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  • Published 19.05.12

In the run-up to the release of Department, all this week, a Twitter hashtag named #WeWantRGVToRetire has been gaining popularity on the microblogging site.

In the last few years, the man who once gave us Satya and Company has plunged to new lows, sacrificing storytelling and characterisation for technical experiments that have invariably failed to take off. Off screen, Ram Gopal Varma’s cockiness and his complete disregard for the audience have earned him enemies galore. “Has the man totally lost his mojo?” is the FAQ about RGV.

Department is yet another RGV experiment with the cinematic form that goes wrong. Horribly wrong. The man who once had the Midas touch takes a sliver of a story — which is bits and pieces of his earlier films, by the way — and subjects it to his bizarre obsession with the camera.

Handheld… cellphone… 3D… 5D… Department has been shot at all possible angles with all possible kinds of photographic technology. Dizzying top shots, spondylitis-inducing swish pan, jarring jump cuts, pixelated, out-of-focus images — RGV’s camera in Department is in loony mode. The camera is sometimes on the ground… sometimes held by the actors themselves… and once even fitted on the striker of a carrom board. The result? Intense nausea and an even more intense urge to walk out.

If the camera went topsy-turvy in Rakht Charitra and rode up Mahie Gill’s skirt in Not A Love Story, in Department, you often just see the hand of a character, the forehead of another and — brace yourself — the hairy chest of a third!

In an early scene featuring Sanjay Dutt, the camera sneaks up from behind him, rests for 30 seconds at close range on his shoes, rides up to the buttons of his shirt, focuses on his paunch, travels through each ring on his stubby fingers, goes up to his weary eyebags and finally rests on his bald pate. By the time the scene ends, the audience is scarred for life.

But it is not only the camera work that leaves one nauseous. The content in Department is enough to make Varma’s recent films seem watchable in comparison (okay, you can leave RGV ki Aag out of that list). To spot a story through the buckets of blood, piles of bodies and the never-ending stream of bullets is a Herculean task.

But let’s do Ramu a favour and attempt to stitch this better than he has done. Top cop Mahadev (Sanjay Dutt) is asked to form an alternative encounter team — called ‘Department’ — to cleanse the streets of Mumbai of the underworld. Suspended rookie Shiv (Rana Daggubati) comes on board and together the two start eliminating the criminals one by one. This brings underworld kingpin-turned politician Sirji Rao (Amitabh Bachchan) into the picture. As the bodies pile up, so do the subplots with more and more characters being introduced and plucked out at random. In the end, all that the viewer is left with is a lot of loose ends, hundreds of unanswered questions and a splitting headache.

Ramu has been blamed for losing interest midway through his recent films and nowhere is it more visible than in Department. The complete lack of attention to detail — a cop outfit operates off the radar but news of its supposedly secret exploits makes it to the front pages — is laughable.

Ramu’s obsession with current muse Nathalia Kaur results in an unnecessary item number. But why is the audience subjected to choreographer Ganesh Acharya’s 150kg-frame in another? For the record, Acharya moves better.

The only bit of inspired writing is probably in Ramu’s choice of names for his characters — Shiv to Mahadev, Satya to even a Mohammed Ghori! At one point, Dutt tells Daggubati: “Iss duniya mein do tarah ke log hote hain. Achchha aur bura nahin, sirf samajhdaar aur c******”. You carefully put away this vital piece of advice from the RGV black book.

As the call for RGV to call it a day gains momentum, we back it with the need for Sanjay Dutt to retire — from RGV films, at least. The deadly Dutt is a disaster, those extra kilos and that lack of interest weighing down his performance. If there is any consolation, he scores more than Rana Daggubati in the dancing department. The Dum Maaro Dum looker’s Hindi in a Telugu accent grates and his total list of expressions doesn’t go beyond two.

Vijay Raaz and Abhimanyu Singh try nasty but come off as comic. Among the women, Anjana Sukhani is wishy-washy while south star Madhu Shalini as the gangster’s moll is just too in-your-face.

Finally, the unkindest cut of all. Bachchan hams it up in a Vijay Dinanath Chauhan baritone that makes us want to go deaf — or see red. Did we mention that he lives in a house that is obsessively painted red and wears miniature bells on his wrist?!

Keep an eye on that RGV hashtag count. Make it trend. Do yourself a favour.