decaying, modern-day royalty in Uttar Pradesh that he created in Saheb Biwi aur Gangster.
Starring Irrfan Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Jimmy Shergil and Mahie Gill, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns releases today.
As in the first film, the characters are damaged, brutal and scheming. Relationships are sacrificed at the altars of power and money, or, as Saheb so eloquently puts it, ‘Har rishte ke peeche ek saazish hai.’ Sex is a weapon. Murder is routine.
Saheb, played by Jimmy Shergill, is now confined to a wheelchair but wields his clout through his goons and his wife, Madhavi (played by Mahie Gill), who is an MLA but also a drunk, desperate for money and her husband’s attention. Saheb falls in love with Ranjana, played by Soha Ali Khan.
He wants to marry her immediately but her father, another princely politician, is against it. Besides, she loves another man, Indarjeet, played by Irrfan Khan, who also has some scores to settle with Saheb – the left-overs of an ancestral feud.
All this is just the set-up. What follows is two-and-a-half hours of Machiavellian machination with twists and turns so plentiful and startling that you can barely keep track of who is doing what to whom and who is on whose side. It’s like watching scorpions in a cauldron, each one vicious and out to kill the others.
For a while, there is great pleasure in this. Tigmanshu is a master of dialogue. The lines here aren’t thundering in that old-school Bollywood way. They are funny and quietly cutting. So, early in the film, Saheb tells his wayward wife: ‘Bahut sasti ho chuki ho tum. Tumhe dene ke liye hamare paas chillar bhi nahin hai.’
The characters are detailed and the first half has some terrific moments: at one point, Indarjeet, posing as a journalist, arrives for a meeting with the buffoonish, corrupt chief minister (played very well by Rajeev Gupta).
The CM’s laptop starts to play pornography and he can’t figure out how to turn it off. But you can have too much of a good thing. Saheb Biwi aur Gangster Returns just becomes more and more overwrought and, eventually, unconvincing.
The plot contortions stop feeling organic and start to feel forced, as though Tigmanshu were simply moving pawns on a chessboard. The film’s length starts to weigh on you; an unnecessary item song doesn’t help.
By the end, I was no longer enthralled by the many twists. I was exhausted. Which is a shame, because there is much to be enjoyed here.
Jimmy’s cruelly controlling Saheb, Mahie’s nicely wanton Biwi and, above all, Irrfan’s silken performance. He captures every nuance in this smooth, brash, lovelorn schemer.
Saheb Biwi aur Gangster Returns doesn’t fully deliver the juicy thrill of the first film. But it should be seen for its characters and dialogue. These thoroughly nasty people are worth spending time with.