“Sarkar 3.”… A needless, not-all-bad sequel that’s more interesting as commentary on the director

Posted on May 13, 2017

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Spoilers ahead…

The narrative is that the filmmaker named Ram Gopal Varma has lost it, and on the basis of Sarkar 3, it’s a relief to report that this isn’t entirely true. Consider the fine mirror scenes that depict a couple of assassination attempts – on the mafia don Subhash Nagre, aka Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan), and on a smarmy politician-wannabe. The film opens with this note: Real power is not about fear – it comes out of respect. And the Jackie Shroff character (a Dubai-based tycoon named Michael Vallya, whose name, perhaps not accidentally, rhymes with that of a Bangalore-based tycoon famous for an equally king-sized life) says that men like Sarkar are who they are because of the love and respect of people. Politicians can be replaced. Sarkar cannot.

To no one’s surprise, the assassination attempt fails, but the point isn’t what happens but how. Men wrap themselves around Sarkar like armour. Guns keep blazing, bullets keep slicing through the air – but these loyal men (including a very solid Ronit Roy) will have to fall first if Sarkar is to fall. Now take the attempt on the politician-wannabe’s life. It’s a similar scene – only, a less “human” one. Sarkar was seen swerving through crowds. This man swerves through rows of parked cars. The more crucial difference. He’s inspired no loyalty, no love, no respect – hence, he’s alone. He’s just a man. Sarkar, on the other hand, is a man of the masses.

Or maybe a monument, built from the screen presence of a legendary actor and a director’s barely suppressed adoration of him. Few filmmakers have used Bachchan the way Varma has. In the Sarkar films, he’s enshrined the silent smouldering, the stillness, from the Zanjeer/Deewar days – the dialogues are practically redundant. (When Varma shoots other actors this way, there’s no equivalent history that comes into play, and they just look like they’re posing.) The larger-than-life framing suggests a billboard come to life. Varma likes to decorate his frames with statues of bull dogs and laughing Buddhas, but his biggest “prop,” if you will, is Bachchan himself, photographed in a series of near-stationary poses.

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But a movie isn’t a modern-art installation. It needs to move, and in interesting ways. The most interesting thing about Sarkar 3, unfortunately, is not what happens on screen – more about that later, but let’s first look at what does happen. In the Thalapathy chapter of Conversations with Mani Ratnam, the director said, “You take any part of the Mahabharata and you instinctively find a film within that.” In terms of sheer recyclability (though not philosophy), Mario Puzo’s similarly mythic novel, The Godfather, along with Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptations, come very close. Sarkar 3 gives us the Don telling Sonny not to let others know what you are thinking. It gives us Tom Hagen’s kidnapping. We get the hothead punk (Amit Sadh) who joins the Family from The Godfather – Part III.

But these quotes just hang in the air – every scene is a cliché, every character an abstraction. There are many villains lurking in the shadows, and they needn’t have been given names. Varma could have called them Bad Guy 1, Bad Guy 2, Bad Guy 3, and the drama would have played out no differently. Why introduce the borderline-Oedipal angle between the Manoj Bajpayee and Rohini Hattangadi characters if nothing’s going to come of it? Who is Govinda and why do they keep shouting out for him in stereophonic sound? Why is there not even a mention of the Aishwarya Rai character (from Part 2), who became the new Sarkar?

And what is Yami Gautam doing in the wings? Varma shoots her face through the handle of a coffee mug. Surely this means that something’s, um, brewing inside her, and that it’s just a matter of time before she wakes up and smells the, um… But no. Maybe the metaphor is simply that her character arc could be contained in a bean.

Part of you wonders – okay, indulge me here – if Varma is making some grand artistic statement, like there’s nothing new anymore and so he’s stripping scenes and characters to their most generic essence, the way (again, indulge me here) Bresson stripped his actors of all emotion, reducing them to “models.” Because remove the high-decibel drama on the soundtrack, and even a bedridden character’s death is filmed not with the closing of eyelids or the fall of a raised hand, but – instead – through the shaking of the mattress. (The camera is behind the headboard grill. We don’t even see this character.)

The other part of you wonders if Varma is simply dicking around with us. As proof, I offer the gangster-type guy (no, the name is of no consequence) who takes his leave of Sarkar with the words, “Love you.” Or better still, Michael Vallya. In a late scene, before Vallya enters a room, the camera snakes up the trunk of a giant Ganesha. (This movie can be boxed and sold as a party game called Make Your Own Metaphor.) You can hear Varma saying, “I dare you to see this with a straight face.”

Michael Vallya hangs out with his latest girl-toy, who wears very little and likes to be in or around water – a hot tub, a pool, an aquarium. Vallya keeps talking to her in mind-melting lines that could be called ice-cream koans. Sample: Agar tu aur main donon samajh liye, to samajh ka kya matlab? (If we both understand it, then what does understanding mean?) Every time he leaves the scene, we think, “What the fuck just happened?” Michael Vallya may be the film’s ultimate metaphor, a stand-in for the director. Every time Varma makes a movie, these days, we think, “What the fuck just happened?”

Copyright ©2017 Baradwaj Rangan. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

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Posted in: Cinema: Hindi