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Sarkar Raj (Review)

Sarkar Raj
Ram Gopal Varma
Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Govind Namdeo, Tanisha Mukherjee, Victor Banerjee
Ram Gopal Varma, Praveen Nischol
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This was not sequel screaming to be made. But it did, as the original film was not half-bad. Here, the Nagre ‘Sarkar’ family who someone describes as neta ke libas mein gunde continues its daily business. Until they are presented with an offer by Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai–Bachchan in magnificent power suits and impossibly long lashes), CEO of Sheppard Power Plant, an international company that wishes to invest Rs 200,000 crore in a plant in Maharashtra and has zeroed in on the rural Thakerwadi as the best-suited place.

Father and son are at loggerheads on this. Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan, same ol, same ol) is worried about the displacement of four villages that the construction will cause. Young gun Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan, still unshaved) is convinced the power plant will be best for the state's development.

Read Taran Adarsh's review of Sarkar Raj | All about Sarkar Raj

Meanwhile, vested interests including some of the family’s loyalists, join hands and hatch a saazish (conspiracy) to overthrow them, using the new construction as a catalyst. Then there’s a grassroots neta-type Somji (Rajesh Shringapure) who’s instigating the villagers against trusting Shankar and Anita.

Murders happen a minute. More happen to revenge them and then some more to avenge the revenge. The camera, placed at an odd angle for effect, dutifully lingers on the murder spot to get us a view on the goriness.

Power-suit Anita is supposedly a business leader, but quickly turns into a weepy lover girl. Shankar’s wife (Tanisha) is soon bumped off in a car bomb twist, to carry the story forward and make room for this budding romance.

What’s happening here? Is this an emotional drama, a revenge story, a love tale or a gritty underworld-political sketch? It can be all, but the focus must be retained. It doesn’t here.

For one, you don’t really 'get' the politics of the central character Shankar or anyone’s for that matter. You’re left questioning their moral stand and that leads to ambiguity about the characters.

For example, Sarkar is against displacement of villages, yet is convinced too-quickly for a man of his stature and command. We are unsure of Anita’s view on this matter, despite her being a key player.

Shankar espouses saint-like nobility and principles – he claims the power plant is sacred to him because “the biggest aim of life is to create a change”. He doesn’t once mention money and profit. For such a do-gooder, to overlook the plight of thousands from the very state he wants to reform calling it nazdiki nuksaan for door ka faayda is confusing.

And for this reason alone – the lack of definitive formation of characters – you find yourself untouched, unaffected by them.

Sarkar managed to carry off the draconian-philanthropist, semi political-half criminal family character of the Nagres, but in Sarkar Raj, we don't know what to make of the family. The film’s space remains stagnant as the political machinations continue and the two opposing sides kill people of the enemy camp.

Post-intermission, the film does pick tempo but there’s an overindulgent monologue by Sarkar over-explaining the plot, leading to some unnecessary glycerine-soaked emotional moments. Also, Anita’s lack of reaction on hearing about her father’s murder is hilarious.

Some nuances are note-worthy. Somji’s power-packed movement across villages and his eating out of a dabba while traveling villages is a nice touch.

As are the other moments that bring out the softer side to Sarkar – where he flows with the moment, in a celebration of hundreds on his birthday, and picks up a little girl who mischievously throws colour on him. Or the one where he talks to his grandson and is disappointed that his gift was found to be too old-fashioned. Lovable moments these, but this cute-as-a-teddy grandpa makes us forget the ruthless dictator who commissions murders without much thought.

Sarkar’s wife is played superbly by Supriya Pathak who retains her original character traits and remains busy around her husband, checking elaichi in the sheera and feeding him medicines. Honestly, the film is saved by such performances.

Amitabh Bachchan is dependably good. Abhishek holds his own, though with a more filled-out character, he could have taken it to another level. Aishwarya is superb in the emotional scenes, but again, is let down by the unforgivably simplistic character sketching.

As in all Ram Gopal Varma films, the character actors -- Ravi Kale, Govind Namdeo, Upyendra Limaye, Rajesh Shringapure, Sayaji Shinde -- elevate the film. Dilip Prabhavalkar shines as the Gandhian Rao, Sarkar’s old mentor.

But still, these performances are not the actors’ best. In Sarkar, there was an easy, spontaneous intensity that I found missing in the sequel. Here it was almost forced, like a text-book code all cast and crew must abide by.

Dialogue is a mixed bag – while it uses archaic words like lavs, sakht nafrat and the like, it does have some passable one-liners like “To kill is a crime. To kill at the right time is politics”.

Technically the film is in awe of itself. The same trick of playing with light in a dull, almost monochromatic room is repeated tiredly. It makes for a pretty frame but the effort is self-conscious.

The background score, like in the original, screams Govinda Govinda Govinda till it’s ringing out of your ears, and even goes into a melodramatic mode, straight out of the saas-bahu serials, in the teary scenes. The camerawork is good, but again, is very self-aware.

Varma’s Factory has hit upon a formula it’s unwilling to let go of. But the grim glares, underworld peek-a-boo, too-smart dialogue, unscrupulous machinations caught by a tracking camera set against a heavy-duty background score, fails to impress anymore. Simply because we’ve seen it before -- too many times.

The only reason you might want to catch this is the performance level and the relatively good ending that I was pleasantly surprised by.

Verdict: Two stars


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