That's the thing with sequels. They get weighed down by expectation. Not to say that Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns (SBAGR) is an incompetent film, no. It is, however, wishy-washy compared to the direct blaze of the prequel.
The characters remain the same – Saheb (Jimmy Shergill) is the now wheelchair-bound King of a UP province - a bully, wheeler-dealer and a glorified hit-man. His character is the most intriguing in the film, and you can see it has been nurtured with care in the sequel as well.
While he gets people murdered over business deals, he's all tender around Ranjana (Soha Ali Khan), whom he wishes to marry. This dichotomous nature of this character was explored in the first film as well.
However, you don't understand the shifted equations between people in the sequel. The Rani (Saheb's stepmother), in the previous film had sympathies with the Choti Rani (Saheb's wife played by Mahie Gill) and would advise Saheb to mend his ways. The Saheb abhorred his stepmother for keeping a tight control on money, which he would have to beg for from time to time.
In SBAGR, the Rani and Saheb are chums, having left out Choti Rani completely. The marriage has broken down and the Saheb and his wife can barely see eye-to-eye, arguing at all times. Her state deteriorates further as she becomes a hopeless alcoholic. But there is someone who can save her. Enter the charming Gangster (Irrfan Khan), with a plan.
True to the Saheb's own words, each and every relationship in that frighteningly cold palace has an agenda. And so, we watch a story unfold that has love, lust, treachery and deceit in every heartbeat.
Which is why one wonders why the film isn't as engaging as it should be. What went wrong? Does the surprise success of an unconventional film paralyze the filmmaker due to the pressure of expectations? With screenplay, dialogue and direction by Tigmanshu Dhulia, he has almost breathed this film.
We wonder why the loose ends in the storytelling then. Why the embarrassingly incongruous dance number, where Dhulia uses the age-old trick of getting politicians and businessmen celebrating to introduce it?
And why the toning down of the erotica? It seems like a desperate bid for the U/A censor certificate, which backfired. For if lust and sexual politics are integral to the story, why show lovemaking in such a prudish light (a few apologetic, awkward scenes)? Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster, in that sense, was more grown-up. Another letdown is the music, which was superlative in the earlier film.
The dark humour is a welcome relief. The scene with a politician (Rajeev Gupta, massively funny) and a fake journo is hilarious as is the one where Irrfan's character tries to cut his finger to valiantly put a tilak on a statue.
Then there is the crackling dialogue, each conversation dripping with emotion. Whether it's the tenor in the voice of the Saheb who threatens to kidnap Ranjana, or the Choti Rani saying, "koi dost nahin hai humara" (no one is my friend) - a pitiful yet clever charm she uses for seduction.
Irrfan Khan is magnificent as the roguish gangster with equal parts intensity and humour. Jimmy Shergill is astonishingly good, remaining 'in character' at all times, his eyes speaking volumes.
Mahie Gill pulls off a highly complex role, making us feel sympathy and ire towards her twisted character. Whether she's left out of a party in her own home, has to ask an employee for some money, or asks the meaning of a PIL in the MLA office, Gill is absolutely crackerjack.
Soha Ali Khan's character is the weakest, and while she has the aristocratic air to pull of the character's look, the performance seems a bit unfinished. The actress is earnest, but cannot completely grasp the depth and dilemma of her character.
Though not as incredible as the first film, the sequel still makes for a worthwhile watch for the performances, some engaging portions and bits of dark humour.
Rating: 3 stars