Dr Manmohan Singh is the villain of this movie. His budget speech as Finance Minister in the early 1990s comes as a bolt from the blue to ‘The Badmaash Company’, registered as ‘Friends and Co’ in the then metropolis of Bombay, because he slashes import duty on shoes.
These guys who form the ‘Badmaash Company’ have been importing separate consignments of left and right shoes, refusing to pay Customs duty because the goods are ‘damaged’, then picking up both left and right shoes separately at throwaway prices at the Customs auction of unclaimed goods.
This intricate, highly profitable business has been destroyed in one morning by Dr Singh. For the friendly neighbourhood smuggler of Bombay, the 1990s were the best of times, but also the worst of times.
The charm of Badmaash Company is in the telling: the fun four friends have, barely out of college, flying to Bangkok, picking up goodies, sneaking them through Indian Customs and making enough pocket money to turn professional.
After the good doctor’s liberalisation, it is westward ho. The script of this delightful movie idea ticks for a short while longer in America, but director Parmeet Sethi falters when he turns New York businessmen into nincompoops.
Friends Karan (Kapur), Bulbul (Sharma), Chandu (Das) and Zing (Chang) try the same left/right stunt with gloves imported from India and the New Yorker is left fuming with one-handed gloves.
By the time the law catches up, we are getting more and more of the same. Like the detailing of office politics in Rocket Singh, Badmaash Company sees too many trees for too long and misses the wood. Karan’s success, his arrogance, his comeuppance and his eventual reinvention as the honest Indian businessman is full of data we can do without.
Yet, there is a freshness to the film and to the performance of three guys and a girl who reach adulthood in the twilight zone between the old and new economy. The rules of the game have changed. How do you adjust? It is a movie that engages and entertains.