Synopsis – The royal saga of deceit, conspiracy, greed and lust continues in the third installment of the series, as the Saheb and Biwi are pitted against an enemy and everyone involved is scheming ruthlessly for their own personal gain.
My Take – Launched in 2011 by director Tigmanshu Dhulia, the Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster franchise is without a doubt, totally unlike other commercial franchises of Bollywood. Mainly as there is something utterly charming about the world of decadent royalty that director Tigmanshu Dhulia had conjured up – palace intrigue taking center stage as we try and negotiate the crazy labyrinth of greed, lust and conspiracies. And in the world of bankrupt royalty that still retains its pride, deceit and treachery rules the roost. With this sequel, which comes five years after the last one, director Tigmanshu Dhulia takes us back into the world of royalty where loyalties constantly keep shifting, plots are hatched in loud whispers and murders carried out in cold blood.
With Jimmy Shergill and Mahi Gill returning as the adulterous Saheb and his conniving Biwi, returning from the previous films, these third installment seemed like the latest study of feuding ex-royals that began fruitfully with 2011’s Saheb Biwi aur Gangster and continued in a lesser vein with 2013’s Saheb Biwi aur Gangster Returns. However, with addition of Sanjay Dutt and Chitrangada Singh as new players in the cast, the makers had already claimed that the third installment is going to be much better than the other two films, considering director-writer duo, Tigmanshu Dhulia and Sandeep Chauhan, who gave us the outstanding film Paan Singh Tomar, were also teaming up here.
Unfortunately, what started off as a hat tip to the Guru Dutt 1962 classic Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam, and had managed to come on its own in the second installment, has fatally lost the way in its latest outing. Sure, it is bigger, in the sense it has too many characters; some of them are quite extraneous, and it has some obligatory shots of London, but emphatically not better, and avoidably complicated, plus with a dotty climax that suggests creative fatigue on the part of the writers and director, this film is nothing short of a huge disappointment.
Following the events of the 2013 film, the story follows Madhavi Devi (Mahi Gill), who has now become a Member of Parliament and is a prolific wheeler dealer. With her new found freedom and power, her only goal is too exact her hatred on her husband, Aditya Pratap (Jimmy Sheirgill), a member of a former princely family, by making sure he stays in prison for the murder of Raja Bhaiya (Irrfan Khan), and make sure that his second wife, Ranjana (Soha Ali Khan) stays drunk and gloom. However, when Aditya secures bail with help of his loyal aide Kanhaiya (Deepraj Rana) and his daughter (Pamela Bhutoria), her fears come true as he begins to take over everything Madhavi has built including her place in their political party, all in order to retain some significance by having a political career in a post-Independence India that no longer recognizes royalty and titles.
However opportunity knocks when Madhavi comes across Uday Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt), in a London Club run by him, witnesses his rage and sees him as the ideal man to carry out her long cherished dream of eliminating her husband. Uday, who is also a member of another royal family has been living in London for the last 20 years, as a cross between a businessman and a gangster, whose definitions and means of power are as primitive and dangerous as Aditya and Madhvi, but his main battle lies back home as his father (Kabir Bedi) and younger brother Vijay (Deepak Tijori), have been unwilling to share their royal property with him, as he dreams of settling down with the courtesan, Suhani (Chitrangada Singh). Circumstances lead to Uday and Aditya being locked in a game of Russian roulette that holds the future of personal greed, and political ambitions.
As the film starts, it wastes no time in establishing the stage for a confrontational drama of some power-hungry men along with women who are going to stop at nothing to get what they really wanted. As with the earlier two films, here too someone is lusting after someone he ought not to be eyeing, several players in the story are bitter, and some are planning revenge on those they resent or hate. Writer and director Tigmanshsu Dhulia has an arresting style of film making, as his characters speak in very even and realistic tones, and rarely in the film is dialogue unduly dramatic. Scenes and sequences are composed in a steady rhythm, and flow symmetrically and smoothly in a consistent visual and aural design. The result is the creation of a convincing atmosphere, in which a viewer can actually believe that these are characters who have lived the reality they are trapped in now – people born to wealth and privilege, all of which is being dissipated with time and the ageing and death of members of this aristocracy who still have some memory of a time before the privy purses and titles were abolished in 1971.
But given that two-thirds of the principal cast is the same, you would think that this is a safe formula, but nothing is foolproof in the absence of solid writing. The palace politics, too, is eye-catching, but where director Dhulia and co-writer Sanjay Chauhan falter is the screenplay. The tardy first-half drags the film down. Here, the writer-director makes the mistake of forgetting that the volcanic nature of the first two films came from the gangster entering the Aditya-Madhvi relationship. In the absence of an explosive third angle in this triangle, the story moves along mechanically with a handful of somewhat interesting turns but no major plot point worthy of a gasp. The problem is director Dhulia intends to make this Dutt – the star, not the character he plays – the centerpiece of his film, so we are treated to several minutes of the man, yet unnamed, playing Russian roulette with a parade of hapless fellow humans in a London nightclub called House of Lords. His invincibility is underlined by the Baba Theme track.
A London-based track that unfolds in a night club, complete with pole dancers, costume changes and a mandatory love track amidst sand dunes, simply break the continuity. These deviations from the goings-on in the haveli turn out to be wrong bets. In fact, even the thrill in the mind-games that the characters play loses its charm in the face of an underlying desire to be overtly good.
You notice how as the film progresses, Uday is not just the same gangster but more like a sophisticated outlaw, who is known to have a heart and a temper, which is often seen with the spells trouble. Nearly nothing in this film lights your curiosity. Even after having spent such a long time in jail, Aditya hardly changes as a person or as a politician. Madhvi’s resentment of him, likewise, is unwavering. Uday too, who is visiting home after two decades, shows no signs of having experienced a major life event. We understand that characters are hungry and ambitious in their desperate times. But there is hardly any build-up. Suddenly privy purses and Spanish diplomats and Rajwada history are pushed down our throats without any notice.
It’s interesting to see how despite being the protagonists, Aditya and Uday are not the most respected royals in town. Their tainted past haunts them when the two men are given the cold shoulder by other royals, politicians at a party hosted in honor of the visiting Spanish royal couple. That is also the moment for Uday and Aditya’s first meet, and it’s filled with cocky dialogues. But the story works best when it focuses on the dynamics between Aditya and Madhavi. United in their mutual hatred but equally soldered together by their contempt for the world outside their bubble, Aditya and Madhavi are perfectly paired. This match made in hell has its share of crackling repartee, inventive schemes for revenge, and moments of insane behavior.
The scenes from a marriage in which sex is used as a leveler and relationships are purely instrumental considerably enliven the overstretched running time. But it’s disappointing that the much-hyped climax of the Russian roulette is tackled shoddily, as Aditya and Uday come face to face in a game where they have to shoot themselves by a gun loaded with only one bullet. Luck, fear, gore, excitement, thrill, so much could have been packed in this scene! Alas, it ends abruptly! In fact, the scheming behind the scene is not even explained properly. Instead we get silly love songs and item numbers that unnecessarily add to the length of the film and add no respite whatsoever.
However the film is benefited immensely by the of casting Jimmy Sheirgill, who continues to perfectly depict Aditya Pratap Singh’s overweening sense of entitlement and inherited machismo, and director Dhulia’s faith in the character and the actor ensured that Sheirgill had the film’s best lines and scenes. Giving him tough competition in the acting department is Mahie Gill. Gill here gets the most screen time of the ensemble cast and she asserts herself as a cunning strategist shining amidst the misogyny surrounding her. Sanjay Dutt is competent in his act, but he never really hits top gear. With puffed up facial features and a drag of the feet as he walks, he looks haggard. Though he appears to be apt for this character but somewhere down the line seem a tad bit tired and with less royal elements.
Chitrangada Singh looks drop dead gorgeous here, and despite a small role shines in her positive role. Soha Ali Khan returns to the big screen after a hiatus, and one would assume the film would give her scope to deliver. However, there’s little for her to do here. The supporting cast including Kabir Bedi, Zakir Hussain, Deepak Tijori, Pamela Bhutoria, Deepraj Rana and Nafisa Ali are alright. On the whole, ‘Saheb Biwi aur Gangster 3‘ is a disappointing sequel which despite being backed by decent performances fails in providing a compelling narrative and an edgy thrilling story like its predecessors.
Directed – Tigmanshu Dhulia
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 140 minutes