Friday, September 30, 2011


Release date:
September 30, 2011
Tigmanshu Dhulia
Mahie Gill, Jimmy Shergill, Randeep Hooda

This is the most sex I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hindi film which has no apparent ambition to be sleazy. Thankfully the scenes have been shot aesthetically. And while they’re a significant part of Saheb Biwi aur Gangster (SBAG), there’s more to this film than the beds and rock formations against which its protagonists give vent to their lust.

SBAG is the story of Saheb, scion of an erstwhile royal family in North India with political ambitions, a wife driven crazy by neglect, a mistress on whom he fritters away his dwindling wealth and a stepmother who maintains a tight hold on the purse strings. Saheb’s desperation to keep up appearances & his decadent lifestyle lead to a rivalry with local criminal Gainda Singh who plants his man Babbloo in the household as the driver of Saheb’s wife aka Chhoti Bahu. This mole completes the titular trio of a Saheb (Jimmy Shergill), a Biwi (Mahie Gill) and a Gangster (Randeep Hooda). Political intrigue, crime and betrayal … throw them into the pot with these protagonists and you get an enjoyable film neatly wrapped up in just two hours.

The strength of SBAG is its snug writing by Tigmanshu Dhulia (also the director) and Sanjay Chouhan. The story is a complete departure from all the politics-meets-the-underworld films we’ve seen in recent years; the dialogues are neat and crisp. With Dhulia at the helm of affairs, the lead actors deliver top-notch performances whether it’s Shergill as the arrogant yet desperate king-without-a-kingdom, Gill as his wife whose lunacy hides more than meets the eye, or Hooda – my pick of this cast – who switches chameleon-like from aggression to insecurity, opportunism, jealousy, helpless passion and heartbreak without overdoing the emotions for even a moment. It’s a mystery why Indian filmdom has had so little to offer this talented and attractive actor who we first saw on the big screen in Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding. Rajeev Gupta delivers a brilliant supporting performance as a slimy state minister Prabhu Tiwari whose backstabbing leads to comical yet chilling situations, while Vipin Sharma as Gainda Singh is remarkable during his interactions with Tiwari.

Is Saheb Biwi aur Gangster a remake of Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam? Let’s just call it a tribute. Not only is that 1960s classic in a league of its own, this modern interpretation rewrites Abrar Alvi’s characters completely. Gill’s Chhoti Bahu is far less helpless and vulnerable than Meena Kumari’s Chhoti Bahu in Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. And the ferociously lustful sexual encounters between her and Babbloo are a million miles away from the movingly hesitant relationship that developed between Guru Dutt’s Bhoothnath and his memsahib all those years ago.

Director Tigmanshu Dhulia builds on his strong foundation in SBAG with a steady hand that keeps this film pacy throughout. He is the man behind that wonderful love-and-crime-on-the-Allahabad-University-campus thriller Haasil that arrived and disappeared from theatres in 2003, done in by its pathetic promotions. His subsequent films – Charas and this year’s Shagird – haven’t matched up to that brilliant debut, though in Shagird he did give us one of the most interesting characters Nana Patekar has ever played. Saheb Biwi aur Gangster isn’t on the same level as Haasil, but it’s highly entertaining all the same. One memorable scene features Saheb at a window, speaking on the phone to the minister as he watches Babbloo standing below and talking on the phone too; Babbloo is at that very moment in conversation with Gainda Singh who happens to be in the minister’s room at precisely the same time. In an earlier scene infused with an uncommon blend of comedy and high tension, Saheb arrives at Tiwari’s office, while Tiwari is closeted with Gainda Singh. Hide in the toilet, the minister tells Singh in a state of panic. Singh’s protestations, Saheb’s entry and their confrontation are smoothly put together. The locations have been well chosen to convey the film’s small-town setting. And the art director’s work on Saheb’s palace is an apt signifier of bygone glory.

Where the film flounders is in serving up some tacky extras who are part of an unexpectedly poorly handled shootout involving Saheb, his mistress, his loyal lieutenant Kanhaiya, Babbloo and Gainda Singh; a couple of superfluous sex scenes that seemed to have been thrown in for effect; a couple of not-so-credible plot twists especially a crucial one involving a character behind a curtain to whom Chhoti Bahu makes a confession; and music that sounds pleasant enough, yet is too much like something you’ve heard before. But much is forgiven if you succumb to the overall impact of this unusual film.

Very very nice, Mr Dhulia!
Rating (out of five): ***

CBFC Rating:                       A without cuts (Hard to believe but true! The Indian Censors are growing up!)
Running time:                        120 Minutes
Language:                              Hindi

Photograph courtesy:     

1 comment:

  1. SBG as its known in twitter world, is as tricky as the name suggests. Its a royal threesome with so many twists n turns.

    SBG is definitely one time watch, may be more for those who want to see mahe gill at her best :)