Cast: Jimmy Sheirgill, Sanjay Dutt, Mahi Gill, Chitrangda Singh, Kabir Bedi, Deepak Tijori
Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster universe, at least in context of Hindi cinema, is a unique one. It’s a rare movie franchise without a genre – a dramatized portrait of outdated Indian royals who will stop at nothing to feel relevant again. You could say it’s a Hate Story (or even Love Games) with decent actors set in the exotic power-play courtyard of Dhadak’s Ashutosh Rana. Or, in its better moments, a twisted Mr. & Mrs. Smith or House of Cards remake that fetishizes the concept of a dysfunctional marriage. Either way, with actors like Jimmy Sheirgill and Mahi Gill invariably in top form, Dhulia has no business making this into such a forgettable series.
He had the opportunity to turn the theme – an adulterous Saheb and his adulterous Biwi consuming every Gangster and commoner in their wake – into a clever figure of speech for toxic romance and staged companionship. Or even a metaphor for the decay of monarchist traditionalism. But thrice in a row now, we’ve only been left with visions of what could have been. You can sense from his disjointed, reductive filmmaking that Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3, like the prequels, isn’t a zero-genre film; it’s a greedy all-genre film, in which the plot changes mood, tone and track faster than Chelsea changes managers.
For those who haven’t seen the first two films, it might be difficult to fully grasp the perverse chemistry and banter of this couple
Speaking about Chelsea, the film opens with a blue-blooded but banished man named Uday Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt) earning a fortune by winning deadly games of Russian Roulette in shady London basements. Dutt, quite clearly, will be the ‘gangster’ here – following in the doomed footsteps of Randeep Hooda and Irrfan Khan. He owns a nightclub named ‘The House of Lords,’ and revels in his reputation as an Indian royal with a mean streak in Great Britain. Reputation, meanwhile, is the center of an imprisoned Saheb’s (Shergill, continuing as Aditya Pratap Singh) lost world.
At this point, it’s obvious that Dhulia actually expects viewers of this film to be very familiar with the lethal legacy of his two protagonists – Saheb, and his famously unreliable wife, Madhavi Devi (Mahi Gill), who has since used all her political acumen to keep her ‘criminal’ husband in jail. Things get fairly interesting when he gets out, and once they must share space in the grand haveli that has seen them bury many sins. She is a sly pussycat, he is a wounded tiger – Gill and Sher-gill. For those who haven’t seen the first two films, it might be difficult to fully grasp the perverse chemistry and banter of this couple. To ensure that Dutt isn’t occupying a different Sanjay Gupta film altogether, the script deports him to India for killing an important white man – never mind that he had been established as a Godfather of sorts, a man beyond the law. Suddenly he is made into yet another disillusioned immigrant, because his universe must collide with that of the couple.
Tigmanshu Dhulia has always had interesting ideas and novel setups, but his execution is so bereft of pacing and touch that it’s hard to identify any other working filmmaker with such an awkward skillset
He quickly divorces his wife, abandons his kid (we are assured that the daughter is insensitive, because her door is closed when her father returns home from work), and returns back to India to his long-waiting ‘mistress’ (a strange-looking Chitrangada Singh). And his resentful family – I can imagine why Nafisa Ali, as the sweet mother, is mentally ill, given that she has to occupy the same palace as two legitimate villains such as Kabir Bedi and Deepak Tijori. It’s no surprise that Uday is murderous, too; it’s not just because he is a master of a deadly game that might have been Putin’s favourite childhood sport.
Dhulia writes better than he directs. He has always had interesting ideas and novel setups, but his execution is so bereft of pacing and touch that it’s hard to identify any other working filmmaker with such an awkward skillset. For example, he seems to excel at crowd-pleasing one-liners, but only if there are not more than two characters in the frame. As a result, the scenes between Aditya and Madhavi, and even more so between Aditya and Uday, have their own little sub-narrative. He makes the two men kindred souls – rejected by society, bereft of status, and compromising on their ideals for a second chance.
The longer a scene is, the more abruptly it ends. The shorter it is, the more clueless its timing becomes
But Dhulia’s version of indulgence is very different from someone like Anurag Kashyap’s – there is no rhythm, because the sense of aesthetics is skewed. The longer a scene is, the more abruptly it ends. The shorter it is, the more clueless its timing becomes. He is awful at stringing moments together to suggest the continuity of emotion – songs randomly fill spaces, the background score sounds like someone sat on one of those old portable casio keyboards, and a repulsively stylish track called ‘Aaya Tera Baap’ plays to depict Uday’s allegedly ruthless personality. In short, Dhulia is prone to lazy, uncultured storytelling. It contrives to accommodate characters that alter their motives and temperaments according the “entertainment value” of each scene.
If only this series had revolved around some deliciously convoluted method to eliminate real gangsters – imagine Saheb and Biwi’s mind games as a warped brand of social vigilantism. If a criminal can’t be rehabilitated, simply throw him into their clutches. But alas, this country will run out of figurative gangsters before an Indian couple acknowledges divorce as a solution.