The last movie I saw before the subject of this post was 'Sex and the City' a frivolous story of four girlfriends, four fashionistas in the fashionable New York City driving crazily through the bylanes of life - love, friendship, ambition and family. Frivolous because of the protagonist's and her pretty assistant's (Jennifer Hudson) obsession with labels heightened by Carrie's gift to Hudson of a pretty Louis Vuitton bag. I shouldn't speak further here, because I also suffer from a fetish for bags (beknownst to all close to me) and I was going green with envy. It was a fun movie, though panned by critics for not being as good as the televised series. I, however, beg to differ. To me, it was a fast paced 2 and a half hour finale to the finale of the last season of the show. The icing on the cake was a Rs 70 ticket, unbelievably priced, for the morning show at PVR Cinemas - a theater with the cushiest seats in lush purple. THAT was Paisa Vasool for me.
Now for Sarkar Raj. For some reason, I didn't go with any expectations. No, it did not stem from RGV's catastrophic RGV ke Aag version of the Sholay or burning his fingers with his other movies. Sarkar was a brilliant movie according to my standards - excellent screenplay that also left most dialogues in to be spoken with intense eye expressions and pregnant silences interspersed regularly throughout the movie. The drums uplifting the chant of 'Govinda Govinda' in the background score especially during Shankar Nagre's escape from an attempted assassination or his supervision of Rashid's cold-blooded murder left me gasping in awe. That was RGV at his best. I haven't seen Shiva (Nagarjuna version) at all and I haven't seen Satya completely. I am told that they are probably the best he has offered the cinema world. Sarkar was close to his best.
So I went today morning for a 11 am show at IMAX Wadala to watch Sarkar Raj with my friend Amol. Having already read the plot (I did not anticipate watching the movie) I was aware of the most important turn the movie would take (or so I thought). Amol threatened to reveal the plot and in turn, I blurted out what I knew already in an effort to thwart his attack - turned out he actually was bluffing and I had ruined the thriller for him. :) No, this is not something I do usually, revealing the plot of the movie to spoil it for others is just not my style. So Mole, this is a very public apology for spoiling half the show for you.
So the movie starts with two bungling buffoonish politicians trying to bump off Shankar Nagre (Abhishek Bachhan) who has now officially taken over the mantle of Sarkar Raj and Sarkar himself (Amitabh Bachhan) is reduced to being a mere spectator of the daily ongoings. Vishnu's widow and son live in Nagpur while Avantika (Tanisha) is happily married to Shankar. The irrepressible Chander and a contrastingly reticent Bala form the close coterie around Shankar. A new Nagre, new cronies and new enemies.
As much as RGV denies it, the obvious reference to the disastrous Enron sponsored Dabhol Power Project headed by Rebecca Mark meets Michael Corleone / Uddhav Thackeray cannot be missed. So Aishwarya Rai Bachhan in the role of the ruthlessly ambitious Anita Rajan comes to Sarkar with a proposal of setting up a Rs 200,000 crore (correct me if I quote the wrong figure) power plant in Maharashtra that in its wake would displace 5 villages and a populace of 40,000 people. I was pleasantly surprised that RGV did not bring in environmentalists and a Medha Patkar mimic into the picture. But as it is, the Chief Minister is a mere puppet whose strings are pulled by Sarkar and thereby, any policy decision must be reviewed and passed by Sarkar before the democratic Government can execute it. I could not help but smirk and attest to a line about Nagre - "neta ke bhes mein goonda hai".
So the film takes us through the rigmarole of how Anita Rajan with the help of Hassan Qazi (Govind Namdeo - brilliant as always) takes Shankar Nagre into confidence and manages to seek Sarkar's approval. But the roadblock here would have to gain clearance by Sarkar's political mentor Raosaheb (Dilip Prabhavalkar - one of our most versatile actors - in the screen space he shared with AB, he held his own confidently) and his hot-blooded grandson Shankar Somji (Rajesh Shringarpure in a garb extremely resemblant of Raj Thackeray).
The rest of the story for most part is about how the Shankar tries to gain the confidence of the villagers and convinces them about the power plant while Somji goes about ruining Nagre's dream. Until, that is, Shankar's pregnant wife is blown up by a car bomb just yards away from he was standing. This leads to Sarkar suffering a heart attack, (or as a medico, should I say acute myocardial infarction), Shankar's severing ties with Chander for failing to look into the breach of security and finally an abduction of Somji. There is again an attack on the "soch" or the ideology that the Nagre family preaches and they're left to defend themselves against mounting accusations.
Abhishek is absent for the last 15 minutes of the movie that focusses entirely on AB and Aishwarya. Sarkar is back in action here avenging the death of his closed ones and closing-in on the one person who killed the ones he loved. He finds his family drawn into a web of lies, betrayal, mistrust, estrangement, unrequited loyalty and most of all raw ruthless ambition. The last 10 minutes is a dialogue (rather more of a monologue) where Sarkar explains the ground reality of the precarious situation to a stunned and visibly shaken Anita Rajan.
So what did I think of the movie? Well for starters, Amitabh Bachhan is the weak link for most part until he comes into his own in the last part of the movie. But he excels even in this role. The vulnerability in his face cannot be missed and the myasthenia gravis affected drooping eyelids convey the suffering of a father missing his dead devious son. What is it about AB that makes him a better actor with every movie of his? I am not an AB Bhakt but I think he really shone in this role.
Abhishek left much to be desired. With an extra buccal pad of fat, he was hardly a patch on the earlier gaunt version of Shankar Nagre. Wooden expressions... he could have digressed from the stern frowning face to convey the seriousness of a Don living in continuous fear of assassination. But most of all, it was obvious that he has miles to go before he can achieve the stature that his father has achieved - he could hardly retain screen presence when sharing the frame with the older AB. Abhishek was far more impressive in the earlier Sarkar although he had a much better author-backed hard-hitting role in this movie.
Aishwarya seems to give her best shot when shooting with her marital family. However the catwalking was a lil difficult to stomach for the role of a cold blooded business tycoon. However the tycoon soon mellows to the ideology of the Sarkar and begins to view life differently after heart-to-heart discussions with Shankar. Her portrayal of the fragile Anita in the latter part of the movie was good especially her breakdown after Shankar gets shot, but I think the end depicting her as the new face of Sarkar didn't go down well with me - I thought it was hideous.
What I liked - the cinematography with muted shades and unique angles for the important scenes in the movie. (But even excess dependence on sepia tones was overdone). What kept me rivetted to the movie was the undercurrent theme of the nexus of geo-socio-politics, deceptive rural ignominy and individual upmanship that proved to be the undoing of all involved. I liked the fact that Sarkar himself was back in his throne dictating orders and discovering the gross betrayal of his trust. I liked the scene of Sarkar's final confrontation with Raosaheb and his anointing of the new successor to Shankar. (The scene preceding this was undoubtedly the most engrossing one in the whole reel)
Unfortunately for me, the film failed to keep me glued to its plot for the entire 2 and a half hours. I was shuffling in my seat (which was really comfortable) and looking around distractedly for most part of the movie until the final climax. The direction and story wavered in speed - where Sarkar was fast paced and racy, Sarkar Raj took too long to establish the roots of its plot. I probably would recommend a DVD viewing or a TV viewing. It's probably going to take a lil longer for RGV to rediscover his lost magic. I hope he finds it before he starts to film the purported third movie in the Sarkar trilogy. I will wait for it.
Footnote: For a more revealing post about the actual plot of the movie, you can read Abinav's post in his blog E-Talk. :)