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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3, Review: Russian Roulette, House of Lords, the Nautch Girl and Privy Purses

Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster 3, Review: Russian Roulette, House of Lords, the Nautch Girl and Privy Purses

Here’s a film, about two hours long, that has some great cinematography and imaginative camera angles, impactful music, classy sets and décor, an ambience that lays the foundation of a riveting saga of ‘deceit conspiracy, greed and lust’. You wait anxiously for some great lines of dialogue, some battle of wits, some royal clashes…Alas! You wait in vain. When the end credits roll, you feel disappointed at the great waste of grand opportunities, and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster (SBAG3) stays with you as a very long trailer of the film that was never made.

They are strange bedfellows: Russian Roulette is played in the film between strip-bar owner Sanjay Dutt and his guests, all of who end up dead (did you expect Sanju to die in any one of the contests involving vodka and bravura? You must be nuts!). The strip-bar is called House of Lords and is owned and operated by…who else? Sanjay Dutt. In case you suffer from temporary amnesia, there is a theme or balled that accompanies his entry every time, which blasts, at deafening decibels, pronunciations like, ‘He’s the Baba’ and ‘Aayaa tera baap’.

So what is this business of nautch girls and privy purses? Hold on. First things first. The Saheb in the title is an ex-royal called Aditya Pratap Singh (Jimmmy Sheirgill; and that is numerologically correct; it is also ‘politically correct’ because he is going to contest the election). Biwi is Madhavi (Mahie Gill), his wife, a nymphomaniac and alcoholic, a conspirator and murderer, also a committed, honest social worker. So much for contradictory and extreme personality traits. Both are carried forwards from SBAG franchise.

The Gangster is Uday (Sanju Baba), who lives in London but happens to be Aditya’s long- separated brother. He has no gang, unless a few bouncers and cronies constitute one. But that is not why he is headed for his family estate in India after twenty years of practicing and mastering Russian Roulette. It is because he has killed a British guest who hurt his patriotic feelings in his own joint, and flees from sing-sing, thanks to a huge bribe.

He has another reason for heading homewards, a nautch-girl named Suhaanee (kothevaalee; Chitrangada Singh), who calls herself his ‘kept woman’, although the two have not met for at least twenty years, and she is not much older than that. They communicate through the Internet, where she composes and sings songs for him and strums the guitar for accompaniment. Later, when he comes to India, she performs a kathak dance version for him, in purely Indian style. Uday’s brother Vijay (Deepak Tijori) has, earlier, had the temerity to ask her to perform at his palace-hotel at the request of some Japanese tourists, who want to savour some authentic Indian classical dance. Suhaanee is willing to send her students (yes, she runs a dance school), but ticks him off, saying that if his brother (who art in Londres) will teach him a lesson if he hears of his indecent proposal. Vijay, who threatened to shut down her establishment only moments ago, is terrified by the counter-threat, and runs away with his tail between his legs.

Most senior citizens of India will be aware of what privy purses were. Of course, students of contemporary Indian history would know too. When India gained Independence, some 600 princely states, rules by Rajas and Navaabs, Maharajas and Sultans, Zameendaars and Nizams willingly (some unwillingly) merged their fiefdoms to form a nation. The nation took away all their riches, leaving very little. Out of consideration, a privy purse was constituted and the rulers were given annual grants from this purse. What the zameendaars got was called Zameendaaree Abolition Bonds, zameen meaning land and a zameendaar meaning a landlord.

Privy purses were abolished in 1971, as an antiquated idea in socialist India. ZAB continued, for the sum paid annually to former landlords was too measly to merit discontinuation. Impoverished by their standards, some rulers converted their palaces into luxury hotels (Uday and Vijay’s father, for one), some entered politics, some went into business and a not too insignificant number succumbed to debauchery too--the film’s Singh family, for one. When he finds himself unable to pay for a high-ranking advocate to free himself of a murder charge (where SBAG 2 ended), Aditya starts a highly optimistic movement to demand reinstatement of the privy purses from India’s federal government.

Indian films, as a rule, do not spawn sequels. In any case, going beyond two franchises is rare indeed. Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster was released in 2011, 2 in 2013 and 3 comes after a five year hiatus. Does it merit comparison with its predecessors? The jury is out, but I should think there will be more “nay” sayers than “aye” sayers. Does it stand on its own, without any significant referencing and back-story? Nay again.

Tigmanshu Dhulia (Haasil, Charas, Paan Singh Tomar), 51 years old and a graduate of the National School of Drama, (NSD) has a following for sure. As should his writing collaborator, Sanjay Chauhan (Paan Singh Tomar, I Am Kalam, Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster). Sad, then, that the narrative is sketchy, splintered and scattered. It becomes difficult to distinguish one minor character from another and the relation or position she/he enjoys vis-à-vis the lead actors. Nafisa Ali, Soha Ali Khan, Deep Raj Rana, Imran Hasnee and more suffer gross under-exposure, and not because they are not central to the theme.

Coming to direction, it appears that the director and cinematographer (Amalendu Chaudhary) are so preoccupied with planning angles and lighting that they forget about story and acting. And what might have been (pure speculation) a coherent story has been reduced to vignettes by a trigger-happy editor (Pravin Angre), obviously under orders.

So many lines are just one line retorts to an unimaginative one-liner or glib statement. And that, too, is delivered after a pause and a look, which is either Dhulia’s story-telling technique or a result of improvisation on the set. Questions arise whether Dhulia is doing disservice to the memory of the great film-maker Guru Dutt by deriving his title from the Dutt classic Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (directed by Dutt’s writer, Abrar Alvi). Another great, composer Madan Mohan, has a part of his evergreen Who Kaun Thi? song ‘Lag jaa galey’ used in excerpts for mood effect in SBAG 3. That’s a pity, because the song deserved better.

Jimmmy Sheirgill and Mahie Gill fill the bill again, as the mainstays of the franchise, epitomising the ‘love to hate and hate to love’ theory. Sheirgill is regal, and the constant expression of frustration and scorn remains planted on his visage. Gill scores in a meaty role, taking a stranger to her bed one night and spending time with her husband’s second wife instead. She has a complex, vamp-heroine role, drinking and plotting all the time, which garners little (her charities) or no sympathy, and that is tough to carry-off. Chitrangada Singh is confident and gutsy and easy on the eye. Sanjay Dutt has the swagger all right and it takes some courage to indulge in Russian Roulette, but is it legal, even in London? From that high pedestal, it is a pitiable climb-down when he comes back and is desperate to start a restaurant in or around his father’s estate.

Kabir Bedi as a cunning ex-royal is a sure thing. Deepak Tijori gets a meaty role and performs suitably. Zakir Hussain as Bunny (or Bani), Ranjana’s (Soha) father, acquits himself well and so does Pamela Bhutoria as Saheb’s techie, daughter of his servant, who’s in hiding. She represents the new millennium, an era that is so different from the regalia of four generations ago.

Well, there is a lot of bullet-spraying in the climax, and some of it is stylishly devised. So what does it all lead to, in the end? A car speeding away, laying the tracks for a quadriquel! Going down that road is the producers’ prerogative, but for the discerning cineaste, it better be much better than the triquel, if it wants to quell and dispel the fog created by its predecessor.

The rating is one-and-a-half stars for the substance, + ½ additional, for stylistics.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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