Sunday, March 10, 2013

Saheb, Biwi & Gangster Returns [dir. Tigmanshu Dhulia]

I approached Saheb, Biwi & Gangster Returns (SBGR) with trepidation. Its predecessor, 2011's SBG (no returns) was one of the best Hindi films of that year, and the story, one that to mine eye stands tall with the classics of film noir, ended on the perfect note. How would the sequel take it ahead from there? Would it be an only slightly freshened up rehash...or worse, an abomination that tarnishes one's memories of the original?

I am happy to note that SBGR comes through rather nicely on the whole. Which is not to say that everything is perfect; in fact, in the early stages the things that go wrong come to the fore. SBG had a moody...sometimes almost doom-y background score that fitted beautifully into the film. Returns blasts your eardrums with shrill wails and plonks that could have come out of any of Ram Gopal Varma's recent films. A haggard looking Irrfan Khan is utterly miscast, giving us his standard mumble-core act in a role that calls for a significantly more virile and emotional presence. I imagine someone like Arunoday Singh (Yeh Saali Zindagi) or Abhimanyu Singh (Gulaal, Raktacharitra - I) would have worked wonders with this part. The only likely reason for him to be there is name value. Also, in the first act, there are some rather out-of-place cheap laugh sequences (including one where the minister is caught watching a porn film while talking to a journalist, d-uh) and the plot seems unwieldy with many new characters and sub-plots that go all over the place. But give it a bit of your patience (only a bit, because even when the plot is chaotic, it is interesting enough to sit through) and the film steadily gains legs. It is in the second act that the script and Dhulia's direction consistently hit the high notes. If the first film was textbook noir, this one is from the William Shakespeare meets Mario Puzo school of preposterous and entertaining story-telling, and unlike the pretentious fappery that was Gangs of Wasseypur - I, gives you a complete epic narrative in a reasonable running time.

Once again Jimmy Shergill, in one of the criminally few roles that give him acting scope, brilliantly captures the character of the decadent Saheb. It is also fantastic the way Dhulia's script manipulates the audience's view of Saheb, portraying him now as a manipulative villain, now as an embattled fighter. Mahie Gill as Biwi is a little shaky at first (and I'm not referring to just her tipsiness), but pulls out some pleasingly strong moments later on, and Soha Khan does well in her part. Irrfan's Gangster is the sore thumb in an otherwise solid ensemble cast, his interaction with Biwi completely missing the chemistry of the corresponding relation from the previous film. It is really hard to understand why the Biwi feels any attraction to this cold fish, even given her sexual frustrations.

All things considered, this is a surprisingly strong sequel that has to be seen if you liked the original and even in general if you care for a sprawling high-voltage drama of passions and betrayals. Thumbs up.

P.S. I saw the film at Eros, which is one of the old-school single-screen cinemas, but the projection seemed digital. The contrast looked milky and night scenes suffered a lot. I'm hoping this is a problem with the projection and not with the color timing of the film itself.


  1. Finally saw this last night and was quite disappointed. So many unnecessary characters, an uneven script, annoying background score and jimmy shergill and mahie gill seemed to be in auto pilot, just rehashing their previous roles. Shergill was much better in Special 26 in a much smaller role. Overall a very frstrating watch although the good just about managed to balance out the bad and silly.