher. As long as Atmaram, whose name has Chaar Cut attached to it because to the way he kills, is out and about, nobody in Ganchi’s group is safe.
It is not too early for Arjun Verma to visit this crime hotbed. Sukanto (Rajatava Dutta), who is a representative of a narcotics cartel in Calcutta, and Ganchi have just struck a deal. He has a month to get seven times as much opium as he typically makes.
The main focus of Guns & Gulaabs is this trade and its changing dynamics. Gulaabgunj’s farmers, gangsters, and buyers work nonstop to ensure that the required quantity of refined opium is produced there for the Calcutta drug underworld. Arjun and his team take immediate action to stop the supply.
Alliances are formed, the relationship between the police officer and his wife Madhu (Pooja A. Gor) is on the verge of breaking down when a former lover Yamini (Shreya Dhanwanthary) comes back to torment him, and problems of the heart are brought to light in tense situations. Lekha, a teacher at the school, receives a love letter from Tipu (TJ Bhanu, “Parvati Murty”), and it backfires.
No one in Gulaabgunj appears to be under the influence of opium, but the whisky that is freely flowing in Ganchi’s lair occasionally takes a perilous turn, sets off a crisis, and drags a reluctant Jugnu named Chhota Ganchi into the middle of it all. Speaking of hesitation, Tipu, despite having two unintentional deaths to his name—and with his spanner at that—is an unwilling inheritor of his father’s shady legacy. He acquires the moniker Paana Tipu as a result of the act.
Tipu does not remember his father with fondness for reasons other than the fact that the feared gangster abandoned his mother for someone else. He states in one moment, “Fathers are strange creatures,” or “Baap Ajeeb Qism Ka Jantu Hota Hai.” Jugnu’s struggle with his inheritance is more about gaining his grandfather’s approval than it is about despising his father and emerging from his shadow. He says, “I want to make my dad proud.”
Guns & Gulaabs pays a persistent homage to the early 1990s, in notably the Hindi film and music of the period, through its storyline and visual design. There are several sounds, songs, and historical allusions throughout the story and the soundtrack. A fan of popular culture will adore the series.
The character names, such as Gangaram, Lalkishan, Chandralekha, Mahendra, and Atmaram, refer to a time before Rahul and Raj were born on screen. Several of the chapters’ titles—Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki, Do Dil Mil Rahe Hain, and Raat Baaki—are taken from songs and movies from the 1980s and 1990s. One chapter’s title is inspired by a Bryan Adams song.
Not only that, but Kumar Sanu provides the vocal for the show’s love tune, which was written by Aman Pant and has a beautifully nostalgic background score. The series creates the Satish Kaushik credit on a calendar among other things.
Not to add, there is a mention of the cult classic kung-fu movie The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, which Tipu watches with his best friend Suneel (played by Gourav Sharma and Goutam Sharma, respectively; Gourav Sharma plays the other twin).
The four outstanding performances by Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan, Gulshan Devaiah, and Adarsh Gourav are a highlight of Guns & Gulaabs. TJ Bhanu stands out the most in a male-dominated series that unexpectedly explores the themes of gender and ideas of masculinity despite having a wider ensemble of characters. Pooja A. Gor and Shreya Dhanwanthary are substantially less active but still contribute in some way. As Mahendra, Ganchi’s right-hand man, Vipin Sharma does a good job. Guns & Gulaabs is a fantastic synthesis of stylistic elan and storyline bravado, making it completely watchable.