Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster: A Review

Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster – Dir: Tigmanshu Dhulia; *ing: Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill, Randeep Hooda, Deepal Shaw, Deep Raj Rana

Three’s (bad) company

Dearie me, if you’re going be gauche and reference one of Hindi cinema’s greatest films in your title, you’d best be prepared to be served up on a platter with an apple corking your mouth if what you dish out doesn’t pass muster. And Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster (SBG) actually dares to go even further: besides invoking the Abrar Alvi/Guru Dutt classic Saheb, Bibi Aur Ghulam with its clever-in-a-smartass-way title, it also purports to present a kalyug version of that film’s story, with each main character duplicated, but through a bizarro-world filter.

The Saheb (Shergill) is the floundering scion of a fading, erstwhile princely state, who dabbles in politics and construction work thuggery to keep afloat. His neglected Biwi (Gill), a hysterical alcoholic on a steady diet of anti-psychotics, haunts the crumbling haveli like a long-forgotten ghost. The Gangster (Hooda) is an amoral, opportunistic small-time crook, who worms his way into the Saheb’s world and then into the Biwi’s bed, and much betrayal and double-cross style mayhem ensues thereon. Is anyone sincere to anyone in this sordid tale? Or is it every man for himself? Just what propels these characters in their deeds – greed? Lust? Ego? All of the above?

SBG sets up some intriguing paths that the narrative weaves its way through, and director Dhulia clearly wants to shock and awe with the story’s rather goggle-eyed look at adultery and grimy political machinations. However, rather like Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti before it, SBG seems a tad too gleefully taken with its game of ‘Who’s a naughty boy then?’ to be really considered seriously. It so revels in its potential sleaze factor that it steadily loses focus as it progresses – whose story are we actually watching, we’re forced to enquire, and are we really supposed to care what happens to these people who seem to have little notion of their own motivations, as well as a gaping lack of self-awareness? There are certain narrative threads that are abandoned without explanation, while others are driven into overkill territory. One can surmise that the biggest problem underpinning all the flaws is that the film knows not what it wants to be when it grows up – gritty, realist drama, or seedy, filmi crime thriller? It meanders in-between the two and ends up shortchanging both. And it’s all the more frustrating because it’s plain to see that with a little bit of tweaking with the screenplay, this could’ve been powerful, heady stuff. There is some wonderful cinematography and brilliant use of colour in the compositions, as well as the generally strong performances from the cast. But SBG runs out of steam well before the finish line.

There is one hears, a sequel already in the works, so, if one may be so bold as to try and sum up the moral of this part of the tale so that they can work their way from here. Based on one’s reading of the none-too-stable romantic relationships of its principal characters, one would like to propound that, man or woman, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it’s probably a freakin’ sociopath who needs to be kept well away from one’s boudoir.

Cult: Maqbool – Vishal Bhardwaj does Macbeth, and Tabu gives good crazy as the scheming lady of the tale who develops a celebrated laundry issue.

Current: Not a Love Story – Ram Gopal Varma’s no-frills account of a tryst gone very, very bad.

Coming attraction: Department – This Salman-Ajay-Sanjay cop drama will attempt to straddle the realist/commercial divide in early 2012.

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