Class of 83 movie review: Brooding Bobby Deol can’t save Shah Rukh Khan’s new Netflix film from its problematic politics
Class of 83
Director - Atul Sabharwal
Cast - Bobby Deol, Anup Soni, Bhupendra Jadawat, Ninad Mahajani, Hitesh Bhojraj, Sameer Paranjape
In many ways, both Hindi films and Indian law enforcement have failed to distance themselves from precedents set in the 1980s. Class of 83, a new Netflix cop drama that proudly embraces 80s movie tropes, unfortunately also appears to have a soft corner for vigilante justice. Its characters don’t contemplate the morality of their actions; neither do they question the deeds that they have been ordered to carry out. Instead, they revel in the violence, they believe in it.
It’s one thing for gruff men from the 80s to have a certain point-of-view on these matters. It was a different time then. But it’s an entirely different thing for a film, which has been made from a contemporary perspective, to endorse objectively problematic notions such as this.
Watch the Class of 83 trailer here
An argument could be made that vigilante crime thrillers were all the rage in the 70s and 80s, both in India and abroad. Director Quentin Tarantino, greatly influenced by this era in filmmaking, took special glee in having his Inglourious Basterds go on a Nazi killing spree, while audiences around the world cheered them on. But that film had a foot in the realm of fantasy. In Inglourious Basterds, Adolf Hitler’s face is pulverised into a pulp, and crucially, the Basterds themselves are outlaws. But Class of 83, at least partially, is inspired by real events and characters whose job it was to uphold the law, not break it.
At various points in the film, Bobby Deol’s character, a veteran cop named Vijay Singh, speaks about the pillars of democracy — the government, the judiciary, and law enforcement — in biological terms. In one scene, he compares them to impenetrable fortresses.
Red-tape and bureaucracy, Vijay Singh feels, have gotten in the way of justice. And in an act of vengeance against the system for mistreating him, an encounter specialist, he comes up with a plan. Vijay, who has been sentenced to a punishment posting as the police academy’s dean, selects five young cadets with a penchant for independent thought, and enlists them as members of a secret squad. As an experiment, he says, he will release these five men as ‘anti-bodies’ into the police system. “Unhe bina jurisdiction our restriction ke gangsters ka encounter karne ki freedom hogi,” he says excitedly.
All this distracts from what could have been a genuinely engaging character study about a haunted man, performed with simmering intensity by Bobby Deol. One scene in particular, in which the 90s heartthrob is framed in a tight close-up, sitting in silence inside his car, continues to live rent-free in my mind, even months after I first saw the film. But before we can fully appreciate the complexity of the scene, director Atul Sabharwal cuts away. This happens often.
Despite displaying flashes of technical skill, Sabharwal seems to be in a tremendous rush to tell the story. Some of the best examples of this genre — from Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive — are all very lean, narratively speaking. But Class of 83 almost appears to be overflowing with plot. Without question, it would’ve made for a better series.
As it stands, it appears to be sprinting through the motions, concerned more with getting from point A to point B than effectively fleshing out its characters. We are told about Vijay Singh’s domestic troubles, his professional downfall and his suicide attempt, but the information is conveyed in a very inelegant manner. The script, by Abhijeet Deshpande, more often than not relies on screenwriting cliches such as narration and flashbacks to propel the plot, when it should have, instead, allowed the strong performances of its fine cast do the heavy lifting. The young actors who play members of the brash encounter squad are rather talented. And curiously, Class of 83 is the second Netflix India film in a month to feature a former CID actor (Anup Soni) as its primary antagonist, after Raat Akeli Hai.
The pieces are all there — Mario Poljac’s cinematography is exquisite, the attention to period detail is palpable, and fans of Bobby Deol would be chuffed to know that Class of 83’s memorable synth-infused score has been composed by Viju Shah — but the film never adds up to more than the sum of its parts. And its parts are rusty.
There’s a reason why a certain section of the Indian audience (still) idolises characters such as Singham and Chulbul Pandey. It is because they also endorse these characters’ eye for an eye approach to dispensing justice. But with three back-to-back duds for Netflix, it would appear that Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment still hasn’t been able to crack the streaming space.