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Ajay Devgan and Manisha Koirala in "Company"... comes with a message all right.

IT IS almost like a mirror — there is no patina over the next two and half hours. It is direct, matter-of-fact and other than the fact that the approach has been recreated with such intelligence that it makes "Company" almost like an image-faithfully reflecting the life and doings of the shadowy world called ``the underworld" particularly accentuated in a city like Bombay. At this point, however, one is tempted to quote the most clichéd of phrases — art imitates life. But it throws up some questions. Do such films, however beautifully made, not give gangsters a larger than life image (glorify even) their sophistication and reach notwithstanding? And the police force just cannot seem to be effective, their talent and enterprise notwithstanding. And is justice itself, in that scenario, subjective? And then of course one has to deal with the director's claim for depiction of reality, art for art's sake and so on! Where do you draw the line?

"Company" (a Boney Kapoor Presentation, a Vyjayanti Movies/Varma Corporation Production) cannot be viewed as just another film. It makes you think about the existence of a world that is infested with sad stories, of people being sucked into something quite beyond their control, the motivating factor of big bucks in a world filled with deprivation, and of a ride, as they say, on a tiger once you get on, there is no getting off!

When "Satya" came, it showed a world with shocking grimness. "Company" carries it further to shores beyond Bombay. The struggle for supremacy, which was contained in "Satya" to a smaller world, now reaches the high seat of power and where gangsters are not dirty, sullen looking goondas, but cool, sophisticated and savvy criminals on many fronts!

To say that Ram Gopal Varma the director is obsessed with the underworld and gangsters is probably a mild exaggeration — but then his best has been seen in films like "Satya" and now ``Company" so that one does not ignore his preoccupation with it. His work borders on the brilliant — one cannot help admiring his mastery over the craft, one also wonders why he cannot use such creativity to depict other socio-economic issues that could make a huge impact? As a story (actually more of a recounting of events) (written by Jaideep Sahni), ``Company" is an extension of "Satya" without too much of the drama. Though the film starts off with the mandatory stricture that all characters are fictional... it is widely understood that it is based on the D-Company and the rivalry between Dawood Ibrahim and Chota Rajan. Chota Rajan was Dawood's most trusted lieutenant but fell out, not without disastrous consequences. Corporate structure exists in every sphere of human activity, whether it is a political party or an underworld gang. And so, ``Company" is formed — it employs people, conducts business and makes profits. It is a company whose business is crime - that makes inroads into every area - its partnership with the film industry as well - a place where you can join when you need money desperately but never time off - an organisation that knows no borders and no accountability - a company that uses countries as offices and distances as protection, phones, mobiles especially, to control — a place where brotherhood is maintained as long as you live by the iron rules and where fear is the predominant emotion, and where there are no bouquets only obituaries.

This is the world of Malik (Ajay Devgan) and Chandu-Chandrakant Nagare (Vivek Oberoi) and a host of others such as Saroja (Manisha Koirala), Malik's girlfriend; Kannu (Antara Mali) Chandu's beautiful, if distraught, wife; Srinivasan (Mohan Lal), and a Mumbai police officer. Chandu joins Malik in his attempt to overcome his poverty and rises (once saving Malik's life) to become his righthand, trusted and given responsibilities. As in all organisations jealousy and one-upmanship drive the wedge slowly and insidiously till suspicion takes over and friends part ways. The rift takes its toll down the line. The Mumbai police does its best with Srinivasan at the helm — they win the battle but not the war. Reason? It is deep-rooted. It is a bit confusing and also unnerving that crime could be so organised and far-reaching. But as it progresses the director moves on to a narrative that is fast paced but long-drawn out. The frames (camera, Hemant Chaturvedi) thrive on the sense of realism and the colours capture the gore, dust and highways of the crime world effectively. The music (Sandeep Chowta) seems haphazard and at times drowns conversation. This, however, could be because of the way it has been mixed! Again, one is reminded of the beautiful score of ``Satya." One of the songs, literally an item number (khallas), is on the countdown charts but has hardly any bearing on the general scheme of things!

Ajay Devgan is outstanding — his demeanour and silent communication are of a kind not seen in a long while. For Vivek, it is a dream debut. It will not be easy for him to find another role to match this. Mohan Lal, complete with his accent, is delightfully effective, his role being inspired by the real life cop, Sivanandan. Manisha is there, but like a silent song — seen but not heard too well. While Antara Mali transforms from the ghati to someone at ease with the good things in life. She does well. The two lend a human touch to the seemingly inhuman life of the gangsters. They accept their men as gangsters or bhai without any moral contradictions and Chandu's mother (played by Seema Biswas) does not mouth platitudes about morality and honestly, even after knowing what her son does. Also in the crowd is Vijay Raaz (who plays the wedding contractor in ``Monsoon Wedding") - he shows up fiercely in the climax.

So, should you see this film? Yes, because at the end of it all you are told that a life of crime simply does not pay! And that is message enough!


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