So Brutally Honest
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- Published 6.10.11
Charas or Shagird were interesting attempts from a talented maker but with Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Tigmanshu Dhulia reaches a complete different bracket altogether in Hindi cinema. Like Maqbool and Dev D, this gritty yet dazzling movie of decadence, lust and violence will go down as a brilliant departure in recent times. Personally it’s one of the best Hindi films I’ve seen since Manorama Six Feet Under which has driven me to write about it and appeal to the readers of t2 to go for it right away and not let it get lost like Manorama.
Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is and always will remain a milestone. What Tigmanshu does is instead of adapting a masterpiece like Anurag Kashyap did with Dev D (Devdas) or Vishal Bhardwaj with Maqbool (Macbeth), he reinterprets and reinvents it. A very tricky deal altogether.
Where very talented people like Farhan Akhtar fails to rebuild with Don 2 or our very own Srijit Mukherji stumbles with Autograph (Ray’s Nayak), Tigmanshu scores. He retains the decadent passion of the original totally but successfully weaves out a completely different world view.
Unlike the original, Tigmanshu places his tale in a violently corrupt UP where thakurs in order to maintain their disintegrating feudalism resort to underworld politics (herein lies the seed of the original which he doesn’t tamper with). Here corrupt politicians are caught in the crossfire of feudal lords and neo-rich contractors. Here the Saheb wears a bullet-proof vest, lives on borrowed money and flashes a gun in the minister’s office. Instead of nautch girls, there is a mistress. Instead of horse-drawn carriages there are flashy Scorpios.
Here Chhoti Bahu is an avid smoker and vodka drinker and her neurosis does not lead to pathos, but violence. Here the meek underdog Bhootnath is Bablu the hired henchman who is sent to spy on Saheb by his opponents. He comes in the garb of Chhoti Bahu’s driver, falls in love with Chhoti Bahu and double-crosses both sides to achieve power. Like the original, this too is a tale of lust, passion and violence but the equations are totally different.
The opening sequence, very much reminiscent of the original, where corpses are dug up from the ground, perfectly sets the mood as well as the politics of the entire film. Only, instead of the corpse of Chhoti Bahu, the dead bodies are that of hired goons. In the brilliant climax, the victim is Bhootnath/ Bablu himself and it is the Biwi who rules the roost. The Ghulam is the junta.
Bimal Mitra’s original was essentially a dark tale of decadent feudalism that leads to violence and decay. Tigmanshu’s world view is essentially the same. Only it is far more contemporary and thereby far more ruthless. In Guru Dutt’s version, V.K. Murthy creates a very dark world that is simultaneously haunting and romantic and can be referred to as a masterpiece in black and white. Here, DoP Aseem Mishra creates a shamelessly gritty world that is equally passionate.
After a long, long time the song sequences of a film made me sit up. Shreya Ghoshal’s Raat mujhe composed by Abhishek Ray (one of the seven music directors) is exquisitely shot. Here the Saheb makes love to his mistress (superbly played by Shreya Narayan) and Mishra’s camera weaves out a nostalgia that is lavish yet gritty. Yet the song that steals the show is Sunil Bhatia’s Chu chu sung by Debojit Saha. The other tracks, though, fall into the trappings of typical Bollywood song-and-dance sequences and come in the way of the narrative.
Thanks to newcomer Rahul Srivastav, the highly sexy editing keeps the film ruthlessly fast-paced. The cellphone conversation scene between Saheb and the corrupt politician as well as Bablu with the ganglord happening simultaneously at the same place is one of the best edit exercises I’ve seen in a long time.
Having worked with him as a director (unreleased BBD), I always believed that Jimmy Shergill is one of the most underrated actors in Hindi cinema. His Saheb is a brilliant combination of cold-bloodedness and vulnerability. Jimmy’s strength is his almost foolhardy uniformity that is often mistaken as woodenness. But it is this steadfast uniformity that doesn’t allow any melodrama that makes him unique in Bollywood which believes in histrionics all the time.
Mahie Gill’s Biwi/ Chhoti Bahu supersedes her Paro in Dev D. One of the most beautiful actors of our time, Mahie exudes a cold fire that (apart from Konkona Sensharma) is so rare in current Indian cinema. Here is an exotic Raima Sen who can be as fiery as Smita Patil. Mahie, for once, doesn’t fall into the Meena Kumari trap and that is what makes her Chhoti Bahu stunningly attractive.
Both Deepak Raj as Kanhaiya, the henchman of Jimmy, and his daughter Suman, played by Deepal Shaw, are terrific finds that make the subplots work like magic.
But the one who takes the cake in this brilliant concoction is Randeep Hooda as the underdog Bablu. I have seen this Naseeruddin Shah find before but with this performance, Randeep is almost as good as a Christian Bale or even the late Heath Ledger. Here is an actor in recent Indian cinema who combines clumsiness, elan, cruelty, rakish romanticism and an overall melancholy that is so very representative of our time and our psyche. His Bablu is what a lower-middle-class Indian is all about — ambitious, callous and learning to be ruthless all the time. Yet there is a certain sadness in Hooda’s eyes that elevates him in his death scene. Never for once does Hooda make the slightest attempt to please the gallery. He just performs.
Kailasa band’s background somehow underestimates its own strength and the background score suffers from too much music. I only wish they would have stuck to the distortion guitar of the sequence where Randeep first arrives at the haveli.
Like Hooda’s performance, what makes Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster so modern is that it never attempts to be pretty or please the audience. It doesn’t attempt to surprise also. It is just another gangster love story that is so brutally honest that it grabs you by the neck. Kudos to Tigmangshu Dhulia for intelligent cinema that doesn’t pretend to be intelligent. I severely recommend it to all those who claim that they are tired of the regular fare. Make it to the halls ASAP.