In this contemporary spin on Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, Saheb (Jimmy Shergill) is living off a weathering royal glory. He has a strained relationship with his wife (Mahie Gill) and finds solace in an extra-marital liaison. Lonely and defeated, the wife 'Choti Rani' falls ill.
A hunky driver replacement (Randeep Hooda) is about to change things around a bit. He waltzes, in smug and T-shirted, but is warned at every step. Lalit a.k.a Bubaloo catches the fancy of the Choti Rani. But things are not as they seem.
Saheb plays with fire, ruthlessly plundering those who come in his way. In a messy construction tender matter, lives are taken with Saheb at the helm of things. Naturally, his enemies are plenty.
This is an unpalatable mix of royalty, politics and the underworld that make for strange bedfellows.
The characters are full of surprises – you have the Saheb living in a palace but penniless, his wife whom he loves but also hates, and the gangster of a driver who thinks everyone in the palace is barking mad. One has the power, but no money; another has the money but is yearning for respect; yet another is silently yearning for lost love.
You'll love to hate the characters, and hate to love them! To give away anything else would be sacrilege.
The film is little without the masterful performances. As Saheb, Jimmy Shergill (an able actor who never quite got his due) beautifully expresses the character's dichotomous layers of extreme tenderness and brutality.
Mahie Gill is superb as the Choti Rani who the viewer clamours to decipher, but can't. She carries off her character's vulnerability and good-heartedness with the same élan as her sexuality.
Randeep Hooda is excellent in this highly demanding role and his character proves to be the film's game-changer.
The supporting cast deserves special mention for their solid performances, especially Deepraj Rana as Saheb's loyal assistant, Shreya Narayan as the mistress, Vipin Sharma as the bad guy, Rajeev Gupta as the straight-faced politician, and Deepal Shaw as the smitten girl.
Tigmanshu Dhulia made the superb Haasil (with Jimmy Shergill) in 2003, and then made unremarkable films like Charas and Shagird. Shergill, too, after Haasil, got lost appearing in nondescript roles. The duo recreates the Haasil magic with Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster.
Dhulia spins a web-like tale that operates on multiple levels – it's a treacherous, erotic story that's throbbing with dark wit, and explores the good in human beings, as much the deceit in them. The film may have you think back to Vishal Bahrdwaj's Shakespearean Omkara and Maqbool where, in a similar manner, the characters cased the plot developments to move in twists and turns.
Interestingly, the physical intimacy between the characters, a point that has benefitted the film with some controversy, is treated with the same reverence as emotional love.
The film's near-flawless screenplay spells out the story without a hiccup, keeping the viewer hooked at all times. The exceptionally written dialogue is clear-cut, authentic, and delightfully insinuates humour where you least expect it. Music and background score are very good.
Here's a wholesome, hugely satisfying film after a long time. Those who like their stories slightly twisted will love this Machiavellian story with delicious dark humour. A must-watch!
Rating: 3.5 stars