Beeba Boys is a badass Sikh gangster movie

Canadian director Deepa Mehta dives into Vancouver’s Punjabi crime world in Beeba Boys.

The cast of Beeba Boys

No filmmaker wants to be pigeonholed. Being known for a specific kind of movie suggests that you are unable of making any other kind of movie, which is not the way most artists would like to be perceived. If you were to describe a violent, fast-paced gangster movie and asked me to guess what internationally renowned director made it, I think I would possibly cycle through 1,400 names before I settled on Deepa Mehta. It’s not that I thought Mehta was incapable of riffing on Goodfellas, it’s that nothing she’s made has ever suggested that this is something she was interested in pursuing, in the same way that, say, Oliver Stone doesn’t seem to be chomping at the bit to sign on to a sequel to Hotel for Dogs.

Mostly known for her Elements trilogy, Mehta has a reputation for making emotionally rich, often female-led dramas that explore Punjabi life in Canada and in India. She has, at times, broken away from this — her second film Camilla is a sunny road comedy starring Jessica Tandy and Bridget Fonda — but never quite as explicitly as she does in Beeba Boys. It’s a fast-paced, unsubtle and often quite violent gangster epic that owes a significant amount to the classics (and lesser classics) of the genre: Scarface, Goodfellas, Blow etc.

The Vancouver crime scene is made up of several different factions, but there are only two real contenders for the Punjabi crime empire throne. Jeet Johar (Randeep Hooda) is the young upstart, getting down to business with his colourfully attired crew (the titular Beeba Boys) and balling hard despite the fact that, as an observant and unmarried Sikh, he still lives with his parents. Johar’s chief concern is dethroning old-school kingpin Robbie Grewal (Gulshan Grover), an unflashy, “business-type” gangster who vehemently denies his own wrongdoings to the press while Johar rather cockily paints himself out to be some sort of underworld demi-god. Allegiances are tested when a new member, Nep (Ali Momen), joins the Beeba Boys — friendly with Grewal’s daughter, he may or may not be the mole that’s complicating the Boys’ hostile takeover of Grewal’s turf.

It’s obvious from the start that Mehta is at least as interested in the complicated social dynamics of Indo-Canadian society as she is in badass peacocking and stylish bloodletting. Even if Beeba Boys does trade chiefly in familiar gangster movie tropes, it also has a lot of interesting and nuanced observations about life as a Sikh in Canada: When Jeet is arrested early in the film, he uses his one phone call to reassure his mother that they’re not feeding him beef; when he chooses a young Polish-Canadian manicurist (Sarah Allen) as the object of his affection, he makes his boys take a break from a celebration to “dance away” her coworkers so they can have a minute to themselves.

Not all of it comes off without a hitch. The tonal shifts are sometimes strange and some of the more obviously “badass” moments feel stilted (particularly Johar’s “catchphrase” of “Kiss my fucking chittar!” which seems like it should be the catchphrase of a 12-year-old on the baseball field), but this sort of quirky, sometimes uncertain tone is also what makes Beeba Boys such a joy. It’s both familiar and deeply idiosyncratic not only in its setting but its style, which is brightly lit and filled with serpentine steady-cam camerawork. I’d much rather see this Beeba Boys with its flaws than the “proper” one that’d fit right in with the canon. 

Beeba Boys opens in theatres on Friday, Oct. 16. Watch the trailer here: