Sarkar (2005)

Rating: B

Dir: Ram Gopal Varma
Star: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Kay Kay Menon, Tanisha

While Bollywood is littered with knock-offs of American movies – or even copies of local knockoffs of American movies [we’ve got one of those to review in a couple of weeks] – this one is, at least, honest about it, opening with a caption from the director stating that this is a tribute to The Godfather. And as such, it is actually very effective: the shift from New York to Mumbai adds a whole new spin on things. As well as the city’s leading gangster, Subhash Nagre (Amitabh Bachchan) operates as a ‘parallel government’, dispensing justice to those who have been denied it.

His preference for this over more profitable activities – and, to be honest, it’s never clear how he makes his money – leads his enemies to try, first to frame the ‘Sarkar’ [a Hindi term meaning overlord], and then kill him. He has two sons: Vishnu (Menon), a hot-head who roughly equates to Sonny, while Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan – Amitabh’s real son) initially wants nothing to do with his father’s business, so is a version of Michael Corleone. The results are impressive, anchored by Bachchan Sr, who resembles Al Pacino [he also has a similarly-revered reputation in India] and holds the film together with a steely self-confidence. While not quite up to the level of Brando, it certainly does the job, and Varma adds a decent degree of directorial flair to proceedings.

It’s worth noting that there are no songs or dance numbers: not one, and it’s a good thing, for they would have gone horribly against the tone for which the director aims. One hopes that the film’s critical and commercial success with lead more Bollywood directors to follow suit [a time and a place for them, I certainly admit; just not in every frickin’ film]. There is an issue with some of the minor characters, who don’t get developed as they should, leading to some confusion. Still, it’s a decent stab at an ambitious task: paying homage to one of the most well-respected pieces of cinema from the past fifty years.