Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cinema in India: Sarkar Raj

Every time I sit down to write a film review it molds into something else. After watching Sarkar Raj it seemed natural to write about the film keeping the original in mind, and several other key aspects which forms its existence; something which most people fail to do. I realize, I can never write a straightforward review and proclaim something about a film based on half-baked ideas and facts, which most film hosts and reviewers in India practice. Even their sense of history is based on superlative facts about cinema, and their critical understanding is based on the formula - 'touch the surface' facts
(great cinematography, sleek editing, and shaky camera, weak script blah blah blah) without giving us what these things really stand for in the films, but that's another story... I'll save it for next time.

Here is the excerpt from my article on Sarkar Raj for Cinema without Borders:

Ram Gopal Verma had a fascination for the bullies of his class; their ideology to terrorize, control (by use of force and power) and have an arsenal of followers- has remained an important part of his oeuvre. The way his character behave, the way they are presented, and the “position” they hold in the world of Ram Gopal Verma film’s reflects his childhood enchantment with people who crossed the law or who considered themselves above the law. He belongs to the special group of “Video Generation filmmakers” the likes of whom include luminaries such as Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson. However, unlike his contemporaries in “World Cinema” Ram Gopal Verma is not a formalist, and like most Bollywood filmmakers he believes in the power of stories per se.

The seeds of his Sarkar trilogy could lead to one of his finest film Satya. Wherein it seemed he would be one of the power innovator and director of our country. But today, exactly ten years after the release of the film, his stories of crime, punishment and exploration of the minds of the very same “bullies” of his childhood has turned redundant. Sarkar Raj epitomizes everything what is wrong with Bollywood films- complacent, plagiarism (in the form of “inspired” or loosely based), and death of mise-en-scene. First of all, technical superiority should not be confused with the quality of film. Just because you have great pencil, good sharpener, great rubber, amazing quality paper, does not make you a great writer. You can write, believing your writing the next masterpiece, and keep doing so due to lack of criticism (“Any form of art has a tendency to get complacent, and it’s the presence of critical school of thought, that has helped in the evolution of various schools of art), and we Indians severely lack a proper school of criticism since the suffocation, and the chilling air of compliancy is getting tighter each year, a similar feeling one can have in North Korea. Similarly one can make films all his life without understanding form, and even watch them in a similar vein. As one can enjoy a book without consciously noticing the literary style of a writer, and continue arguing on the style, themes and values of criticism and cinema with a generalized vocabulary concerned typically with distinction between “good” and “bad “films on subordinate part of cinema (acting, script) and not inherent to cinema (mise-en-scene).

The problem with the execution of the form, and overbearing necessity to “tell” is the major flaw of the film, and its predecessor Sarkar and the countless other movies being made in our country. For people who consider “Cinema primary goal to narrate” here is the basic storyline of the film: “Shankar Nagare (Abhishek Bachchan) has taken over the running of the family business and become popular as his beloved father Subhash Nagare (Amitabh Bachchan) popularly known as “Sarkar” (government). Anita Rajan (Aishwariya Rai Bachchan) CEO of an International firm has brought in a proposal to setup a power plant in Maharashtra. Shankar Nagare takes up the cause to establish the business, only to realize that the project is not easy as it seems; the plot is simply an exercise of cause and effect, and laughable by the end, since it tends to summarize the whole loose nuts and bolts of the film into an exchange of dialogues, gestures( fake ), and some teasers( two off-screen call in the film marks the end - one Sarkar calls for Cheeku his grandson, and the other of Anita Rajan calling out for a cup of tea in the exclusive mannerism of the family members. Had Ram Gopal Verma devised such schematic usage of space in the mise-en-scene during the film, and not at the end, then the story would be something else- since the end marked the “call” for more indolent filmmaking and redundant stories to come.

Sarkar Raj is built on the foundation of the original film released in 2005, which irrespective of all its flaws had some moments and was watchable- coherent to an extent. Even if the narrative was inspired; as it had glimpses of the leader of Shiv Sena; plagiarized aspects of Godfather- yet it could be forgiven, simply because RGV was dying to adapt this film to the Indian milieu. However, there is absolutely no plausibility for the cause of making this film. Call me obnoxious but this is an ostensibly bad film. Read Further


Shubhank said...

Interesting review.
I have not watched the film, partly because I avoid anything or everything (atleast try to) involving the Bachchans.

Everyone whom I know who watched this movie said the exact same thing. "It is taking Bollywood/Indian Cinema to the next level".
Excuse me?
What exactly is next level?
"Just look at the way Amitabh and his son have acted, brilliant performance. And what amazing direction by Ram Gopal Varma. We shound definitely send it to Oscars."

This is exactly the same thing people said after watching Taare Zameen Par. The second statement in particular may sound a little funny. How would this movie have been different if it was directed by someone else, say Ashutosh Gowarikar? Yeah we have all heard jokes of "What if (insert random potential Oscar candidate) was directed by (insert a famous Bollywood director's name here)?"
But but .....

There you go. These days people have become acquainted with the term "shaky-cam" (as you have already mentioned) and will use it as another plus point.

I remember coming out of the Cinema hall after watching the latest Kamal Hasan (did I spell it right?) magnum opus (meh) "Dasavathaaram". A movie which is filled with gimmicks. A pretentious attempt to show how Kamal is a versatile actor. Stuffed with some mumbo-jumbo relating chaos theory with how all the 10 'avatars' eventually come together to save the world. They call it 'intricate' science and try to link the concept of existential web of life where everyone is connected to pseudo-science fundas. OR people connecting the intelligent design crap with happening. Dont fuck with the nature or the nature will fuck you.
Anyway, back to the point, the movie (Dasavathaaram) was filled with some really headache inducing camerawork described as 'shaky cam' by fans. Alright, I dont deny it. But, how the hell is including shaky-cam while covering a panoramic view of a building an example of good direction?

/rant (I had to get it out)

All Im trying to say is that I know when Im reading Salman Rushdie even if the book does not say anything about the author. I know when Im watching a movie directed by Akira Kurosawa even if the credits dont say so. I know Im listening to the voice of Amitabh Bachchan (unless the mimic is really good) if I keep my eyes closed and he speaks on the television. We need to stop saying "brilliant direction" unless we know what we are talking about. We cant even tell the difference between direction and screenplay for fuck's sake.

nitesh said...

Thanks Shubhank! Your views much appreciated.