Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 07/01/05 18:18:25

"A Power Has Risen!"
5 stars (Awesome)

Something happened in a post-interval scene of Ramgopal Varma’s ‘Sarkar’ that suddenly put the whole film in perspective for me. As an august but weary Amitabh Bachchan sits with his head hung low in police detention, his son Abhishek places his hand upon his father’s. To my utter amazement, a section of the house-full crowd in the auditorium started whistling while the others clapped! And realization hit me- Ramgopal Varma has understood the persona that Amitabh Bachchan embodied in his films of the 70’s, the Amitabh Bachchan that drew a whole audience crazy even with his entrance in a film, much better than any of the other contemporary directors. For the first time in my living memory was I witness to an audience cheering Amitabh’s entrance(something I had heard happened in the 70’s and early 80’s) and clapping even at a slight tilt of his head as he looks angrily at a Dubai-based gangster offer him a deal! And to know that his son will now take on the reins of his empire reaffirms the audience’s faith, at a subconscious level, that Amitabh’s persona will continue to live. Little wonder then that they broke out clapping. And little wonder that after these thoughts ran through my head, I joined in the clapping as well!

Ramgopal Varma pays homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’ in the opening reel and credits it as the film which has influenced him the most. The very first scene is a direct adaptation of Coppola’s classic, as an old man comes seeking justice for the rape of his daughter. Not at Don Corleone’s daughter’s wedding, but at Subhash Sarkar Nagre’s durbar. Sarkar immediately puts his men to dispense justice in the manner which he feels right. But the homage ends there! The story takes off on a tangent from here and Sarkar becomes more Bal Thackeray than Vito Corleone. And although certain scenes will evoke a memory of ‘The Godfather’, they do so only for a fleeting moment. Even Abhishek’s character Shankar Nagre is more Raj Thackeray than Michael Corleone. He is not entirely against what his dad practices but yes, his justification of his father’s line of work is just as naïve as Michael Corleone’s was! The women in ‘The Godfather’ were there alright, but always in the background. In ‘Sarkar’ too, the women are there but never in the foreground. Essentially, Varma is fascinated with power and in ‘Sarkar’ he marries the uncontaminated primacy of Don Corleone to the absolute authority of Bal Thackeray!

The question then is- does ‘Sarkar’ condone Thackeray and his way? Well, answering that will be a tricky proposition. Amitabh’s Sarkar does take the law in his hands, he deals with the underworld(where he deems acceptable) and he opposes ultra-state labour imported into the city! But Sarkar is not a fascist and moreover he isn’t a radical Hindu. In fact, his trusted aide is a Muslim! As I deduce, Varma takes those qualities of Thackeray and those facets of his life which facilitate his script. There are the obvious reference points: a Chhagan Bhujbal clone that deflects into the opposition, a scheming Chandraswami replica, a Varadarajan like gang lord(whose treachery creates anti-Tamil sentiments in Sarkar’s man-Friday Chandu) and the most important Vishnu Nagre(KayKay Menon)- Sarkar’s wayward and impetuous son modelled after Thackeray’s estranged son Jaidev. But you soon grow to detach the Thackeray from the Bachchan. Because frankly speaking, this movie is ultimately less a tribute to ‘The Godfather’ or a random collection of Thackeray’s life but more a reinforcement of the mania that was Amitabh Bachchan. So much so that whenSarkar waves his hand at an eager crowd, we remain fixed in awe not because we imagine Thackeray, but because we become conscious of our own admiration for the Big B! This is the advent of the Angry Old Man!

Coloured in a sepia-tint, the movie is as mainstream as Varma will ever get. He populates his screen with wives, sister-in-laws, children et al; something that he has never done before. Even his villains are more Bollywoodish than ever, especially a character called Selvar Mani who is so rip-roaringly funny that he elicits applause every time he reappears on the screen. Varma precisely has strived to achieve that- a movie which he can recognize with(owing to the subject matter) and something that a larger audience will appreciate(owing to its treatment). And does he succeed! ‘Sarkar’ is definitely not the best RGV film, but it is one where he hits the mark spot-on where he intended to! Almost the whole movie has been shot in close-ups. Every character in the movie has atleast one scene where their visage completely covers the expanse of the screen. The close-ups help in bringing out each character’s internal motivations. This effect reaches its pinnacle whenever Amitabh Bachchan is shown for long periods without any dialogues. Only his expressions speak and how!

Technically, the film is superb. Varma’s crew has become so comfortable with their merchandise that to expect a technical glitch is hoping against hope! The editing(Amit Parmar and Nipun Gupta) compared to Varma’s earlier films is less innovative(save the opening sequence), but it’s been done that way intentionally to keep the proceedings uncomplicated. The cinematography(Amit Roy) is top-rate, and if I may go overboard, the best among all of Varma’s films! And Varma’s insistence with Amar Mohile for the background score finally pays off. One would’ve expected Varma to go to Sandeep Chowta for such an ambitious project, but his faith in Mohile is vindicated. The Govinda Govinda track which plays in the background is infectious and overwhelming. It adds so much more to the scene where Abhishek Bachchan runs away from an attempt on his life. Shot brilliantly, Abhishek runs through a fishing-port and small alleys in what is the best scene of the movie. If there is any flaw in the film, then it is writer Manish Gupta’s inability to give the characters a background(but then ‘Sarkar’ is more about iconology) and his weakness for some clichéd dialogues.

Abhishek Bachchan’s performance is something that needs to be studied. Though not comparable to Al Pacino’s in ‘The Godfather’(and neither are they trying to), Abhishek displays an amazing range of emotions. His awkward and uncomfortable presence in the earlier reels slowly transforms into confidence and clarity; and we can see the transformation taking place. When the make-over was complete at the end, the audience actually clapped aloud. There are so many instances when the audiences cheered and applauded that listing them will only make me drool! Let it be. In the early reels, if anyone manages to almost steal the show away from the Bachchans, it is KayKay Menon. KayKay is at his menacing best. He conveys his corrupted sense just with the use of his eyes. In his confrontation with Amitabh Bachchan, we find ourselves transfixed by KayKay Menon’s acting. The rest of the cast ably supports the three leads, none better than Ravi Kale as Chandu. His physiotherapist-like breaking the limbs of a person is acted with an amazing level of restrained anger.

‘Sarkar’ is ultimately about Amitabh Bachchan though. In the best role of his second innings as an actor, Amitabh Bachchan chews into the role and becomes Sarkar. This is the Amitabh that Varma’s generation idolized as they grew. They want to see an Amitabh who is commanding, not the exhausted drunk teacher of ‘Black’(although that was a dazzling performance too). And Bachchan doesn’t disappoint those die-hard fans. This is the film that Varma’s wanted to make for 20 years…and it is evident! ‘Sarkar’ is the definitive movie that Bollywood will talk about for years to come!

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