Ram Gopal Varma showed flashes of a return to form with his last release, Not a Love Story. But with this good cop-bad cop, police-criminal nexus movie, he proves that was an aberration.
If you accept that Varma is spoofing his own films and the genre of underworld action movies, then Department is hilarious! Unfortunately, it’s more likely that Varma believes he has created a masterpiece—but he is sorely mistaken. Just notice the dizzying camera angles and you will agree.
Making do: Bachchan is over the top and amusing in Department.
The unreal camera angles that have become the mainstay of Varma’s films make an appearance from scene 2. From the badly-in-need-of-a-pedicure feet of a politician to his nostrils; from a close-up of Sanjay Dutt’s boots to a coffee cup; under tables, spinning around like the car’s steering wheel, positioned as the point of view of a newspaper, a tea pan, a carom-board striker; and zooming in on the thigh of a gangster’s moll as she scratches herself...at times you have to avert your gaze to suppress the nausea.
Varma seems to be employing the Hong Kong action movie formula or punctuating elaborately choreographed fight scenes with a story that need not be logical. It’s harder to be sure that he intended to make it so comic.
The convoluted plot—excruciatingly testing to keep track of—revolves around two policemen, Mahadev (Dutt) and his recruit Shiv Narayan (Rana Daggubati), who are part of a special department constituted to fight the underworld. Mahadev is as crooked as a hairpin bend. He manipulates the mafia to operate his own quasi-criminal gang made up of an ambitious, but foolish, trigger-happy duo—DK (Abhimanyu Singh) and his moll (Madhu Shalini), who constantly refer to each other as “baby”.
The couple has rebelled against their boss, gangster Sawatiya (Vijay Raaz), who is unwilling to assassinate policemen. His main adversary is the unseen underworld don Ghori. In his ramshackle rooftop den, Raaz’s performance stands out merely because he is surrounded by caricatures.
The chain-smoking Shalini looks piercingly into the camera while delivering dialogues like sermons. Singh desperately tries to play the tapori DK, but his studied lines and Capri pants with shredded T-shirts as he prances across the room with a gun, are hysterically camp.
Almost an hour into the film, Amitabh Bachchan finally makes an entry as Sarjerao Gaikwad, a gangster-turned- politician. He recounts the moment of his epiphany under the traffic light at Dharavi where, he says, “mere saath woh hua jo Gautam Buddha ko ped ke neeche hua (I had the same experience there that Gautam Buddha had under the tree).
Gaikwad becomes encounter specialist Shiv’s mentor, guiding him through the quagmire of underworld politics. Bachchan clearly figured out that the only way to survive this disastrous film was to have a good time. He is over the top, amusing and affable, bell on wrist and wig notwithstanding.
The item number featuring Nathalia Kaur is the epitome of vulgarity and one of the worst dance numbers in recent times. Her performance and the choreography make the experience even more appalling. It says something when Anjana Sukhani, as Shiv’s wife Bharati, delivers the best performance by a female actor in this film. Lakshmi Manchu, as Dutt’s wife, speaks like she is reading a textbook.
As for the lead actors: Dutt sleepwalks through his role, but he is also saddled with a poorly written part. There is sketchy explanation as to why he went over the dark side and why he might be willing to betray his colleagues. So you are grateful for eye-candy Daggubati. When he’s punching the daylights out of the bad guys, you willingly forgive him his limited expressions and emotions.
Besides wasting resources and 132 minutes of your time, the terrible cinematography, flat lighting, loud and overdone background music (an assault on the senses) are more reasons for being unable to forgive Varma. Unless, of course, you think of this film as being so bad, it’s actually good!
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Shakespeare in Love director John Madden adapts Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel These Foolish Things into a twilight-years “dramedy”.
The film follows a group of seven retired British folk who arrive at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, conned by the plush sales brochure. Instead, they find musty mattresses, rooms without doors, leaking taps and out-of-order phones. Each one has a personal reason for making this move.
Dev Patel plays Sonny Kapoor, owner of a hotel in Jaipur aimed at the “elderly and beautiful”. His idea is that like everything else, old age can also be outsourced.
Steeped in stereotypes like cattle on the roads, crowds, traffic jams and fake Indian accents, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has a meandering narrative. It’s the stellar cast of senior British actors led by Dame Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Dame Maggie Smith that holds your attention.
The other travel companions are Celia Imrie as a gold-digger looking out for a rich maharaja to wed, Penelope Wilton as the moaning Jean who wants her “First Class” lifestyle back, Bill Nighy as her compliant husband Douglas, and Ronald Pickup as the bachelor Norman.
Dench, Wilkinson and Smith are the best of the bunch, with Smith playing the cantankerous, bigoted working class woman with zest. She also gets some of the best lines, such as, “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it.”
Patel picks up his fake Slumdog Millionaire accent again and performs like he has just won the million-dollar prize money, flown to Rajasthan and invested in a crumbling hotel. The Indian cast of Lillete Dubey, Tena Desae and Sid Makkar is tolerable.
Warmly shot with some charming moments, Madden’s placidly paced storytelling is punctuated with humour and epiphanies. After 50 days in India, each character experiences some major change. The film simply says that it’s never too late to let go of the past and start afresh.
Department and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel released in theatres on Friday.