May 13, 2011
Nana Patekar, Mohit Ahlawat, Rimi Sen, Zakir Hussain
If Shagird had been released about 15 years back, it might have had a stronger impact. This story of a corrupt policeman who gets caught up in the circle of violence and corruption that he cashes in on, has enough meat to sustain itself through its two-hours-plus running time. The problem is that in the past decade-and-a-half, we’ve seen so many gritty thrillers about the nexus between criminals, cops and politicians that it would take something earth-shatteringly different for a film to grab our attention and stay with it. Shagird doesn’t break too much new ground and is terribly unrealistic in parts. But it does give us Nana Patekar playing one of the quirkiest Hindi film policemen that I’ve seen in a while. His character is what makes this film worth watching.
Hanumant Singh (Patekar) is an openly corrupt officer in the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch. He thinks nothing of gunning down a room full of drug dealers and their buyers who walk in shortly afterwards, so that he can walk away with both the prized narcotics and the money that would have paid for it. When Mohit Kumar (Mohit Ahlawat) enters the force, he is shocked to witness this brazen loot taking place in the name of policing. Hanumant, incidentally, is a flunkie of senior neta Rajmani Singh (Zakir Hussain) who is on the verge of becoming the Union External Affairs Minister. Mohit happens to be in love with TV journalist Varsha Mathur (Rimi Sen) who is tracking Hanumant. The action heats up when Rajmani’s associate Bunty Bhaiyya (Anurag Kashyap) is imprisoned and three journalists are abducted by unknown elements demanding the release of a couple of notorious terrorists and Bunty in exchange for them. Who are these mysterious kidnappers? Is there anyone Rajmani will not sacrifice to achieve his goals? Will Hanumant stop at nothing to increase his bank balance? And is Mohit a worthy disciple to Hanumant? The answers to these questions are what Shagird is all about.
First let’s talk about Patekar. It has to be said that the man has been repeating himself unrelentingly for years now – every dialogue spoken in the same casual undertone, his real-life personality suiting the roles he’s been cast in much more than the actor moulding himself to any character. This marriage of actor and role is what made him ideal for a film like Taxi No. 9211. Then in a crazy, OTT film like Welcome, he explored new territory, discovered a funny bone and surprised us all. In Shagird, he sinks his teeth into a role after a long time, lends little touches to the character that make him delightful (Hanumant washes his hands with mineral water after peeing on the roadside) and seems to be having a jolly good time while he’s at it. The casualness with which Hanumant commits his crimes is now old hat for Hindi film goers (most recently, we had the incredible Mr Irrfan Khan taking crime to a whole new level of cool in Yeh Saali Zindagi). What’s amusing and entertaining about Hanumant though is the manner in which every misdeed is played out against the backdrop of his passion for food and his obsession with old Hindi film music. At one point, he has just bumped off a colleague who had been assigned to shoot him. By the time the dead man’s puppeteer phones a few minutes later, Hanumant is calmly stuffing himself with gol guppas not many metres away from where the body lies. In another scene, as he waits to swoop down on a bunch of goons, he notes with interest that they’re watching a Nutan-Dev Anand classic on TV; when they switch channels to Emraan Hashmi mouthing Himesh Reshammiya’s Jhalak dikhla ja, Hanumant’s temper flares and he mows them down. Towards the end, that wry sense of humour does get stretched a bit, but not so much as to kill the experience of the preceding two hours for us.
Patekar gets a mixed bag of actors to work with in Shagird. Ram Gopal Varma’s discovery Mohit Ahlawat is still a tad too beefy and expressionless to be convincing. Zakir Hussain is as real as he usually is. Anurag Kashyap seems to be enjoying himself while testing his acting chops in the middle of a flourishing career as a writer-director – he lent a creepy air to the paedophile stepdad he played in Onir’s I Am just recently, and is effectively cocky and despairing by turns in Shagird. Rimi Sen is a natural actress but has done shockingly little research for this role. No Ms Sen, female political/daily news journalists in India do not usually wear strapped and halter-necked tops on their reporting assignments!
The beauty of director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s unheralded debut film Haasil (2003) was that in the middle of a wave of underworld flicks from Bollywood, he took a gangster story and transported it to Allahabad University to give us a unique and extremely realistic crime-on-campus caper. In the past 15 years or so, for dedicated film followers brought up on Ram Gopal Varma’s classics Satya and Company, Sudhir Mishra’s Iss Raat ki Subah Nahin, Ramu’s Sarkar and Sarkar Raj, and Once Upon A Time in Mumbaii, Shagird does not have that much that’s new to offer, in spite of Patekar’s eccentric crookish cop act. So let’s chalk out a balance sheet here. Assets: Patekar’s Hanumant Singh and the fun of catching snatches of Tere ghar ke saamne, Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam and other old film songs playing in the background throughout the film. Liabilities: the lack of novelty, some unconvincing twists in the end (why exactly did Mohit lie about his girlfriend?) and the stretch of imagination that requires us to believe, among so many other things, that a potential Exernal Affairs Minister would shoot a known crook in Central Delhi in the daytime in his own car and keep the body there while he drives to Parliament.
So I guess what I’m saying is that if you are in an undemanding, unquestioning mood, you could give Shagird a shot … for Hanumant Singh alone.
Rating (out of five): **1/2
CBFC Rating: A without cuts
Running time: 128 Minutes
Photograph courtesy: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/shagirdmovie