‘Guns & Gulaabs’ series review: Raj & DK’s new show is charmingly dazed and confused

‘Guns & Gulaabs’ starring Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan and Adarsh Gourav abounds in 90s nostalgia and weirdness, but can feel quite random and adrift in the home stretch

August 18, 2023 01:33 pm | Updated August 19, 2023 11:04 am IST

A still from ‘Guns & Gulaabs’

A still from ‘Guns & Gulaabs’ | Photo Credit: Priyanka Kala/Netflix

After a couple of shows that moved blazingly fast, directors Raj & DK have elected to slow down. Their Amazon shows The Family Man and Farzi were marked by busy plots and relentless pacing. Their debut Netflix series, Guns & Gulaabs, certainly has a plot: the undertaking of a large opium deal in a sleepy farming town in the early 90s. It has a countdown attached as well; a month’s time to safely execute the order or begetting consequences. Yet the pacing is knowingly deliberate, wistful. It’s as though the heady air of the vast poppy fields were infecting the entire series, rendering it loose and lackadaisical.

Guns & Gulaabs (Hindi)
Creators and directors: Raj & DK
Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Dulquer Salmaan, Adarsh Gourav, Gulshan Devaiah, TJ Bhanu ParvatiMurti, Pooja A Gor, Satish Kaushik, Varun Badola
Episodes: 7
Run-time: 45 to 80 minutes
Storyline: Multiple quirky characters get enmeshed in an unprecedented drug deal about to go down in a sleepy farming town in the 1990s

The series is set in the imaginary ‘Gulaabgunj’. Local big cheese Ganchi (late actor Satish Kaushik, his enormous bald head put to loving use) falls through the woodwork of his large house and slips into a coma. It puts his heir, the fairly inexperienced Jugnu (Adarsh Gourav), in charge. Jugnu is meant to oversee the ‘Calcutta deal’ while keeping rival factions and a new Narcotics officer in town, Arjun (Dulquer Salmaan), in check. Shy mechanic Tipu (Rajkummar Rao) kills two men in a fit of rage with his spanner and later joins up with Ganchi gang. Hot on his heels is a freelance assassin from Bombay, 4-Cut Atmaram (Gulshan Devaiah), so named for the eponymous ‘four cuts’ he lethally inflicts upon his victims.

Intersecting with the primary storyline are the adventures of three wayward school kids. They are last benchers, playing book cricket and running a minor letter-writing racket on the side. One of them, Gangaram (Tanishq Chaudhary), has fallen for his English teacher Chandralekha (TJ Bhanu), who is also the love of Tipu’s life. It’s a surprisingly poignant portrait of childhood infatuation and the rites of adolescence, something Wes Anderson explored in Rushmore (1998). Indeed, more than the crime narrative in Guns & Gulaabs, I was invested in the tale of Gangaram, Lalkrishna and Ikhlaq (who, being a Muslim kid infatuated with a Hindu girl, isn’t named much).

As expected from Raj & DK and co-writer Suman Kumar, the series abounds in 90s nostalgia. The kids match Flames and listen to Bryan Adams and Foreigner. Arjun is a cassette-collecting purist who detests ‘jhankar beats’ remixes of Hindi film songs. Kumar Sanu, the definitive voice of that decade, supplies a guest track. Unusually for a Bollywood series, there is a lot of literary nostalgia: Ayn Rand, Desmond Bagley, Premchand’s Godaan. Film references range from the kung fu classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin to canonical Mithun Chakraborty and Rishi Kapoor movies. There are nods that reach even further back; we see posters of Zeenat Aman as well as legendary Telugu actors Jamuna, Savitri, NTR and SV Ranga Rao.

Beyond all this, many of the characters come across as clichés and archetypes from the period, at least initially. Atmaram, introduced as an imperishable force of nature in long hair, is a curious mishmash of Sanjay Dutt and The Undertaker (he has seven lives!). There are little subversions in the writing I found interesting. Two of the male leads act calmly and methodically under stress, an approach unknown to Hindi film heroes of the time. Chandralekha is curiously stirred by Tipu’s violent behavior (she thinks it suits him). A typical vamp character played by Shreya Dhanwanthary talks frankly about being used as bait—”I’m fine with it,” she says. Jugnu’s arc, too, builds up to something unexpected.

Rajkummar Rao had previously played a klutzy lover pulled into crime in the 2020 comedy Ludo. There is something Chaplinesque in how Rao approaches comedy, evident in his sloping movements and the number of tragicomic faces he manages to pull. Dulquer Salmaan has the prettiest voice in contemporary Indian cinema ­— which at times works against him. The secondary casting is impeccable to a fault: can Rajatava Dutta be used a little more inventively in his Hindi assignments? So much better it is to witness the resurgence of Varun Badola, who was striking in Kohrra and is even more brutishly effective here.

Guns & Gulaabs can test the patience of the most ardent Raj & DK fans. It betrays their signature weirdness: a character dies and, before he can be properly mourned, two of his lookalikes join the fray. Nevertheless, the show — teeming with street magicians, lending libraries, shootouts and bike chases — can feel quite random and directionless, a quick sketch before the filmmakers get on with the Indian spin-off of Citadel. Neither does the series commit fully to its leisurely mood; the final episode attempts to quicken the pulse and tie up loose ends. Charming and unhurried at first, Guns & Gulaabs lurches into full speed, much like the 90s.

Guns & Gulaabs is currently streaming on Netflix

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.