There is a scene in the film where Randeep Hooda, who plays an ambitious gangster Babloo, tells his silent lover (Deepal Shaw), “Soon this haveli will be abuzz with ek tha raja, ek thi rani kind of stories.” The line sums up the tone of this Tigmanshu Dhulia's novel attempt. It pans out as the Hindi pulp fiction found on the wheelers at railway stations.
Capturing the decadent scene behind those crumbling palaces of North India, Dhulia weaves a tale of love, lust, intrigue and betrayal paying tribute to Guru Dutt's Sahib Bibwi Aur Ghulam in the process. Dhulia unabashedly says what Dutt suggested in hushed tones, between the lines.
It is not as seamless as it should be but provides enough snapshots to keep you hooked on the turbulent world of a raja, who is fast losing his royalty but not his licentious ways, a hysterical rani, whose mood and tastes swing like a pendulum, and an upstart who sees an opportunity amidst the turbulence as he is planted by Sahib's rival (Vipin Sharma) as a chauffeur.
Supple characterisation has been Dhulia's strength and here again he carves protagonists you can touch and feel. Sahib is trying to salvage the façade by cornering government contracts by hook or crook. He ignores his frenzied wife and finds comfort in the arms of his mistress, who tries to exploit the situation. Sahib knows his father committed the same mistake and the pain shows when he has to beg in front of his step-mother to maintain his regal lifestyle but still can't stop himself. Is it a tradition? He has political ambitions but the ground rules have changed. The local politician, who has become minister because of Sahib's support sounds obedient but doesn't take Sahib seriously. In fact he is plotting with Sahib's rival, who seems to be a product of social churning that happened in the cow belt in the ‘90s. Sahib's coterie is shrinking. Should he stoop to their level?
The ignored rani falls for the rakish ways of the chauffeur, who is eager to bite off more than he can chew. His sinister plan can blow the lid off the rani's well-preserved image outside the walls of the palace. It gives the film the tone of a thriller as you don't know whose secret will tumble out first.
A master at creating moments, Dhulia's writing is dipped in wit and the repartees are laced with subtle comments on the changing times and human behaviour. Take the scene where when the rani tells Babloo that only the faithful are allowed to stay inside the palace. Babloo asks, “Are you faithful?”
Dhulia made us see a new Jimmy in Haasil and here again he shows us his unexplored side as Sahib. The underrated Randeep once again proves his worth, but Mahie Gill as the mercurial rani takes time to get into the act. Mahie operates in a territory which once belonged to Tabu but she doesn't have the range to evolve seamlessly through the course of the film. The music is disappointing. Dhulia takes convenient way-outs of tricky situations. As always, he gets carried away after setting the scene, and the summing up process becomes cumbersome. Still a satisfying experience!
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Cast: Jimmy Sheirgill, Randeep Hooda, Mahie Gill
Storyline: A modern day version of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam
Bottomline: A royal treat where the desserts are a bit disappointing