The man who once rose above the ordinary to explore the underworld through films such as Satya and Company has now sunk to the depths and hit a new low with Department. Now, underworld just refers to the angles Ram Gopal Varma's voyeuristic cameras will capture, often aimed literally below the belt.
It's high time the filmmaker struggling with form realised that this nauseatingly gimmicky camerawork he has been afflicted with in his last few films distracts from the story. Department looks like it was shot with mobile phones by Snow White's seven friends during different stages of their drunken revelry.
Here's a list of techniques that Department uses to tell its story of encounter cops who run around town shooting gangsters, working for different gangs themselves.
1. The RGV signature underworld shot (Front): There's just one place where stitches from four different directions meet in any pair of jeans. When you find this region in the centre of the frame, you know you're watching RGV's current obsession: a denim clad underworld. But yes, it's when it becomes a dhoti-clad underworld that it gets a little disturbing.
2. The RGV signature underworld shot (Back): This is quite a textbook approach to shot-taking. The camera must frame in close-up the subject that's doing all the talking. Simply put, back pockets that fund films like these. Also, because in most cases, they are more expressive than facial movements of the actors. Barring Bachchan Senior who as always saves up his best for Varma and Vijay Raaz, the rest of the cast seem to be modelling for jeans. Except Nathalia Kaur, who couldn't find a pair and had to be carried out of frame after an item number by lucky extras.
3. Ants in the pants: This shot involves tracking the movement of imaginary ants. Start from the ankle and slowly follow the ant all the way up. This shot is used to suggest impending danger and is employed for building tension during conversations that are far from exciting.
4. Under the nose: This involves capturing the nasal cavity at the centre of the frame and suggests that things are happening right under the character's nose. A flaring nostril as seen by the world under conveys anger.
5. Tongue in cheek angle: True to its name, this extreme close-up of an actor involves the actor opening his/her mouth to show the other that they still have their tongue in cheek — this is also sometimes used as innuendo.
6. Chaai-Paani: Tea is the national drink of the film business and for long has gone unsung. To cut down on tea and water breaks, RGV has now made it mandatory that tea or water will be served to all actors in the middle of the take.
7. Clean & Dirty: Having been criticised for showing grungy, dirty gangsters, this time around RGV has also decided to show us another side never seen before. We see them bathing. While newcomers Madhu Shalini and Abhimanyu Singh share a bath-tub, their boss Vijay Raaz scrubs himself in front of other gang members. Community bathing.
8. The Finger: The only way we know gangsters are angry is when they point fingers at each other animatedly. It's a unique way of showing the audience the finger as the most deadly weapon of expression.
9. Striking Visuals: This shot helps to counter criticism and establish once and for all that the film did have at least a couple of striking visuals. Follow the striker on a carrom board. Simple.
10. Keeping it Real: Given all that loud animated swearing and gun-fights used in gangster films, it becomes all the more mandatory for the camera to capture slice-of-life realism. If a character is scratching an itch, it could be employed as a metaphor for an irritant in the underworld.
Occasionally, when the camera isn't moving, there are a couple of genuinely interesting moments (like the joke about the difference between ‘Illegally legal and legally illegal”) but this exploration of morality and right and wrong is lost somewhere in between all those tasteless camera angles, pointless chases, endless shootouts, needless songs and brainless slow-mos.
RGV, please fire your camera Department. And Editing as well.
Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Rana Daggubatti, Vijay Raaz, Abhimanyu Singh, Lakshmi Manchu, Anjana Sukhani, Madhu Shalini
Storyline: A young trigger-happy dutiful cop is torn between his loyalty to the department and his senior — a crooked cop.
Bottomline: A weak, loud companion piece to the subtle, sublime Company