When the climax of the first film in your series packs the punch that Sarkar’s ending did in 2005, be aware that each sequel is a potential victim of the “can it throw up a surprise to match that one?” syndrome. Chances are, viewers have spent your entire film guessing 10 likely twists in the finale. The only way you can live up to expectations then, is to think up an 11th option no one else could possibly envision.
Director Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar 3, the follow-up to 2008’s Sarkar Raj, has a decent enough conclusion – not breathtaking, not astonishing as a whole, but with at least one unexpected touch that helps it pull through. The film is pulled down by another symptom of sequelitis though: fatigue. Varma tries hard to conjure up the same intimidating atmosphere here that he created in Sarkar and Sarkar Raj, but his direction lacks zest, the writing by P Jayakumar lacks depth and the film ends up looking like a tired effort to cash in on the success of its precursors.
What happens then in the closing minutes of Sarkar 3 matters less than it otherwise might have, because of the soporific effects of the preceding two hours. Amitabh Bachchan returns in Sarkar 3 as the Godfather-like Maharashtra gangster-politician Subhash Nagre, known to everyone as Sarkar. Nagre continues to be loved by the masses yet misunderstood by many who assume that he fakes altruism to front his underworld activities. With his sons Shankar and Vishnu gone and his wife (played by Supriya Pathak) bedridden, Nagre leans heavily on his loyal lieutenant Gokul Satam (Ronit Roy). Enter: Shivaji Nagre (Amit Sadh), the son of Vishnu who, you will recall, was killed in the first film by Shankar.
Shivaji wants to join his granddad’s business, but his arrival on the scene leads to tension within the gang, making them vulnerable to manipulation by Nagre’s rivals. Who is truly committed to Sarkar? Who is pretending? These are the questions the film throws our way as it rolls along.
It has been nine years since the release of Sarkar Raj. In that film, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Anita appeared to take over the reins of Sarkar’s empire, if not fully then at least in part. She is nowhere on the scene in Sarkar 3. While this could be because the actress has made herself unavailable, that is no excuse for why the screenplay does not bother to explain the character’s absence, considering how crucial she was in Sarkar Raj. If you want an example of how dispensable women – artistes and fictional characters – are considered in Bollywood series, you have it here. Repeated references are made to Vishnu and Shankar in Sarkar 3, but there is no mention of Anita, the bosswoman who might have been.
This is the least of the film’s failings though. The fact is the storyline has little by way of excitement, and frankly, it is natural to wonder why Sarkar 3 was made at all. The first half hour is promising because potentially interesting characters are introduced – in particular, the self-righteous neta Govind Deshpande played by Manoj Bajpayee – and you wonder where they will take the plot. Soon though, boredom sets in.
The novelty of hearing Bachchan speak in that gravelly-voiced rumble is now past. The clash between Deshpande and Nagre turns out to be a damp squib. And the bombastic conversations written by Ram Kumar Singh are poor cousins of the seeti-worthy dialoguebaazi we Bollywood buffs have grown up on – you can either go the natural way, as many films have since the 1990s, or go the whole hog in the opposite direction to revive memories of grandiose 1970s-’80s Hindi cinema that Bachchan was so much a part of. Sarkar 3 tries to be the latter, but cannot pull it off.
Bachchan is one of the many cast members lost to this film’s unimaginative writing. The veteran has nothing new to offer in Sarkar 3, coming up with a performance he may well have delivered with his eyes closed. Bajpayee, still fresh from his brilliance in Aligarh (2016), is completely wasted here. Jackie Shroff as a Dubai-based gangster is a bit of a joke, participating in Sarkar 3’s many leery scenes featuring what seems like double entendre aimed at the breasts of his bikini-clad moll. Sadh has been remarkable in some of his previous films, most notably Abhishek Kapoor’s buddy flick Kai Po Che (2013) and in a small role in the unfortunately little-known Maximum (2012). He tries to infuse life into Shivaji Nagre, but cannot do much in the face of dull penmanship.
Another promising young artiste who suffers similarly is Yami Gautam playing Shivaji’s girlfriend Anu, one of Sarkar 3’s many cursorily written characters. With little meat for her to sink her teeth into, our takeaway of Anu from the film is Gautam’s beauty, nothing more. The politics of the underworld – or the overworld for that matter – in any country, state or city is always rich material for a good writer. India today is as fascinating as when RGV gave us his fabulous Siva (Telugu, 1989), Shiva (its Hindi remake in 1991), Satya (Hindi, 1998) and Company (Hindi, 2002). There are so many hooks that Sarkar 3 could have pegged itself on, not the least of them being a fellow called Deven Gandhi (Bajrang Bali Singh) who is no Gandhiji, although one character – quite amusingly – does refer to him as such. It required a greater talent to carry that forward.
This is not to say that Sarkar 3 is insufferable. It is not. It is certainly a far cry from Ramu’s worst, which remains Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag (2007). The problem is that we have seen this man’s best. And his best was such bloody darned genius, that it is hard not to be pained by the ordinariness that has been the hallmark of so many of his films in the past decade. Sadly, Sarkar 3 too is lacklustre and ordinary. Coming from the House of Ram Gopal Varma, in some ways that counts as worse than being bad.