Tamannaah Bhatia delivers a career-defining performance in her stop-start Bollywood career. A rare light-hearted entertainer from director Madhur Bhandarkar where there is no generalising or preaching.
Rating: 4 / 5
By Mayur Lookhar
Ah, it’s common for urbanites to pass judgment on the world sitting in their drawing rooms. Truth be told, most of us seldom touch base with the ground realities. We were taken aback when Babli Bouncer , a film on female bouncer was announced. We were further surprised to see real female bouncers in attendance during the trailer launch of the Star Studios, Junglee Pictures film a month ago. Your reviewer had never seen a female bouncer before. It was an eye opener for him, and also exposed his non-existent social life. Clubbing is not this reviewer’s cup of tea.
Post the trailer launch, we saw two female bouncers happily clicking pictures of each other. We initiated a brief conversation, mainly expressing our surprise to see female bouncers in the city. Susan Khan and her colleague enlightened us on the nature of the job.
The very name [Susan] naturally reminded us of the more famous Sussanne in the film industry. Next moment, Susan smilingly says, “Not just name, but like her, I too, am a divorcee”. The reviewer was sorry to hear that, but Susan kept on smiling. Next second, her colleague chirped, “I’m not even married. My parents, everyone around me is worried. I’m mocked for being a bouncer but I don’t care. I enjoy my work.”
Here are two ladies who come from humble, traditional section of the society, yet marriage, divorce was the least of their worries. They struck us as bubbly souls who are happy with their lives. It’s this happy-go-lucky attitude that must have inspired writers Amit Joshi, Aradhana Debnath and director Madhur Bhandarkar to make Babli Bouncer .
The trio based their film in a small border town of Haryana and Delhi. Though a Punjabi-Sindhi from Mumbai, Tamannaah Bhatia has made a career down south. Bhandarkar and his producer’s choice did raise an eyebrow. Having spent considerable time in the South Indian film industry, we sensed the Southern tone when Tamannaah speaks in Hindi. Honestly, the trailer didn’t excite us as we feared Tamannaah may not quite get the grip over the Haryanvi tone.
She credited her brother’s Haryanvi wife for helping her with the dialect. 117 minutes later, we are happy to be proved wrong as Tamannaah Bhatia gave a career-defining performance in her stop-start Bollywood career.
Though a village belle, she’s a smart ass who knows to work her way around. Ah, once again we urbanites are generalising rural folks. Just look at the TikToks, and other reels, rural folks regularly bust urban myths around them. Babli Tanwar [Bhatia] is a dasvi [tenth] fail, an unambitious girl, who keeps turning away the marriage proposals. She turns one chemist shop owner away by landing at his shop asking for condoms. There is only one thing that the local pehelwaan [wrestler] Gajanan’s [Saurabh Shukla] daughter likes – exercising and flaunting her physical strength.
She’s smitten by the local teacher’s son Viraj [Abhishek Bajaj] and tricks her childhood friend Kukku [Sahil Vaid] into getting her a job in Delhi. Until now, she wasn’t aware of the existence of bouncery, but Babli sees it as an opportunity to meet Viraj in Delhi. The social, cultural barriers scupper the personal dream, but the heartbreak gives her a new purpose in life.
Known for his hard-hitting socially relevant films, Bhandarkar has often copped criticism for generalising an industry. Corporate , Fashion , Heroine , Calendar Girls . Bhandarkar’s films expose the under belly, but they often come from a sense of moral high ground and painting the entire fraternity as bad. That template hasn’t worked in a while. Bhandarkar tried his hands at comedy before – Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji  – but that attempt ended in a disaster.
Babli Bouncer  is Bhandarkar’s another attempt at comedy. While the film subtly touches upon taboos, but it is not preachy, nor is it told from any position of high moral ground. Kudos to the filmmaker who set aside his template, ego, and focused purely on telling a simple, inspiring and entertaining story.
Bubbly is the essence of the film, where Babli’s positivity delights the viewer even through the odd moment of despair. The well etched principal character, witty dialogues and the impressive show by Bhatia make you simply adore this Babli Bouncer. As a half Haryanvi, we found Bhatia fairly competent with her accent, but it’s the killer expressions that have you ROFL. Jaggi Paaji [Saanand Verma], her superior at the Tully Gully nightclub aptly says, “You’re a killer”.
Bubbly arrives in a fancy restaurant for lunch with Viraj, asking for parathas, lassi. The man informs her that these things aren’t available here and so he orders a pizza and edamame rice. Clearly, the words go bouncing over the bouncer’s head. When the pizza arrives, Babli quips, “Oh, how different it is from a paratha? It [paratha] has the stuffing on the inside, while this [pizza] one has it on the top”. It’s these witty lines that brings an instant smile on the faces of her co-actors and the viewers. And Babli’s not afraid to say in her Haryanvi-accented English, “Yes, yes I am very phunny”.
What makes this Babli likable is her freewheeling spirit and the joy in simply being oneself. She isn’t loud, sports a 24×7 bright smile. Babli imbibes the innate Haryanvi sense of humour, burps freely, gobbles on 12 rotis. She is simply happy being herself. She’s the heart and the soul of the film, but Tamannaah’s co-actors Abhishek Bajaj, Saanand Verma, Priyam Saha [who plays Babli’s best friend Pinky] all play their parts convincingly.
The music is fairly immersive with the Mad Banke and Babli Shor Machare tracks having a nice vibe to them. The film doesn’t have the usual major conflict, a larger purpose, especially for a Madhur Bhandarkar film. Hey, but isn’t life smooth without undue tension? There is the odd moment of tense action, but the situation isn’t blown out of proportion as Babli deals with it appropriately. We’ve seen too many rabble-rousing films. It is nice to be unassuming in a critical situation too. Babli inspires us in a humble way.
Though conceived and signed during the peak pandemic period, Babli Bouncer would have been the ideal big screen family entertainer. Be it cricket field or nightclubs, people usually like to evade a bouncer. However, this is one bouncer that you’d be happy to face and even let it hit you hard in the chest.
Babli Bouncer  is streaming on Disney+Hotstar.