Written & Directed by Deepa Mehta
Beeba Boys is acclaimed Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s frenetic entry into the crime movie genre. Mehta’s latest film hits the audience like a sugar rush, walloping them with a fury of colour and violence. Just like any sugar rush, the high is fleeting. Beeba Boys is loud, cocksure of itself and demands attention. Unfortunately, the self-assuredness at the root of the film’s bluster is misguided.
Beeba Boys is the story of Jeet Johar (Randeep Hooda), the cold-blooded alpha of a group of Vancouver-based gangsters that call themselves The Beeba Boys. Jeet’s crew is comprised of second and third generation Indo-Canadians that use their notoriety to gain the kind of respect that was unattainable to their immigrant families. The film kicks off with The Beeba Boys amidst a west coast turf war with the old-school gangster establishment. A group of Indo-Canadian immigrants runs the elder crime families and they have lost patience with The Beeba Boys flippant behavior. While each faction toes the line of an all out gang-war, the Beeba’s newest member Nep (Ali Momen), secretly has a stake in both sides of the feud. As the Beeba Boys move to increase their influence, Jeet must learn that his success in the crime world comes at a cost.
Mehta’s film bursts out of the gate with stylized visuals and snappy dialogue that establishes a familiar gangster flick tone. The opening scenes are reminiscent of classic Tarantino by way of Scorsese with Mehta’s uniquely Indo-Canadian influence peppered in. There is nothing inherently wrong with Beeba Boys openly displaying its recognizable crime movie influences. Films like Goodfellas and Reservoir Dogs left indelible marks on the genre, and now serve as building blocks that films like Beeba Boys utilize as a foundation to elevate the genre. The issue with Beeba Boys is that the movie does not successfully establish itself as a crime story, an action flick, or even a social commentary. When a film fails to clearly define itself, all that’s left to characterize it are its overt similarities to better films.
Even factoring in the quippy dialogue, the film’s cast lacks personality. The Beeba Boys crew are caricatures and not characters. During the opening moments of the film, Mehta goes as far as to flash title cards under each of the men in Jeet’s inner circle, flagrantly outlining who they are and what they mean to the crew so that the film never has to; there is the clown, the muscle, and the leader.
The movie never settles down long enough to explore the relationships amongst the crew. The audience only knows that the men are close as brothers because the film has the men claim they’re close as brothers while they unleash barrages of deep bro-hugs, slap each other on the back, and utter foul-mouthed mother jokes. Save for Manny “The Joker” (Waris Ahluwalia) — who gets the most screen time out of the bit players — these men are only present to posture to the camera in their brightly coloured suits. Even Jeet, the film’s central character, scowls his way through the movie with an expression of dead-eyed indifference. A story told with the zeal of Beeba Boys requires at least one relatable or empathetic character that can emotionally anchor the audience amidst all the confusion.
The acting in the film ranges from decent to terrible, with wooden and stilted deliveries creeping into the film often enough to become a distraction. Hooda’s a capable leading man, and despite his aloof demeanour, his strong onscreen presence captures the audience’s attention and never lets it go. Balinder Johal is great as Jeet’s perceptive mother, Mummyji. Sara Allen plays Katya, the naive object of Jeet’s affection who is swept up in the Beeba Boys’ fast and dangerous lifestyle. Allen’s turn as Katya delivers about 10% of the acting chops and charisma on display in Michelle Pheiffer’s similar type of role as Elvira in Scarface. All the women in this film are poorly served — to be fair, they don’t have much to work with. Mehta makes a conscious decision to emphasize the subservient roles of women in The Beeba Boys’ hyper-masculine world (at one point she places Katya on the stairs in the background while the men preen for the camera).
Mehta is intent on exploring themes of cultural subjugation and depicting why a criminal lifestyle (and the money and influence that come with it) is most tempting to the marginalized. The delivery of Mehta’s message is not at all subtle. In the early moments of the film, a news broadcast as well as local community members, glorify The Beeba Boys as if they are the criminal underworld’s version of The Avengers. It’s always clear why Mehta props these gun-toting, drug peddlers up on a pedestal, and as their fall is so clearly telegraphed, the plot predictability saps the film of its drama and energy. While the rise and fall of a criminal syndicate is often tread in crime films (Casino and Blow are perfect examples), Mehta hoists her gangsters up so fervently that the Beeba Boys notoriety borders on farcical.
There is a stand out moment near the end of the film. As two characters discuss their love life, they make their way into a local shop and casually gun down the shop owner. As the patrons dive to the floor on top of squashed dahl and shattered glass, the gunmen resume their conversation as nonchalantly as if they just stopped to order a coffee. Watching the two men commit cold-blooded murder without batting an eye is a terrifying moment that exemplifies what little value these men place in human life. The scene should have been a shocking window into how far removed these killers are from the rules that govern society, instead the moment played to the crowd for laughs.
Beeba Boys has all the makings of an excellent crime film: a broodingly handsome leading man, a compelling story based on real life gangsters, and a critically acclaimed director with a socially conscious vision. Mehta is unable to translate Beeba Boys’ manic energy into any area of the film capable of gaining traction with the audience. Instead, the shallow dramatic, comedic, and love story elements overlap to form a superficial crime film that lacks the emotional heft to hang with grittier gangster movies.