May 18, 2012
Ram Gopal Varma
Sanjay Dutt, Rana Daggubati, Vijay Raaz, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhimanyu Singh, Madhu Shalini, Anjana Sukhani, Lakshmi Manchu
Remember how George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld try to sell the concept for a TV show to the bosses at a major American network with the words: ‘It’s a show about … … … NOTHING!’?
I’m afraid my mind wandered towards Seinfeld and in many other directions as I watched Ram Gopal Varma’s Department. Because it truly felt like a film about … … … NOTHING!
I know there is a story somewhere in there, and I will try to recount it to you in a later paragraph. But it was hard to focus on the subject at hand since I was so distracted by this film’s numerous purposeless camera angles – shots of a character taken from below another’s armpit, Vijay Raaz as seen from below a lady’s thigh, a dancer’s right thigh placed over the left while the camera teases us in the direction of her crotch, Amitabh Bachchan as seen from above, an elongated Raaz as seen from below ...
Department is set in the Mumbai underworld which was once Ramu’s forte. That of course is the tragedy of this film: that the man who gave us the rawness of Shiva, the intense hopelessness of Satya and Company, could be so lost in himself as to have made Department. Underlining the tragedy is the fact that he has a cast of fine actors at hand here (not counting Lakshmi Manchu – playing Sanjay Dutt’s wife – whose dialogue delivery is decidedly awkward). Just last year, Abhimanyu Singh chilled us to the bone playing a homophobic policeman in director Onir’s I Am. Monsoon Wedding’s Dubey (Vijay Raaz) delivered one of the finest supporting performances of 2011 with his turn as the gangster taking shit – literally – in Delhi Belly. But these wonderful men and their co-stars – Amitabh Bachchan in particular – are reduced to mere props in the eyes of an eccentric camera.
So let’s quickly be done with the story! Shiv (Rana Daggubati) is an honest and disillusioned policeman who is recruited by Mahadev (Dutt) into a new department – simply called The Department – that works outside the purview of the law to put the fear of God in Mumbai’s gangsters. The don Sawathya (Raaz) must contend with them while also dealing with rebellion in his own gang. Meanwhile, Shiv meets gangster-turned-politician Sarjerao Gaikwad (Bachchan). Also in the picture are Shiv’s fiancée (Anjana Sukhani), Mahadev’s wife, Sawathya’s flunkey DK (Abhimanyu) and his power-and-cigarette-obsessed moll (Madhu Shalini).
In its effort to throw up surprises at every turn, Department is so contrived that it’s boring. For god’s sake, by now we need more than the revelation of an underworld-politician nexus to shock us out of our seats! And for god’s sake, a steady stream of violence, a steady flow blood and a gratingly loud background score can’t compensate for a poor script! In a scene that could variously be described as a tribute or an effort to recreate an iconic passage from Satya, DK and his girlfriend stand on what seems like a cliff overlooking Mumbai, and DK throws out a remark to the cosmos about his ambitions. No Ramu, it doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work for those of us who watched and loved Satya back in 1998, and still have an image etched in our minds of that glorious moment in time, of a scruffy Manoj Bajpai on a cliff, looking across the waters to Mumbai and yelling out to the world: “Mumbai ka king kaun? Bhiku Matre!”
There’s nothing novel either in the content or the presentation of this latest underworld story from The House of Ramu. Unless you count the bizarre camera work! Uff! The shaky camera and weird angles in Ramu’s Not A Love Story last year gave me a touch of nausea and the beginnings of a migraine, and spoilt what was otherwise a very unusual and surprisingly nuanced take on the Neeraj Grover murder case. In Department the camera does not shake, but the shots are still weird, travelling above, below, beneath and between various body parts without either being particularly artistic or adding to the narrative in any way. The only shot I found even half-way interesting was a very close close-up of the side of a teacup with the visible shadow of the beverage still swilling around inside, left there half drunk by a policeman who must do his political master’s bidding and leave everything, yes everything, when summoned to a task. That apart, I suppose I’m grateful that emerging Telugu star Rana dubbed for himself in this film instead of being given a completely mismatched voice as he was in his Bollywood debut Dum Maaro Dum. In every other department though, Department is a let-down.
And about that much-touted item number with model Nathalia Kaur … ya okay, she’s got a hot body, but so what? So do a zillion other girls trying to make it in Bollywood! There’s such a thing as screen presence. And that she certainly ain’t got! So why has Ramu been waxing eloquent about her all this time?
O Ramu, Ramu, wherefore art thou Ramu?
Rating (out of five): *
CBFC Rating: A
Photograph courtesy: https://www.facebook.com/#!/departmentmovie