Synopsis – The story of an upright policeman-turned-trainer whose wards deal with various complexities.
My Take – Ever since its inception, Hindi cinema has had a thing for cop thrillers. With time almost every mainstream and art director brought their take on the netherworld of crime, which led us to witness almost every actor irrespective of their popularity and gender donned the khakhi colored uniform to seek justice for their own personal reasons or just to serve the society on the whole.
At first glance, this third collaboration between Shah Rukh Khan‘s Red Chillies Entertainment and Netflix (after Bard of Blood and Betaal), which sees Atul Sabharwal (whose only previous outing was the well-made but commercially disappointing film Aurangzeb) directing, seems to be nothing short of clichés, and just another typical, run-of-the-mill, cop-versus-gangster film, only this time it has Bobby Deol leading the troupe, an actor who has unfortunately not tasted success over a decade.
However, I must admit, the film managed to be better than I expected it to be, and major portion of that credit goes to Deol himself. Loosely inspired by journalist S Hussain Zaidi‘s non-fiction book The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading), the film manages to be fresh due to its realistic treatment of Mumbai’s encounter specialists of the early eighties who carried out extrajudicial killings after felling shackled by the gangster-politician-policemen nexus within the system.
But if there is one flaw which does bring the film down a notch is its limited runtime of 88 minutes, making it one of the rare Hindi films which actually needs that extra hour to work on its build up to a better and more fleshed out final act.
Narrated by Aslam Khan (Sameer Paranjape), the story follows Vijay Singh (Bobby Deol), a police officer who following a very unsuccessful and bloody mission to capture Umar Kalsekar (Adesh Bharadwaj), a dreaded gangster, is removed from active duty and is given a punishment posting as the dean of a police training institute in Nashik. Driven by grief due to the loss of his wife too at the same time, Vijay rarely takes part in the curriculum, that is until five recruits, the bottom ones of their class of 1983, namely Aslam, Shukla (Bhupendra Jadawat), Jadhav (Ninad Mahajani), Surve (Prithvik Pratap) and Varde (Hitesh Bhojraj) catch his attention, especially for their loyalty to each other and their relentlessness to follow rules.
But instead of cutting the quintet loose, the former grizzled cop tweaks the syllabus to turn them into a secret squad of hit-men who’ll take down Bombay’s gangsters, especially Kalsekar and his political protection, Manohar Patkar (Anup Soni). While the cadets’ graduate into mean machines who shoot first and ask questions later, and with the streets finally be cleansed of gangsters, things begin to complicate when innocents begin to come in the way.
This is a film that wastes no time to waste and gets down to business right from the opening shot and not a second is squandered thereafter. It is well balanced and does not extend its narrative by getting to brass tacks of the underworld scene in Bombay. In comparison it is less dramatized than director Sabharwal‘s Aurangzeb, and more akin in tone with filmmaker Anurag Kashyap‘s docudrama approach to Black Friday. It does not play out as a suspense thriller, but as a matter-of-fact chronicle of actual events, precise, concise, credible and as tightly drawn as a leash stretched just short of breaking point.
With the main emphasis on the position the film takes on the extra-constitutional means used to eliminate gangsters as it treats encounter killings as a moral imperative—a cure to a disease. While the film does not glorify these methods, it does not merely dispassionately tell it like it is either, there is a stance being taken with the air of inevitability in the premise articulated by Aslam Khan’s voiceover, “Sometimes to maintain order, one needs to break the law, because when order is maintained, the system runs properly,” which is troubling considering the realistic vibe the film gives off.
When the film does dwell on a scene, it gives director Sabharwal and screenwriter Abhijeet Deshpande a chance to tell us something about who these people are.
In a scene with the five of them at a restaurant, the conversation turns to striking mill workers. Shukla has been injured in one of the rallies, and Varde mutters that stone-pelters will die if they carry on like this. Jadhav says his father is a mill worker, which leads to an argument. It’s the film’s best scene, not only for how it shows the unstable dynamic of the group but also the way it addresses the larger social forces altering Bombay at the time.
But encounters are illegal for a reason, still prevalent and often misused. The cops in this film are only seen as having crossed a line when they accidentally gun down civilians and start taking money from gangsters. The shooting of unarmed criminals isn’t even framed as a necessary evil, it’s just necessary.
Unfortunately, the film’s runtime works against it. There’s a willingness to examine the effects of committing officially sanctioned murder on these cops, there isn’t enough time. The nonfiction book has enough has material enough for three hours, but here it is crunched into half that time. All the characters besides Singh are light sketches, with only Shukla getting an extra shade of being a compulsive masturbator. Wives and children appear out of nowhere and are never seen again. Singh’s relationship with his son appears to be damaged beyond repair but when he turns up an hour later they seem reconciled.
We see a great deal of effort takes into planning an encounter as a lot of loose ends need to be tied up. We see the process for the first one but the ones that follow only involve the final shootout. Even the entire process of meeting Kalsekar is too swift to be true and the end makes you sad for the wasted potential in the film.
Thankfully, Bobby Deol and his terrific costars save the film with their performances. It has been a while since Bobby Deol has made an impression on screen. But here as a middle-aged officer, he puts in his career’s best performance so far, both in emotional and tense moments. It also helps that he is ably supported by Anup Soni, Vishwajeet Pradhan, and Joy Sengupta who bring sharp performances, along with the exceptional turns from newcomers Sameer Paranjape, Hitesh Bhojraj, Bhupendra Jadawat, Ninad Mahajani and Prithvik Pratap. On the whole, ‘Class of 83’ is a stream worthy cop drama laced with adequate amounts of thrill and realism.
Directed – Atul Sabharwal
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 88 minutes