SarkarIt seems to me that there are two ways of assessing the latest work of an established and successful filmmaker - one, you judge it against his past resumé and secondly, with contemporary cinema. Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar may stand up and even tower over most of its peers in our eyes, but hold it up against past RGV work and it is dwarfed.
RGV starts Sarkar by reminding you that yes, not contrary to all the reports we've heard, this is a personal tribute to The Godfather. [As for any more than a passing visual and topical resemblance to the Thackeray clan, there isn't much hunting to do down that trail.] He drills in the homage by choosing to begin with an almost identical sequence, Bonasera asking for his daughter's abasement to be avenged. The problem is in that RGV fast-forwards through all those bits that told us all about the Don and his family. The characterisation is incomplete, and in some cases stillborn. What makes Sarkar (Amitabh B) so ruthless (if he is so), so feared by his enemies, antagonistic to certain "dha.ndaa"s to the extent of preventing Rashid Solozzo from doing them too? The older film was one of the longer English films I have known, and the pace develops at just the right chug. Sarkar assumes (and mostly correctly) that you've seen The Godfather - so will you just settle down and watch my version please? Which is ok because it gets better later on. But I'll just dwell on the blemishes a little more.
There were a little too many flaws for a RGV film at this point in his filmography. Harish (in whose company I saw the film, and who watched the film twice in as many days) reckons the errors become obvious only when compared to the Varma canon, but I was a little disappointed, for before this, he was getting better and better. The dialogues are a let down - it gets embarassingly trite at times. The BGM was better suited to one of the Cafe Coffee Day joints as it tried to blow your eardrum to bits at all the wrong moments. A call for the likes of Anurag Kashyap, Saurabh Shukla and Sandeep Chowta rings around the theatres, for men like these had huge parts to play in previous RGV successes. The BGM especially - if there was one thing particularly worth emulating from the original, it was this. Amar Mohile needs to be dropped for a bit. Feed him to the smaller Factory fish. And as feared, what are Tanishaa and Katrina Kaif doing in this film? Their screen time is wasted and their roles hardly have the same moral contrast that the women in The Godfather had. Which tells me this is a good time to stop all these comparisons.
Especially because the film really gets better when it deviates from the Puzo storyline. You know broadly how things are going to pan out, so when suddenly we're off on a slightly different track, it gets engrossing. As expected, it is the acting that this film is all about. The eponymous Bachchan doesn't really have that much to do and resides mostly on indoor sets - but he is good in all the difficult parts. I don't know if the RGV comment about Baby B being better than the father is another smart market buzz-creator, but for me, the film was about Baby B taking over the reins, story-wise and otherwise, if you're that metaphorically inclined. He carries on all the good work done in the last year, and is excellent as the brooding son who decides to jump in and prop up the family despite what he's being brought up to do. But don't expect the same kind of scenes as between Michael and Don Vito - aargh, I promised to stave off the comparisons. Kay Kay is as good as we'd expect him to, as are the usual pack of RGV staples. There is more Marathi spoken than one would have expected (I read in yesterday's Express that Kay Kay was a Punekar, which explains why he speaks the best tongue among all the lead actors). So when they lapse into filmi Hindi, you make a mental note to lambast the dialogue writer in the next day's blog post.
Which brings us to the villains of the piece. The pack of 4-5 are more Agneepath than the Five Families With Names Like Tataglia and Barzini. Deepak Shirke is the prototypical underworld-film-CM which is a black mark again on the characterisation. So what saves the day are the Telugu imports, Jeeva hitting the dirty notes once again and with a new face to Bollywood, Kota Srinivasa Rao. Jeeva gets some of the best moments, while Rao gets some of the choicest dialogue, of which as we have seen, there wasn't much to hand around. And Rao also gets the craziest villainous laughter I've heard in ages, so even though we know these baddies are going to get it in the neck in less than an hour, we like seeing them on screen. All RGV typos are forgiven if he continues to give us these fine actors. The villainy is of a pre-Nolan Batman vintage. Still, Jeeva's "kutte!" will stay in my mind forever - the best since Dharmendra in Sholay.
Everyone I know who has seen Sarkar has liked it, so there's evidently enough to interest audiences. The biggest plus is that it is 2 hours, and does not have any songs. RGV is the only commercial director to have consistently bucked the norm, for even in these days of so-called experimentations, these are considered bold attempts. But they don't help Sarkaar don't hit the high scales that Satya and Company did, or for that matter, even Ab Tak Chappan or Ek Hasina Thi. I've got tired of the claustrophobic closeups and the immense hurry to go on to the next angled shot. The Abhishek Bachchan chase among the shipyard is redeeming, but not in the class of similar RGV scenes in the past. And of course, there are more stories of a wider world to be told. Time to adapt. Incidentally, the first time I watched The Godfather, I was lukewarm towards it. But now I know why it is what it is. Will Sarkar turn out that way? I guess not.
Still, I leave the last word to that man - yesterday in an interview with NDTV, Ram Gopal Varma says: "this is a family film. This is my Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham". I didn't look for the twinkle in the eye, I just started laughing.