2005, NR, 124 min. Directed by Ram Gopal Varma. Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Supriya Pathak, Katrina Kaif, Tanisha, Zakir Husain.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 5, 2005
Like filmmakers all over the world, Bollywood's Varma has been influenced by The Godfather, and in an opening statement to Sarkar, he offers this new film in tribute to Coppola's masterpiece. Although Sarkar is an original story, its saga of a boss of the people who dispenses justice that might otherwise be denied has many similarities to The Godfather. Mostly this can be seen in the character development rather than the visual technique. Realistically set in the modern Mumbai (formerly Bombay) underworld, Sarkar differs from the Bollywood narrative pageants that pause for frequent song-and-dance numbers that we are more accustomed to seeing in the West. Indeed, the opening sequence of Sarkar reminds us of The Godfather, as we listen to a man ask Sarkar (Amitabh Bachchan) to avenge the death of his daughter who was raped and received no assistance from the legal system. Bachchan, a legendary actor of the Hindi screen, plays this Indian don with few words but great intensity. He is a man who works outside the system, dispensing goons to mete out justice while benevolently caring for his extended family. When he turns down a partnership with a drug dealer from Dubai, the plot thickens as his powerful enemies in the government and the underworld plot to bring him down. His son Shankar (played by Bachchan's real-life son Abhishek Bachchan) is the Michael Corleone of the story, having just returned from America and gradually stepping up to take the reins of leadership after his father is incapacitated in an assassination attempt. Countering this good son is Vishnu (Menon), the bad son, who starts off like hothead Sonny before turning into a simpering Fredo who is ultimately banned from the family home. Despite the film's promising start, Sarkar devolves due to some unnecessary plot lines and camera technique that emphasizes the extreme closeup as the camera cuts among various zooms into glowering stares. It's perhaps more of a music-video style than Coppola's grand opera, but it leaves the viewer wishing for more (or better) dialogue and greater character interaction. Most perturbing is the film's bombastic score, by Amar Mohile, which is heard nonstop throughout every scene. This is not background music; the loud orchestral and choral mix dominates every moment with a constant crescendo of excitement that wearies the viewer and contrasts sharply with the inner quietude of its lead characters. As Varma's handle on his characters grows increasingly scattered as the movie progresses, the music's bluster tries to compensate for the predictable drama. In India, Sarkar may hold enough resemblance to real-life public figures that audiences there will find resonances that escape stateside viewers, but American audiences are likely to find Sarkar an offer they can well refuse.