‘Burbokor Khel- Game of Fools’ (2023) is a tale set against the seedy underbelly of crime, drugs, greed, and corruption. It follows the story of an upstanding police officer who initiates a raid on a criminal den, resulting in the confiscation of a large amounts of drugs.
However, the aftermath of his actions triggers a chain reaction of events. The plot unfolds amidst a web of departmental traitors, the murder of a young journalist, a growing metropolis, and an ever increasing appetite for wealth and power. As the story progresses through the sleepy streets and quiet lanes of Guwahati, criminals are captured and lives are lost, all while the unseen forces that govern everyone’s fate remain shrouded in darkness.
The movie commences with a leisurely pace, but gains momentum once a journalist is killed, and an inquiry into the matter is undertaken. Kula Kuldip portrays Romen Bora, who leads the investigation, with assistance from Ranjita Boruah, who plays cop Nilakshi Sharma. As Borah delves deeper into the investigation to uncover the truth, he is pulled into a critical situation where he is confronted with difficult questions as allies turn into adversaries, and an ominous fate looms ahead.
‘Burbokor Khel’ features impressive visual elements, embodying the spirit of the noir genre, and flaunts a remarkable art design. The camera adroitly follows drug peddlers as they navigate the dingy alleyways of the bustling markets of Guwahati. The nocturnal cityscape is draped in a subdued, ethereal glow, captured through sweeping drone shots that encompass the entirety of the city. However, the film’s storytelling lacks in substance. The primary issue is its weak writing, with certain missing elements that leave the audience confused about the importance of characters such as Nilakshi Sharma’s sister and Atanu Mahanta’s character – Roy. It feels like there are some parts of the story which were intentionally kept away from us.
For instance, enough emphasis is placed on the character of Roy, a drug peddler, his whereabouts and his methods of operation, but only to be killed off midway through the film. Surprisingly, the significance of his character seems to diminish post his demise. Additionally, there is a sub-plot involving journalist Ruplekha, whose contribution to the story is unclear. There is the sense of an importance, yet no effort is made to elucidate her contribution to the audience.
And as the movie approaches its climax, Himanshu Gogoi and another police officer are portrayed as important figures in connecting Romen Bora with the confiscated drugs. Although they are said to be close friends and co-workers, there is no prior indication of their relationship being shown in the film, which makes the portrayal of their relationship seem forced and uncomfortable.
The film portrays only one instance of character development, where Romen Bora is seen reviving his smoking habit after having quit it. This is revealed to be due to the death of his journalist friend, Sumona Rongpi. And interestingly, she had only contacted Romen once and that too – over the phone! This lack of coherence and awkwardness in the film’s execution detract from the overall experience, resulting in an unconvincing narrative and a jarring viewing experience.
Written and directed by Ashwin Kelkar, ‘Burbokor Khel’ appears to lack a resolute commitment to its pulpy nature and procedural aspects as the filmmakers aimed to elevate the genre and their affinity for monochrome imagery into a socially impactful drama about the harsh tones and unpleasant truth of a city concealed beneath its layers of dirt and concrete.
The movie’s background music and sets, which are actual locations, exhibit an unprecedented degree of splendor, particularly when compared to other Assamese crime dramas. And as a stylistic exercise, the grittiness of ‘Burbokor Khel’ is an admirable attempt, but its narrative prospects seem rather bleak. As mentioned, there are numerous subplots that do not contribute to the story and are left unresolved, resulting in a disjointed feel. Moreover, the climax is unsatisfying as the sudden character betrayals are never fully explained. It is regrettable that the script is not as strong as the technical aspects of the film.
‘Burbokor Khel’, with its moody and slow burning treatment, had enough meat to be stretched comfortably into the format of a web series or a mini-series or a duology. Unfortunately it seems as if the makers themselves lacked clarity in presenting the story! Even the characters in the film fail to leave an imprint. None of them are able to evoke any emotion or sympathy, whether it’s the protagonist Romen Bora, the deceased journalist Sangita Rongpi, or the treacherous cop Nilakshi Sharma. Even the antagonistic figures, TNT and DIG Harpreet Pal Singh, portrayed by Angshumann Bhattacharya and Mintu Baruah, respectively, seem to lack a menacing presence, appearing rather controlled and unimposing beyond a certain point.
With a better utilization of all the inspirations from classic crime dramas like ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Burbokor Khel’ could have been an exceptional film. Just with a little more investment of time in writing and editing, this movie could have been comfortably stretched up to 2 hours and 30 minutes and still could have done wonders as a realistic crime drama.