Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sarkar Raj: lights off in RGV's Factory

Central to Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar Raj are plans for the construction of a Rs 20,000 crore power plant that will light up the whole of Maharashtra. Closely following the plot of this headache-inducing film was well beyond my fragile capabilities, but as far as I could tell this is what happens next: various bad-asses in Gujarat don’t like the fact that Maharashtra will be lit up. So lots of people are killed. Incensed, the state of Maharashtra breaks free from the Indian Union and drifts across the Arabian Sea to join the eastern coast of Africa, where there are no electricity problems. Then some more people are killed. Then Aishwarya Rai, in a sharp businesswoman suit, weeps silently. Then some people are killed. Then Rai asks for a cup of tea and Amitabh Bachchan asks for a chiku and the film ends.

It’s worth noting that despite various complicated plot twists and lots of murderous double-crossing, the power plant is never actually built. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is the reason why the film is so unremittingly dark. By “dark”, I don’t mean the subject matter: I mean that the film is, quite literally, dark. In other words, there appear to be no electricity sources in the house where most of the action takes place.
("Power cannot be given," says the film's tagline accurately.) Not a tube-light or ceiling fan in sight, which means that the scariest and most unsettling scenes are the ones where someone elects to wear sun-glasses. When you think of it, it makes perfect sense that the one time a character has the temerity to ask for an air-conditioner to be switched on (horrors!), she instantly pays for it with her life. It’s the most startling murder in the film, but also the most thematically justified one. What could the foolish woman have been thinking?

Interestingly, on the very few occasions that there are light sources, the cameraman shoots directly into them, so that tiny circular spots show up on the screen, often right on a character's face. You might argue that this is deliberately done, in the style of the Dogme filmmakers. I would say that the editors weren’t on the job. In fact, if the sets had been better lit, we might have seen three or four boom mikes protruding from the ceiling, and perhaps Amar Singh waddling around somewhere in the background.

Actually, the look of this film didn’t surprise me much, because self-conscious gloominess has long been a staple of RGV’s cinema. He seems to frame nearly every shot as if to shout out to the audience, “See what I’m doing here with composition?” In an earlier post on RGV’s Aag, I suggested that the film’s remarkably drunken camera movements were accomplished by making the cinematographer consume lots of hooch and then stagger around the sets with the shooting equipment tied around his waist. Pretty much the same thing happens throughout Sarkar Raj, except that the cameraman also gets to lie down a couple of times.

As always, there is an element of barely suppressed hysteria in nearly every performance – many pauses, lots of uncompleted and interrupted sentences, as if the performers have forgotten their lines (or weren’t given any to start with), many shots of people starting to say something but then looking away. I think it’s called Realism. (To remind us that her dramatic performance in Provoked wasn’t a fluke, Aishwarya bites her lips a few times. I think it’s called Ruining your Makeup.)

Sadistically, the film’s soundtrack maintains a “Govinda, Govinda, Govinda” chant nearly all the way through; I agree with what J.A.P. says in a comment on Baradwaj’s post that this is a cruel reminder that we could instead have been watching something starring the Viraar ka chokra. However, I also think this film could have done with an extended friendly appearance by Salman Khan – you know, the sort where he shows up towards the end and sets everything right (in this case, by nudging Maharashtra back across the sea) before skipping away into the sunset. In fact, I propose that every Hindi film made from this point on should contain an extended friendly appearance by Salman Khan. It's the only foolproof way to make a good film.

(Jokes aside, I thought Sarkar Raj was undiluted crap. Terrible neck-aches and head-aches proliferate, which is why I've had to write this post standing up.)


  1. Beware Jabberwock!

    RGV is on the prowl for famous reviewers ripping his movie. He'll nitpick and give one-liner retorts for EVERY line of yours :)

    Example: 'which is why I've had to write this post standing up'
    Reply: Oh ya, if you were a real man, you'll dare to sit down.

    Read his blog crap here :)

    p.s - enjoyed the post very much.

  2. This film could've done with Twinkle Khanna too. She should've been roped in for some good interior decor stuff for Sarkar's house. They really needed to slap coats of Asian Paints colour on the drab walls. They could've done with curtains, good furniture and upholstery too. And they should've got at least a domestic help to clean and dust the rooms. Wonder how they cooked, cleaned, ate, read, etc in that house?

  3. You should have seen Aamir , instead of Sarkar Raj. I dragged my unwilling wife after hearing some good things about the movie. I was not dissapointed it is one of the better movies to come out of Bollywood this year.

    I have started disliking RGV for his Penchant of taking himself too seriously. Normally his interviews have the amazing quality of sounding demented and interesting at the same time. However his movies of late have been stupid , cranky and unimaginative to say the least. I would grade him as a Faux intellectual , who has started shouting from the rooftops about his quality or the lack of it.

  4. Arvind: good heavens, is there anyone left who doesn't blog?! Anyway, after a very quick look at RGV's critique of critics, I'm relieved that at least he won't be able to accuse me of having ulterior motives for writing this - since I certainly haven't been chasing after producers with scripts for years.

    his interviews have the amazing quality of sounding demented and interesting at the same time.

    Shwet: I know what you mean - felt that way on reading a lengthy interview he had done with Tehelka, around the time Aag> came out. The interview was certainly more stimulating than the film was.

    Pity I had to miss Aamir, will try to see it soon.

  5. Great post, Jai!
    RGV has decided that from now on his films will consist of spooky twisted sidekicks, poor lighting, anyone named Bachchan staring long and hard in the distance........and little else.

    My post about Sarkar Raj at

  6. Aha we hope to read RGV's rejoinder to this one.

    There was this Telugu movie he had made long ago which had a shot in the middle of a really crucial scene on a train where some kids place a coin on the track and become very happy when it is flattened as the train passes over it. That was the RGV we liked, someone who had his own sense of style.

    The RGV of now is so far removed from the guy of the late 80's that sometimes we think that maybe Rangeela was not really such a great thing to happen for him.

    After your review I am pretty sure I want to watch this, it seems to be a classic case of "So bad that it is good" category of movie.

  7. Haha! You are clearly looking for a mention on RGV and AB's blogs. :)

  8. with due respect to your (often unnecessarily looking-down) views on the film, which I did not love nor by any stretch hate, ....I thought the lighting was quite cool.

  9. "In fact, if the sets had been better lit, we might have seen three or four boom mikes protruding from the ceiling, and perhaps Amar Singh waddling around somewhere in the background."

    That's one of the funniest lines I've read this year.

  10. I haven't seen Sarkar Raj yet, but I don't expect anything from RGV's films after Aag.

    He has lost it.Wonder if he'll ever recover!

    PS: Not sure if the famous south movie Kamal's Dasavatharam will release in Hindi, but I would love to see your comments on that too. I felt the movie was crap, but I cannot comment on the film-making though.


  11. Thanks. Haven't watched either of the Sarkar films and don't think I will do so in the future.

  12. he he he i am glad i didnt see it... :)

  13. Cant wait for the nth sequel staring AB Jr and Aishwariya grandchildren. It will be directed by RGV's son and all wars will be fought on the nth version of Facebook...

    A tribute to the Godfather- not heard a funnier line in a long long time...

  14. Hilarious take on Sarkar Raj !!

    //many pauses, lots of uncompleted and interrupted sentences, as if the performers have forgotten their lines//

    To know the real reason of this, read this 'interview'. Maybe you'll get answers in the end.

  15. it is probably the best review of sarkar raj i have read ,esp the "ac on karo" theme stuff

    but jokes apart as a character says in sarkar about sarkar "sarkar is not a person ,woh ik soch hein" i think same holds true for RGV too ,i remember at the start of yr anurag kashyap came to blore for a filmmaking seminar and he said there he got the belief of becoming a film maker from RGV ,he said like "if RGV can do it ,then i can do it too"

    i think same holds true for virtually every director in bollywood who is not from inside industry

  16. With much pride, I ask you a riddle that I coined myself... :)

    Movie 1: Sarkar

    Movie 2: Sarkar Raj

    What is the name of Movie 3?
    Answer: Anita Raj!