I very much liked the two Sarkars before this—the first (2005) was a better film, the second (2008) had a better script. What I find fascinating about this one is that it’s been over a decade and some, and Amitabh Bachchan genuinely appears frozen in time through it all (God bless)—looking just as quietly determined on screen, sombre, thoughtful, loud, reactive, but at no moment, bored or disinterested.
If there's one lesson to learn from Sarkar, and yes, there is little difference between Sarkar, and Big B (the character is inconceivable without the actor), it is the immeasurable zest for life, ambition, and politics that the character Subhash Nagre embodies, despite having been there, done that, several times over.
Maybe the profession—politics, like entertainment—has much do with this. People who are active in both, you’ll notice, age much better. And while there’s politics at some level in every home or work-place, this film deals more directly with politics inside a fortress/palace, or the Nagre family, as it were. Which is loosely modeled on Shiv Sena’s Thackeray family in Mumbai. Where the patriarch is still alive, having lost pretty much everyone else, through death or deceit. Ronit Roy plays Sarkar’s consigliore. He is on infinite brood-mode. Like everyone else in this semi sepia tone picture.
The one surviving member of the family, the grandson (Amit Sadh)—son of the estranged Vishnu (Kay Kay Menon) if you remember—returns home to test the waters. Basically everyone plays the other in this pic. Trust is an issue. The premise is interesting enough. But this is also a Ram Gopal Varma film. So, well.
Frankly I haven't come across a filmmaker who's spoken as much about film critics and actually cared so little for their opinion. That's really what makes Varma the coolest in my eyes: wholly his own man. But this comes with its natural flip side: obvious self-indulgence.
And so some of the corniness we’ve come to expect from ‘V-grade cinema’ exists here in full display: loud Navratri beats for a background score; Jackie Shroff hanging around with a dumb bikini in the pool, while dolphins dance; series of people insulting Sarkar, with his minions frothing at the mouth every other minute… These aspects are hard to tolerate if that's all there is to a movie. God knows Varma has made a quite a few such quickies in his career. This isn’t exactly one of those.
At the heart of this film is a Rs. 20,000 crore project that must come up in a piece of land in Dharavi East, occupied by 15,000 people, who will, as a result, get displaced. Sarkar, the neo-autocrat with extra constitutional authority gained from democracy itself—or love of the people, as it were—can help Big Business in exchange for money. He chooses not to.
You might wish to dig deeper. But between Sarkar’s long glances; dark, excessively moody, pretentious lighting in this flick that’s totally ‘indoorsy’ to the point of being claustrophobic, what you get is a wholly de-humanised view of the world, and a five-people economy, where people simply drop dead like pins, making you wonder if killing itself was so easy then what was the point of politicking in the first place.
Still, I don't particularly hate this Sarkar, the film (or the one that lords over us at the Centre, and various states, for that matter!). One just begins to feel indifferent towards it beyond a point. Which isn't a good thing, I know. But then, if “it is what it is” kinda casual indifference follows plain dejection, and natural helplessness, then so be it.
I liked this film’s end though. You might too. If you can remain fresh and alert enough until then, that is.