Saheb Biwi aur Sanju Baba: The Death of a Franchise


Saheb Biwi aur Sanju Baba: The Death of a Franchise

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Back in 2011, Tigmanshu Dhulia pulled off an unlikely coup by reimagining Albar Alvi’s Saheb Biwi aur Ghulam into an amoral modern universe.

In Saheb Biwi aur Gangster, Dhulia introduced a perverse hinterland replete with sharp socio-political commentary where power hungry ex-royals shamelessly manipulated each other in order to adapt in a world constantly scheming against them. For more reasons than one, the film felt, looked, and behaved like a DIY desi-bred Game of Thrones. Headlined by the cold-hearted Saheb (a compelling Jimmy Sheirgill) and his toxic relationship with the equally ambitious Biwi (Mahi Gill), the film garnered a unique potency. We’re sad to report, though, that the third installment mercilessly robs the franchise of this very novelty.

Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster 3, the weakest and most bizarre film of the franchise, comes five years after Saheb Biwi aur Gangster Returns and picks up from where the earlier film left off. It starts off with Sheirgill’s Aditya Pratap Singh serving his sentence in jail (for killing a gangster from the earlier film). His wife, Madhavi, on the other hand, enjoys her freedom and clout in politics as a Member of Parliament, determined to keep her loving husband behind bars. But the films are so used to feeding off the couple outwitting each other, that Singh soon finds himself out of jail and in the same frame as her.

What it fails to do, is build on their mechanical partnership and Singh’s innate masculinity and entitlement. It barely brushes the surface of what could be a complex study of the depths supposed royals can fall to. Instead, it chooses to be an unabashed Sanjay Dutt celebration, even though it wasn’t directed by Rajkumar Hirani. But that doesn’t deter Dhulia, who takes it upon himself to readily contribute to the great Indian season of “It’s all about loving Sanju Baba”.

We get to learn very little about why the deeply flawed characters behave the way they do.

Dutt plays Uday Pratap Singh, the proverbial “Gangster” of this film. Staying true to Dutt’s reputation, Dhulia goes out of his way to paint him as an exiled gangster with a “heart of gold” who’s happened to make some “bad choices”. Unlike the earlier films (where the gangsters were essayed menacingly by Randeep Hooda and Irrfan Khan), Dutt’s gangster in this installment isn’t just another player – he’s the star. Every other character in this overpopulated film exists only as mere showpieces.

The film opens with Uday killing it at Russian Roulette at a dingy London club. He owns a club called “House of Lords” and establishes his ferociousness by telling us that he enjoys a reputation of being the undisputed pro at Russian Roulette. The deadly game of chance is apparently also a family legacy. At this point, he’s less gangster, and more board-game addict. But to remind us of Uday’s gangster status, Dhulia gifts us a totally original accompanying background score that goes “He’s the Baba” everytime he comes on screen.

All of this would have been a lot more effective had the actor not looked disinterested and tired. It’s hard to digest that Dutt’s ambitions are anything other than getting six months of uninterrupted sleep.

But Saheb Biwi aur Gangster 3 remains oblivious to Dutt’s incompetence and hence wastes away much of its 140-minute-long runtime in straying away from its true essence. We get to learn very little about why the deeply flawed characters behave the way they do. And as a result, the film ends up being a needless, long-drawn exercise of characters plotting against each other because they had nothing better to do.

A bunch of completely irrelevant characters, including a glaring Kabir Bedi, an angry Deepak Tijori, and a wasted Chitrangada Singh are created to justify Uday’s motives. And when the film is not busy killing off women or making them look helpless, it’s busy parodying its own franchise. Even Aditya and Madhavi’s crackling chemistry can’t help this ship from sinking.