Worth a watch

An unconventional revenge story that relies less on drama and more on texture, Anurag Kashyap’s most ambitious project is like a two course meal laced with sattu and litti chokha. As you are treated to the first course, you take time to get used to the Bihari flavour and the convoluted storyline but once you get the bite it is literally a minefield worth digging into.

It is ambitious because Kashyap is not just fixated to the life and times of a hero or antihero. Sardar Khan is his pivot but his expansive canvas explores the rise of mafia in the country. No, it was not in chawls of Mumbai, it was in the coal mines of Dhanbad where the underworld first spawned. That he is not going to keep it larger than life or treat it in the way we are trained to watch revenge sagas becomes metaphorically clear in the opening sequence itself when the camera keeps moving away from the extreme close up of a TV set showing a welcoming Smriti Irani in “Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi”. He is pulling us out to the realistic world where Qureshis and Khans are engaged in a bloody battle for control of the mafia business for years.

They are the ones who run the mines for their foreign, corporate or political masters depending on the era. Kashyap unhurriedly captures all the nitty gritty through a voice over before settling to tell the tale of Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) whose father Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat) is killed by contractor Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia makes an assured debut), when he comes to know about his designs to topple him. Sardar survives to take revenge but he is in no rush to eliminate Singh, who in the meantime, grows to become an influential politician. Sardar wants to crush him bit by bit as retribution is just the backdrop for Kashyap, actually he wants to humanise his criminal characters and give us a social commentary on the times with all the colour at his command. The shift of mafia from coal to scrap to controlling fish ponds is worth pondering over. The way Singh’s wife treats Qureshis in a separate set of cutlery captures the caste dimensions. The scene where Sardar’s gutsy wife Nagma (Richa Chadda) teaches her son the tricks of the family trade stands out as Kashyap neatly captures how crime flows through generations.

The music (Sneha Khanwalkar and Piyush Mishra) adds to the subtext with Mishra’s “Ik Bagal mein chaand hoga, Ik bagal mein rotiyan” setting the pace. Be it the risqué language or the ribald moments, Kashyap doesn’t hold back on the entertainment value without losing sight of his core concerns. You won’t easily forget the scene where Sardar uses the promotion of “Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki” to threaten Singh or the marriage party where Yashpal Sharma sings “Salam e Ishq meri Jaan” in falsetto or for that matter the scene where his younger son Fazal (Nawazuddin shows signs of brilliance and his character will bloom in the second part ) tries to reach out to his love interest.

Kashyap doffs his hat to the masters of the period by hinting at sub plots (like the villain making use of family fracas) which used to form the backbone of the revenge dramas of the 70s but that doesn’t mean that he shape his Sardar just as a patronising personality in control of situation. He is a lustful man who has no control over his desire for flesh. When Nagma is facing police atrocities, he is busy seducing another woman Durga (Reema Sen). Manoj ensures that every nuance gets its value. Take the scene where he tries to woo Durga at the hand pump; it is an actor diminishing into the character. But it is Richa who has given a dynamite of a performance in an author-backed role. She ekes out Sardar from a brothel but when she figures out that he is an animal, she feeds him to perform in his ‘chosen’ field.

However, after a point the snapshots refuse to lead into something wholesome as our trained eye starts looking for solutions, asking questions like Singh is still alive after more than two hours. And when Sardar takes several minutes to fall after being hit by a bullet, it starts to appear as more of a work of indulgent novelist rather than a filmmaker who works within a time limit but when Kashyap offers the highlights of the second part, one gets drawn to the gangs all over again.

Genre: Crime drama

Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Richa Chadda, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Reema Sen, Huma Qureshi, Jaideep Ahlawat

Plot: A tale of revenge set against the backdrop of coal mafia.

Bottomline: Don’t allow your expectations to assume epical proportions and you will return rewarded!