Sarkar 3 and the Death of an Icon

Pop Culture

Sarkar 3 and the Death of an Icon

Illustration: Akshita Monga

In 2005, Ram Gopal Varma went against conventional wisdom of remaking a seminal film and pulled off the unthinkable: A searing adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. Not only did he succeed at indigenising the magic of the classic, RGV also displayed his superiority as an astute filmmaker by layering his Indian adaptation with a distinctly relevant political angle.

In the film, Amitabh Bachchan played the eponymous Sarkar, bringing to life an influential figure working above the law in the world of both politics and the criminal underworld. Subhash Nagre was modelled on Don Vito Corleone, but his iconic status came from the real-life undertones that RGV wrote into the character: Bachchan played a thinly veiled version of Bal Thackeray.

All it took was 12 years and two sequels to shatter the idol.

As Subhash “Sarkar” Nagre, the ageing patriarch, Bachchan brought equal parts vulnerability and intimidation to his performance, looking every bit like the spitting image of Bal Thackeray with his contrasting white beard, the saffron tikka, rudraksh beads, and flowy black robes. Like, Thackeray, Subhash Nagre too ran a parallel government.

Both The Godfather and Sarkar opened with a similar scene of a helpless father asking the patriarch to punish the men responsible for raping his daughter. In Sarkar, Subhash Nagre immediately orders his goons to beat up the rapists, setting the tone for his character. “Mujhe jo sahi lagta hai main karta hoon… woh chahe bhagwan ke khilaaf ho, samaj ke khilaaf ho, police, kanoon ya phir poore system ke khilaaf kyun na ho,” echoes Sarkar, amidst musical chants of “Govinda, Govinda, Govinda” (a reference to Lord Vishnu, the protector). You’re transfixed, watching the deadly overlord rule undisputed.

Subhash Nagre isn’t merely a Mafioso with political power; he is an idea, a man whose unpredictability and notion of mob justice kept you on edge throughout the film. Of course, all of this was amplified by the film’s dark colour palette, amid which, Sarkar’s ruthless eyes do the talking. The steady close-up shots of the patriarch instantly evoked fear and the background music heightened the mood.

There are zero layers to the character and we are fed no new information about Subhash Nagre, whose every move is predictable.

The Subhash Nagre we meet in Sarkar 3 may be deadly, but he is no longer able to hold the weight of his character, falling prey to a severe case of sequelitis. The movie is the pinnacle of trademark RGV-grade filmmaking. Think random thigh shots, Jackie Shroff hanging out with a girl clad in a bikini feeding dolphins, a wasted ensemble cast, bizarre camera angles and inexplicable shots of animal figurines thrown throughout the film.

Subhash Nagre is a shadow of the man he used to be. He still calls the shots, but RGV’s obsession with making him win at any cost ensures that he is given no worthy opponent or a semblance of a plot. The movie’s reliance on the usual dark shots of a glaring Bachchan don’t seem as novel as they did 12 years ago: Now they are just grating. The shots get darker, and the proceedings progressively sillier.

It is as if Bachchan’s character has received no directorial update. He still refuses to participate in an illegal business deal, just like the first film, resulting in his enemies conspiring against him. He is still protecting his turf, except this time, he’s aided by his grandson Sivaji Nagre instead of his son. What’s worse than a film “inspired” by an international one? One that looks to its own prequels for inspiration. Storyline and themes are repeated generously, giving Sarkar 3 no reason to exist. There are zero layers to the character and we are fed no new information about Subhash Nagre, whose every move is predictable. The complex underbelly of politics is reduced to bland exchanges with clichéd one-liners and random gunfights that result in characters dropping dead the very moment they start getting interesting.

What is most galling perhaps, is that the movie’s conflicts fail to be relevant to its setting. Sarkar 3 is set in modern-day Mumbai, but by the looks of it, it might as well be 10 years ago.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Richard Linklater’s series of Before Sunrise films that are set years apart (although, not to compare the two filmmakers.) The trilogy revolves around Jesse and Celine, but during different stages of their life. We know everything about these two characters, and yet with every film, we learn something new about them, see them handling challenges they had not the last time around. The beauty of this well-loved trilogy lies not merely in the lovely conversations and the consistency of the narrative, but in the layers that a viewer gets to unravel in the two protagonists.

By contrast, the only consistent thing about Sarkar is that we see him sipping tea in all the three iterations of the film. In Sarkar 3 <spoiler alert> RGV ensures that there is no way Subhash Nagre gets to live. And with it, he takes away the memory of an iconic character.