A Film Gone Rogue
Direction: Ram Gopal Varma
Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Rana Daggubati
In an interview, Ram Gopal Varma said that at a young age he developed "a low-angle fascination for larger-than-life people." So his films repeatedly return to the theme of power - who wields it, how they get it and how they inevitably lose it.
Department, about a special task force of encounter specialists, begins with this adage: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. After that, Varma retreads old ground: crooked cops, underworld dons, political leaders who function like underworld dons.
Amitabh Bachchan plays a crasser version of his character in Sarkar.Varma has mined this material before, from Satya to Ab Tak Chhappan, which he produced, so he decided to embellish this film with a new technique that he calls "rogue filmmaking." Which means he chose student camera operators and high-end digital cameras over a cinematographer and film camera. Which further means that strange camera angles, a regular feature of Varma's films, are now the main event.
I can't remember a still frame in the two-hour-plus running time of this film. Instead, we see a character from the inside of a teacup or an entire scene from the point of view of a striker as it whizzes across a carom board.
The film begins with an interesting shot of kids playing with a ball - the camera is the ball - but the novelty quickly wears off.
The hazy shots, zero lighting and jerky movements made me dizzy.
It's hard for actors to make an impact when you see them filmed through their own crossed legs or other people's uncrossed ones. Even here, Varma finds a female rear to focus on, shooting a scene shot through her legs. But the nice surprise is Rana Daggubati as Inspector Shivnarayan, who is both a skilled killer and a naïve rookie.
The bad surprise is Abhimanyu Singh as DK, a not-very-bright criminal. The actor, who had such presence in films like Gulaal, is reduced here to glowering and raging.
Funnier still is his girlfriend, played by Madhu Shalini, who keeps licking her lips and calling him "baby."Varma has described Department as "Quentin Tarantino meets Prabhudeva." I honestly couldn't find flashes of either. To me, it felt more like pedestrian Ram Gopal Varma. We are still waiting for him to return to form.
(You can watch Anupama Chopra review the latest releases on The Front Row, every Friday at 8.30 pm on Star World)