Class of 83 Review: Netflix Film Offers the Dangerous Idea of a Police Force Answerable to No One


Class of 83 Review: Netflix Film Offers the Dangerous Idea of a Police Force Answerable to No One

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Atul Sabharwal’s Class of 83, a Netflix India original that revolves around romanticising the efficiency of police encounters, opens with a disclaimer that suggests that the makers don’t actually endorse or promote any views and opinions in the film. I’ve always thought of these disclaimers as calculated cop-outs, like how Hindi biopics have now made it a habit of washing their hands off historical accuracy. But in this case, it feels downright tone-deaf: The movie comes out mere weeks after the Uttar Pradesh Police came under attack for what looked an awful lot like the extrajudicial killing of gangster Vikas Dubey.

Over the years, the link between Hindi movies and its glorification of police violence has been tenacious because it is immensely profitable. The tentpole movie of pre-pandemic summer would have been Rohit Shetty’s Sooryavanshi, yet another testosterone-fuelled justification of cop excesses.

But of late, as innumerable instances of police brutalities unfold across the country, blurring the distance between reel and real, there has been a renewed ask of accountability from our movies. You’d expect a movie bankrolled by Red Chillies, a production house run by one of the country’s biggest superstars and streaming on a platform reputed for taking a stand globally, to have gotten that memo. Turns out, not so much.

If there is something Bollywood loves more than living under a rock, it’s regurgitating a dull, vapid narrative of honest cops who seek redemption from a corrupt bureaucracy by choosing to bypass the law (“Sometimes to maintain order, one has to break the law,” a voiceover intones in the opening minutes of Class of 83). What is especially infuriating is that even in 2020, it is only these trite stories of lawlessness – and charged masculinity – that continue to attract Hindi filmmakers despite the world of resources they have at their disposal.

The link between Hindi movies and its glorification of police violence is tenacious because it is immensely profitable.

Every Hindi cop drama ever

Adapted from Hussain Zaidi’s eponymous novel, Class of 83 is a worthy addition to the genre of Netflix movies I like to call, “Someone actually thought commissioning this was a good idea.” To begin with, the source material is a fairly insipid affair and by extension, the film doesn’t end up being as menacing as it thinks it is. Like every Hindi cop drama, it posits the loopholes of the “system” as an excuse to justify the police force taking the law in their hands.

In one scene for instance, a cop warns gangsters that Mumbai Police will enter their homes and kill them and their boss, before getting bludgeoned to death. It’s a leaf straight out of Uri’s playbook but if the jingoism sounded ominous there, Class of 83 is too inept to even come across as dangerous.

Set in 1982 and spanning a decade, Class of 83 follows the inaugural batch of students at the Nashik Police Academy who are taught under the watchful presence of Dean Vijay Singh (Bobby Deol). Given that it is Deol, the posterboy of unfulfilled ambition playing the film’s protagonist, you can smell the tragic backstory from seven seas away. Singh, as we are told, used to once be the top police officer in Mumbai but soon became a victim of the nexus between politicians and gangsters. Being saddled with the job of dean at the academy was Singh’s punishment posting, a way to get him off the field so that he wouldn’t come in the way of the well-oiled machinery of police corruption.

To get back at the system and rid it of its ills, Singh devises a plan to manipulate it the same way gangsters deceive cops: He secretly trains the five lowest-performing students from the batch as lethal assassins, tasking them with hunting down the gangster and his right-hand men that he was chasing years ago. The only difference is that the law is no restriction, like it was for him.

Singh not only instructs them to take lives at will but also teaches them how to cover up their crimes and get away with them. In essence, the message that the film unwillingly “endorses” is this: The police force can only live up to its fullest potential when they have no one to answer to, which is an altogether scary proposition even in the realms of fiction.

Class of 83 is reduced to a series of disconnected montages of men trying to outsmart a host of other men.

A police force that is answerable to no one

For some reason, the elusive gangster in question is completely out of the picture, appearing only in the film’s last 20 minutes, making most of the chase an inherently one-sided, low-stakes affair. It’s also utterly generic, and Sabharwal is clearly out of his depth here, unable to conjure up either a good story or sustain the viewer’s interest.

There’s a blatant lack of both urgency and inventiveness to the proceedings: the filmmaking is terribly on-the-nose (all dialogue is basically used for characters to vomit out unnecessary information) and Abhijeet Deshpande’s screenplay is half-baked. Ultimately, Class of 83 is reduced to a series of disconnected montages of men trying to outsmart a host of other men.

Yet even then, the most glaring incompetence of Class of 83 is that this is a horribly miscast film. In a moving sign of unity, the entire cast collectively passes off glaring way too much in scene after scene as acting. There is more life to a half-smoked cigarette that has been preserved for eight years in the film than there is to Deol. As is the case with every crime drama with a righteous, tortured cop at the centre, Deol’s Vijay Singh is marked by familial tragedy: he has a dead wife and a resentful son to boot.

It’s not entirely clear what disease Singh’s wife dies from in the film but given Deol’s detached performance, it might not be wrong to assume that it could have been from sheer boredom. There is one silver lining though: Deol does get to break his own record of “Most minutes gone without a single expression”.