Country: India (2005)
Review by: Charlie Prince
Chances are you need to pay closer attention to Indian cinema, especially if you like gangster films. Yes, I know, the epic-length masala movies are cheeseball, and you either develop a taste for them or you don’t, but there’s a new wave of Indian filmmakers that have moved in a different direction, pumping out shorter, focused, and at times gritty movies – increasingly without a song or dance in sight. My hero in this new wave is Ram Gopal Varma, whose films Satya and Company I’d count among my favorite films of all time (I ranked Company slightly ahead of Korean film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance as my favorite film of 2002). When I heard a prequel, D, had been released, but that it wasn’t directed by Ram Gopal Varma, I was apprehensive, and I need not have been. D kicks ass. Yes it leans heavily on Satya and Company for style but then again it’s a prequel and it’s supposed to be consistent with those films. These are on par with the Infernal Affairs trilogy (Hong Kong), with the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series (Japan), with the Godfather trilogy (USA), and with Fernando Di Leo’s Milieu Trilogy (including La Mala Ordina, which Dave reviewed separately on this site here) (Italy). Take my word for it on this one – Satya, Company and D are required viewing.
Company Begins with “D”, Not “C”
In Company, a badass named Mallik ruled Mumbai fearlessly, with a ruthlessly efficient gang that kept a level head with the overarching notion that they were running a business – don’t do anything that’s bad for business. That style is contrasted with a brash upstart young gang, and how Mallik responds to that group is the story of that film. But how did Mallik get to where he is? His character was one of those that you couldn’t get enough of on-screen, and so a prequel, D, was a natural follow-up. D tells the story of the rise of Mallik, known in the film as Deshu, and played this time by Randeep Hooda (Monsoon Wedding).
Hooda hits Mallik’s character on the head with an aggressive and daring but completely unflappable young man who decides it’s time to take over the Mumbai underworld. The film starts just before Deshu dares to enter this world. Deshu’s mother dies in the opening of the film, and after a tense meeting with his dad (a cop), it’s clear Deshu feels little obligation to make his father proud.
Deshu need only open his eyes to see gangland life in action. On a train ride in the beginning of the film, we see a man thrown off the train, and as Deshu walks through the train, a lingering gang watches him warily. Shortly thereafter, Deshu is visiting with friends in a small, poor home. They are suddenly interrupted when a gang, guns drawn, chases a man into the house. The chased man tries to hide under a bed, only to get dragged out by the gang and shot point-blank in front of everyone. Deshu was a witness, and this starts the cycle. The police want him to identify the attackers, and the gang threatens him that he’ll regret it if he does. He keeps his mouth shut, despite a severe beating from the police. His dad, sympathetic to his precarious situation, tells him to go back to the village, that he can’t reason with gangsters because “everyone are cattle to them.” But Deshu has other plans.
I’ve Decided to Enter this Arena
There are two major gang forces in Mumbai – run by Hashimbhai and Mangli. Deshu met members of Hashimbhai’s gang after witnessing the murder, and so he goes to them and impudently asks to meet the boss. “I’ve decided to enter this arena,” he tells Hashimbhai in a bold, matter-of-fact tone, and proposes to make his mark by taking out the rival Mangli. You have to give the man credit for thinking big. Hashimbhai is hesitant, and his followers are aghast at the audacity of the proposition, but Hashimbhai gives our star the thumbs up, figuring Deshu will probably fail in the attempt, but there’s no harm in his trying, and if he suceeds, all the better. (some medium-level spoilers follow)
Deshu approaches the other gang under a similar pretense – “I want to come work for you, let me see your boss.” He manages to kill Mangli, and then rushes back to Hashimbhai’s place with blazing guns on his tail. He has succeeded, and the surprised Hashimbhai gives him a leadership post within the gang. Deshu builds up his own followers, attacks Mangli’s turf, and when Mangli’s gang comes to get revenge, corners the majority of them in a warehouse, where, at the point of being shot, he gives them a speech. “I have a plan,” he says, the picture of movie cool, and explains they have two choices “Want to work for me, or want to just die?” Guess which they picked?
Now Deshu’s followers are a force to be reckoned with. He even takes a job of roughing up a movie star who is taking advantage of an actress (played by Rukhsar). Deshu shows up on set and tells the offending actor “Want to get beat up here or in private?” Moments later the actor is whimpering in his trailer. Deshu also takes this opportunity to seduce the actress, who becomes him girlfriend, further amplifying the legend that is Deshu.
For Hashimbhai’s gang, Deshu’s lightning-speed success cuts two ways – he’s bringing in more money for them than anybody in the gang, but he’s becoming big enough to pose a threat to them as well. In particular, Hashimbhai’s sons, Mukarram and Shabbir, don’t trust him. They jealously watch as the gang — and increasingly their father — gush about Deshu’s successes. This tension blossoms into full-fled hatred after Deshu opposes them in supporting Sir Tambe, a local politician who the gang has always supported (for money) and who the brothers have befriended. Deshu opposes the move, saying that if you look at his platform, there’s nothing to gain from supporting Tambe, whereas there’s much to be gained from supporting his rival, Jaiswal. Hashimbhai is convinced, and once again they follow Deshu’s plan. Mukarram and Shabbir are livid.
This development kicks several plots into motion. First, Sir Tambe, now abandoned by the Hashimbhai gang, turns to Qureshi – the new leader of what was the rival gang led by Mangli. Tambe explains that without Deshu, the problems will be solved, and Qureshi needs little convincing to agree to send an “encounter specialist” (read: muscle) named Razzaq (a policeman) out to kill Deshu. But they never get the chance to even call Razzaq: during the meeting Deshu barges in, kills Qureshi and (after scaring Tambe to death) leaves the politician alive, quivering. Tambe loses the election by a landslide, and the newly elected Jaiswal is firmly in the pocket of Deshu.
At the same time, the brothers Mukarram and Shabbir decide they’ll have to get rid of Deshu or be sidelined in the gang (and perceived as losers in their father’s eyes). They plot his downfall, constantly insinuating that Deshu will betray the gang. Hashimbhai realizes that his sons are petty and incompetent, but even he begins to get suspicious over time. The brothers also turn to Razzaq to scare off Deshu. Razzaq manages to beat our star up, but as a result of the ordeal becomes truly afraid of Deshu, telling him “You’re a demon,” at which point both the audience and Razzaq know – Deshu is entertained by other people’s fear.
At this point, Deshu is at the top of his game, and he knows it. He’s become so powerful even his girlfriend is a little alarmed – when pressing him on his other interests, and finding he has none, she tells him “There should be some other entertainment in life as well.” With a wicked smile, he turns to her and replies simply “I have my own private entertainment.” He loves that he’s one of the most feared men in the city and everything is going perfectly – until he gets a call that his politician, Jaiswal, has been assassinated, and he instantly deduces that brothers Mukarram and Shabbir are to blame.
Out of respect to Hashimbhai, Deshu does not respond in force, but as the conflict becomes more pronounced, Hashimbhai must decide between his sons and his number one star. Obligated to his sons, Hashimbhai sends Deshu to rule the far-away city of Gujarat. This is a clear demotion and his gang urges him to revolt, but Deshu stoically stays the course, heeding Hashimbhai’s commands and telling his friends “no job is inferior.” He will communicate with Hashimbhai through Gungaram, a mysterious, high-level political/underworld heavy, and the only person that Hashimbhai seems to suck up to. The only good thing about this is that Gungaram respects and likes Deshu.
No Job is Inferior
Deshu takes over Gujarat effortlessly. Whatever gang ruled before he got there is dispensed with in a moment – Deshu’s crew shows up calmly and explains that they can leave the city or do what Deshu says. When the leader of this small-time rival gang hesitates, Deshu kills him. Before long, Deshu’s gang runs everything in the city and they are bringing in more money to the Hashimbhai gang than even leaders in the much larger city of Mumbai are able to manage.
Again Deshu begins to settle into a comfortable life on top, moving into a mansion with his girlfriend (its hers, the result of the money she’s made as a reigning actress) and again the brothers back in Mumbai are unable to leave well enough alone. Deshu’s success, and respectful acceptance of the demotion, have only improved his reputation, and the brothers can’t bear to think of it. They make an arrangement with Kothari, the real estate agent who brokered the sale of the mansion that Deshu and his girlfriend live in. Kothari agrees to lie to Hashimbhai that Deshu paid for the mansion himself, implying that he could only have that kind of money if he was stealing from the gang. Hashimbhai, convinced by the seemingly innocent Kothari, finally agrees to Mukarram and Shabbir’s demands – Deshu will be rubbed out. (major spoilers in next two paragraphs)
A major attack on Deshu’s home nearly succeeds, and many of his men are killed, but Deshu escapes and goes to Gungaram asking what he should do. Gungaram, enraged, goes to Hashimbhai to demand that peace be made. “Even you know how useless your sons are,” he tells Hashimbhai with both of the sons standing within earshot. Gungaram threatens to abandon Hashimbhai if he doesn’t do as he’s told, and a settlement is brokered. Deshu is told to forget revenge, that he should move on despite the attempt on his life and especially despite the death of his right-hand man and closest friend Raghav. Deshu is barely able to control his anger, and only grudgingly agrees, but when at the settlement meeting the brothers seem to smirk at what they’ve gotten away with, Deshu kills one of them, and announces “Raghav’s account is cleared.” Oops, so much for clearing the air.
Unsurprisingly, the remaining son sets the elite assassan Babban out to kill Deshu at any price. But Deshu is once again a step ahead of him, and wipes out all that remains of Hashimbhai’s loyal gang members in one day, barging in on the meeting with Babban, killing him, and telling the son “Only one member from your gang is left. You.” BANG! A final confrontation between Deshu and Hashimbhai is short and to the point. “I hate you more than your sons,” is all Deshu has to say, disgusted. And with that, Deshu’s rule of Mumbai is complete, and we have been brought full-circle to where Mallik’s place of prominence in Company begins.
The film is epic in scale, which is all the more impressive seeing as it clocks in at a standard 101 minutes – far shorter than your average Sholay-length film. This is due in large part to the lack of singing and dancing (which would surely be silly, and out of place in the film). Although, as with Company, there is music that is naturally weaved into the background of the film (in nightclubs etc.) this is non-intrusive and hardly screams traditional bollywood, although some fans have criticized its inclusion. Overall I’d say this is a fantastic film. The action is gritty and the pace keeps us glued to our seats. The lead actors, especially Randeep Hooda with his subtle performance of the early Mallik, are the real stars of the film. Their performances raise the quality of the film considerably.
Some critics have dismissed the film as too glossy and clichéd, but I found the plot quite believable in its simple depiction of gangland ambition. In this way it is strongly reminiscent of Scarface. In that film, as in D, the star is brought into an established gang through an assassination and rises to prominence through sheer audacity to a point of threatening the power of the initial gang. Both films turn on the respect our rising stars havd for their mentors, and they only break with the mentors after the mentors have betrayed them. In an interview (which you can read here) director Vishram Sawant says he has not seen the Godfather trilogy or many American movies at all, and didn’t even research gangland life. Instead, he simply dreamt up a scenario within the feel of Satya and Company. So, I’m not sure if he had seen Scarface before making D, but the two have much in common.
Another possible influence, fascinatingly, is real life — in the interview referenced above, the director is asked if D is based on the real-life story of Dawood Ibrahim, which he denied flat-out (but then, it’s easy to imagine him denying it if it were true). In any case, given that this is his first film, Sawant deserves enormous credit for what he’s accomplished. The film is beautifully shot, has an authentic, gritty feel that is hard to capture and is really a rare find for a debut film. It was, of course, produced by Ram Gopal Varma’s production company, and no doubt that helped, but that same company has also put out several films that had a glossy competence but not as much substance (and here I’m thinking in particular of scare-fest Bhoot, itself a remake of his own earlier film Raat).
Finally, a surprising number of criticisms of the film center around the fact that this film was hyped as a prequel to Company, but, they argue, it wasn’t really, pointing out that the character’s name is Deshu and not Mallik. That criticism is odd – the characters are one and the same (often arguing that what they’re doing is a business and barely different than most businesses), and besides in the interview referenced above, the director says point-blank that it is the story of Mallik’s rise. Sure, it is a bit odd that they changed his name, but that aside there’s no reason not to think of this as a prequel.
Overall the film is a must see, and yet another sign of the strength of modern Indian cinema. I loved it, and recommend it to anyone who loves gangster films – this trilogy is a masterpiece. See D, Satya, Company, and if you want more after that, see Ab Tak Chappan, Vastaav (and the lesser sequel Hathyar), Kaante and to see where it all started see the immortal Sholay. Also keep an eye open for the imminent release of Sarkar, the Indian remake of the Godfather starring Amitabh Bachchan, his son Abishek, and directed by Ram Gopal Varma himself.
© Charlie Prince
Filed under: General and Rating: Great ★★★★ and Movie Reviews and Contributors: Charlie and Movie Reviews: India and People: Ram Gopal Varma