Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sarkar Raj: SIGKILL, baby

If Sarkar had RGV blending ideas from the first two editions of Coppola's Mafia trilogy, Sarkar Raj represents an impassioned gung-ho exploration of a motif in The Godfather Part III that a friend had noted. There's a scene in the film that seems to have been the source of this friend's interpretation: there's a meeting of the bosses in an Atlantic City hotel room that takes a violent turn when machine gun fire from a helicopter litters the conference room. It's a massacre. My friend contended that the third edition seemed to punish any time and consideration invested in any characters introduced or revisited in the film. In simple words, "Let me introduce a new character; let me get you interested in the character; now that you're interested, let me bump that character off." This motif was explored in greater clarity and rather unsubtle delight in X3: The Final Stand. You were introduced to a host of new mutants, most of which didn't make it past the final conflict (the final stand, duh). You also had to bid farewell to some characters who had gained your attention over the first two editions in the series.

It is this horse that RGV rides into the ground and he does it with aplomb. By now, one has grown accustomed to his patent-pending MeanderCam, the canted camera angles (straight shots seem limited to indoor sequences) and the loud background score. The campy expressionism of villainy is given a shot in the arm with the rest of the usual suspects (Sayaji Shinde, Upendra Limaye (who spends time singing Hindi film ditties and correcting the pronunication -- "woraa not voraa" -- of his character's last name) and Govind Namdeo. Aside from Ms. World-now-Bachchan, the most prominent addition to the roster is Dilip Prabhawalkar. No time is spent in attempting to get the audience to invest in any character. As with his existing ouevre, this film digs into the sordid bag of real life for some shards of inspiration (Enron, in this case, but just barely). A lot of what happens is strictly a setup of dominos stacked for the final cascade. RGV even returns to The Godfather for one of several turning points in the film. The good get corrupted, the innocent get eliminated, the upright end up being downright heinous. Never showing us the face of a contract shooter must rank as an under-sung achievement. The spoken word is sparse and uttered with grave seriousness. Cool is underplayed even for great punchlines like jaan lenaa jurm hai; sahii samay par jaan lenaa ... raajaniiti. Grief fuels retribution and it all ends with ek chaay laao, perhaps the most outstanding final line in Bollywood cinema for a long time to come.

It would be interesting to see another sequel emerge from the rubble of this pogrom. That possibility notwithstanding, the sequel's more fun if you watch it not as a piece of moderately serious gangster cinema, but for what it's worth: a darkly funny parody of serious gangster cinema and everything that Sarkar took the pain to found.

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