In the days of VHS, we would trust our video store guy for his recommendations. Knowing my dad’s affinity to Scorsese films, he recommended Siva. ‘Very interesting film sir. Naya director hai!’ So we rented it. I didn’t understand anything, and I don’t remember dad’s reaction to it. Then came Raat — a horror film everyone in my school wouldn’t stop talking about. I was so terrified of the film while watching the film that it took me 10 days to complete it! And I refused to sleep unless my bed was far away from all four walls in our home.
But when Rangeela released, I was 12. I got Milli’s film craziness, her family’s quirkiness. I could relate to some of it. But I remember having a fun time through the film. I watched the film again and again. Daud was kind of a trailer of the RGV we would get to see in his later phase I guess.
Then RGV got back to his gangster affair again. My dad watched Satya and was mind blown. However, he did not allow me to watch it. It is the only film that my very liberal father ever banned, so it must have hit a nail somewhere. He grew up in Naigaon, an area famous for its dons and could vouch for the emotional authenticity of that film. Kaun, Mast (to an extent), Jungle, Company, Bhoot — there was something new that Ram Gopal Varma captured and his storytelling gripped a generation of filmgoers.
Sarkar came at a time where RGV was coming back to the genre after the debacle of Naach. Sarkar was much talked about before and after it released. Parallels were drawn between the protagonist of the film and Shivsena Supremo Bal Thackeray. Critics talked about its similarity to The Godfather and RGV said it was his ode to the Coppola classic. And that similarity apart, Sarkar was a great watch. Every character, in the signature RGV style, was delectable. When a scene cut and transitioned to another, it was for a reason. The background score, the editing of Sarkar were as effective as the performances by some of the most talented actors in the industry.
We knew the story, having watched Godfather and yet, in the scene where Silver Mani betrays Shankar, your blood boils. The chase that follows has you gripping your seat. It has little to do with the story and more to do with the background score and the way that scene has been captured.
RGV produced some of the finest films of that era too. But as a director he kept giving hits and misses. Even though it flopped, I enjoyed Naach. Darna Zaroori Hai was fun. Nishabd left us Nishabd and Ram Gopal Varma ki Aag left us fans embarrassed. But none of us wrote RGV off. We were sure he will rise from this Aag like a Phoenix. Sarkar Raj and Rann were fleeting glimpses of the RGV we loved but it wasn’t quite it. But we kept hoping. Endlessly. It didn’t happen.
When Anurag Kashyap, one of the many awesomes that RGV’s Factory generated, said ‘Ram Gopal Varma was’ on Koffee with Karan, we were furious. We didn’t think it was right to hit at someone who was down.
Sarkar 3’s trailer hit Youtube this year. And glimpses of it seemed interesting. We thought maybe this is it. So we went and watched the film. The film is a plot collage of the first and second Sarkar (more of the first film though). It goes to the extent of borrowing dialogues even from the first film (‘Mai nahi karunga, tujhe bhi karne nahi dunga’, ‘Sarkar ki soch Ko marna hoga’)
Most characters’ backstories seem very forced. Jackie Shroff’s character is like a cardboard cutout. You don’t understand why one scene cuts to another. Sarkar’s house is dimly lit even during the day. A dark and gloomy existence, with a wife with whom he has long conversations, in arguably the worst Marathi I’ve ever heard. It looks like Sarkar is struggling to find his relevance in the new age of politics. His best friends are Shankar’s portrait and the Bonsai plant before it and two cronies one of whom is mute.
The respect and euphoria of Sarkar in the first film was subtle. It was silent. You see his power when the cops arrest him and he controls a seething crowd with a mere hand raised in the air and a loud ‘Thamba’. That’s all.
In Sarkar 3 that restraint is missing. Sarkar makes long speeches. Some of the dialogue forces itself to be clever. References to animals and Sher and gidh fly back and forth and you remember the silences between Shankar and Vishnu or between Shankar and Sarkar. The filmmaker who epitomised show not tell in the mediocre comedy era of Bollywood, seems to have forgotten his greatest strength as characters repeat dialogues, which are borrowed from the first film anyway! A predictable plot, half-hearted performances and a weak supporting cast don’t do this film much favours.
The background score of the Sarkar 3 makes a mockery of the film. It is as tacky as the first one was classy. It replaces sitar and flute interludes of the first film with guitar riffs but the structure remains the same more or less. But the upgradation is so literal that in some places I feel like I’m watching an MTV spoof and I expect Cyrus Sahukar or Broacha to show up any moment.
The hope to see RGV resurface again has died with this film. And that was summed up by my friend. ‘I’m convinced he never made Satya, company or Sarkar 1. His assistants did. That filmmaker can’t make this yaar.’
We have gone from an audience who credits actors for films to crediting directors for their style of films. But the truth is RGV had a stellar team of scriptwriters, music directors, actors and editors. He was a visionary but so were these folks. And without them, RGV is just like the latest protagonist in his film. In the dark, and struggling to be relevant.
We came home, and rewatched Sarkar one to undo the scars of this film. Sigh.