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Pankaj Tripathi is at the top of his game, but it is a good time for him to try to break out of the permanent pit of criminal mobsters right now.

Ludo Movie Cast: Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Sanya Malhotra, Rajkummar Rao, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Abhishek Bachchan, Rohit Saraf, Pearl Maaney, Shalini Vatsa

Film director of Ludo: Anurag Basu

Movie ranking for Ludo: Two and a half stars

As Anurag Basu does, there are very few Bollywood filmmakers who can do madcap. Life is ludo, and ludo is life, a character in the latest Basu declares, and the game begins. The statement comes with an invitation to watch, sometimes closely, sometimes tangentially, a bunch of characters criss-crossing, and to see where they end up, to the beat of that lovely old Bhagwan dada song-o beta Ji, o babuji, kismat ki Hawa Kabhi garam, Kabhi naram.

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Meet the gang. First, Sattu Bhaiyya (Tripathi), a local gang boss, and Bittoo (Bachchan), his former associate. Stand-up comic Akash (Roy Kapoor), and about-to-be-bride Shruti (Malhotra) will have-groom-will-marry. Part-time restaurant owner, full-time Mithun fan Alok Urf Aloo (Rao), and Pinky (Shaikh), the love of his life. Fella Rahul (Saraf), a small town, and Sreeja (Maaney), a sweet-nurse-on-the-run. And other assorted others.

This is the kind of movie where the unpredictable, bizarre twists that accompany wild turns are meant to await you. And there are some places that do the necessary: the go-bananas sequence in which an ‘epicenter of local crime’ explodes and the effects of the blast ripple out is of particular note; a surprisingly sharp comic set of ‘god’ media takedowns, and the conjugation of cows and votes; and an absolute corker that includes a crane and a hospital bed. I’m not going to offer anything more, but someone on the writer’s team has clearly read their Modesty Blaise, the last bit.

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A high degree of amusement is given by some members of this ensemble cast. Tripathi-the-don, a gun strapped high on his thigh, is at the top of his game, even if it is a good time for him to start breaking out of the permanent trap of criminal mobsters right now. Again and again, Rajkummar Rao steals my heart away: his part, a hopeless aashiq who is an ’emotional Phool’, is a beauty, and he does it full justice. There are also moments that Roy Kapoor and Malhotra fill in their ‘we know but they don’t know that they’re made for each other’s track. There is also the guy with another woman who is having it off but wants his wife to save him from his troubles. He’s a great one. And Shalini Vatsa is a joy as the straight-talking nurse who falls for a perfectly inappropriate fellow.

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The problem with this clip-clop flip-flop is that it lasts too long. In Life In A Metro, the last time Basu followed the same unknown-character-coming-together style, the time taken for a wrap was one hour and a half, which was fine. This one takes two and a half hours to get where it needs to go, flattening the curve: in a too-stretched kidnap thread, for example, Bachchan is saddled with a precocious, smart-talking young thing. And the Mexican stand-off, the spraying of bullets, the falling of bodies, is fun for the first time around, but for the second, it’s tired.

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Still, we could do with some fun and games in this time of Corona, the virus getting an honorable mention in the film, even if it slackens in bits. In his films, Basu is also a dab hand in the use of music: the perky musical interludes tell their own story. A six can be nine, and indeed you can go straight to the gates of heaven with a hit. Oh, throw that dice.