Ram Gopal Varma’s latest exercise in self-loathing, billed as a sequel to his brilliant 1998 movie Satya, marries gangsterism and Maoism through the story of a radical who becomes a top-notch gangster in order to cleanse society of its evils, depicted here through an industrialist, a corrupt chief minister, and a television channel head modelled on Rajdeep Sardesai. Although it ends badly for the industrialist and the chief minister, Varma reserves his ire for the television network head, who dies a truly perverse death.

As plot ideas go, Satya 2 has the potential to be the kind of delirious and nihilist wish-fulfilment fantasy that is more commonly found in Asian Extreme films than in Mumbai’s film industry. The 157 minutes movie takes itself far too seriously to be taken seriously, but at least it is more coherently strung together than his previous films, including Department and Not A Love Story. Varma is in no danger of returning to the top of his game, but at least he appears to be trying, for a change.

Soti’s Chitra provides the few moments of unintended humour in this grim tale of amorality, perversity and cynicism, which opens with a bird’s eye view of the ugliest parts of Mumbai that the location scout could find and then swoops down to earth to mine more ugliness. Ugly cities and ugly times presumably make for ugly movies, so it follows that nearly every person in Satya 2 is an opportunist in wait for the highest bidder. Satya rapidly conquers the Mumbai underworld with the help of builder Lahoti (Mahesh Thakur) through a series of ruthless moves already seen in previous Varma films (it involves nothing more than wiping out the competition). Satya then sets his eyes on achieving his real aim: to be the ultimate insider-outsider and replace the “System", one of the top-quoted words in Radhika Anand’s screenplay, with a parallel “System" that will be more equitable and just.

Not very long ago, Varma too was the insider-outsider, an intelligent and gifted loose cannon who influenced film-making style and production methods by unearthing new talent outside the family-run circles that govern the movie trade. Satya 2 does have academic value, as a study of a director’s systematic attempts to demolish his legacy and bury one of his most enduring creations—the Man With No Background who represented the dreams and nightmares of Mumbai in the 1990s. How Varma has become his own worst enemy, and how he insists on sharing his very public decline with audiences, one film at a time, is itself a subject of a movie. Perhaps there is no better person to make such a movie than Varma himself.

Satya 2 released in theatres on Friday.

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