By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
Film: "Sarkar"; Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Supriya Pathak, Katrina Kaif, Tanisha and Zakir Husain; Directed by Ram Gopal Varma.
The scion glares contemptuously at a drug dealer from Dubai: "I didn't have to be here to kill you personally. But I didn't want to miss out on the pleasure of watching you die."
The line, so stringent and sarcastic, defines some of the most prominent and passionate moments in Ram Gopal Varma's latest and by far best work.
In "Sarkar", nothing is as apparent as it seems. Take a look at the plot: a saviour-of-the-masses hero, his two heir-apparent - the bad son and good son, the tussle of power between the two sons in a world that Varma has over the years patented and portrayed inside-out.
Dark, gleaming, ominous corridors hiding anguished pain, characters who look like they could do with a bath... and a massage to release some of the nervous tension that comes from a blurred perception of crime and morality - these characterise the givens in a Varma film.
"Sarkar" too takes us through a world governed by the rules of survival of the fittest. So what makes this film the most special achievement of Varma's career? It's the father-son combination of Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan, furnishing Varma's ebony vision of the world gone awry with a kind of blazing and bridled intensity that one last saw when Dilip Kumar and Amitabh played father and son in Ramesh Sippy's "Shakti".
"Sarkar" is a far more complex jigsaw of patriarchal intensity, filial crises and familial obligations. Its ethical complexities go far beyond politics and cinema to embrace a kind of multi-dimensional secularism where religion is not about gods but definitions of goodness.
Who's the real villain? The people who rape society, or the ones who check crime and corruption by means that are extra-constitutional? The socio-political issue becomes more tangled in the light of the septic corruption that has crept into the governmental structure.
Into this world comes Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief. Thackeray's name is changed to Subhash Nagare in the film. But the power and the socio-political positioning of the man remains unaltered in the movie version of his life.
No other actor in the universe could've played Thackeray's screen version, or done the astonishing things that Bachchan has done to the character. Bachchan plays Nagare, the frail and yet all-powerful man.
Marlon Brando's "The Godfather" act provides a prototypical starting point for Subhash Nagare, one of the most entrancing heroes ever in Indian cinema.
Varma brings out the protagonist's power and glory through a demeanour that never screams for attention. Little gestures and nuances, agreeable and yet sinister, swathe the screen in a splendid arc of life and vitality.
Abhishek as Shankar, the quietly faithful, duty-bound younger son destined to take up the strange family business -- a role that has its roots in Al Pacino's character in "The Godfather" -- is in-sync with his character and the senior Bachchan's prismatic persona.
Abhishek's delicately balanced facial expressions, his projection of the character's fierce unquestioning loyalty towards his father's politics, is done with such rare care and sensitivity that you cease to look at the actor.
Kay Kay Menon as the archetypal son gone to seed remains understandably outside the two-member circle created so vividly by the Bachchans. His villainous grimace seems a trifle exaggerated in a film where the main characters express themselves in small print rather than italics.
Another over-the-top character is the Chandraswami-styled godman with a wig that mocks the muted makeover of the main characters.
The background score by Amar Mohile hammers in the emotions of every scene... You wonder why subtlety and delicacy are qualities that need to be counter-balanced to be fully effective!
Wisely, Varma has constructed the story of Nagare's political and domestic drama as a crime thriller. The happenings in the second-half are swift, sudden and jolting. The narrative sweeps you into an embrace that sucks the life and breath out of viewers as they are sprung into a series of incidents, indicating the coming of age of Shankar.
There's no dearth of gut-wrenching sequences in "Sarkar", moments that haunt you and gnaw at your senses until you no longer care if the goings-on are factual or fictional. The mounting tension of the second half as Nagare's empire threatens to fall apart under pressure from the villainous caucus is so palpable that you salute the storyteller in Varma.
Art director Sunil Nigvekar's detailing of the patriarch's home and life is meticulous and yet ostensibly casual. Our attentions are riveted to the characters even as the environment serves as a flawless foil to their feelings.
Amit Roy's sepia-toned cinematography is exceptional to the last frame. In top shots or in clenched close-ups, the two Bachchans are captured as a family of two, supported by an extended wing of caring and callous family and foe. The women, for example Rukshar as the elder daughter-in-law who supports Subhash Nagare rather than his truant son (shades of Smita Thackeray), though shadowy, are dignified.
The editing (Nipun Gupta/Amit Parmar) cuts across the saw-toothed narrative like a knife. Sequences of violence, such as the one where Kay Kay Menon guns down a film's hero in front of an aghast unit, take the punch out of the act of violence to replace it with an appalling anguish.
"Sarkar" actually has one super-hero, Amitabh Bachchan, and two heroes Abhishek and Varma, lending the goings-on a glory that repudiates glitter in favour of something far more deep and precious.
Bollywood.com Rating: 3.5