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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. 



Samrat & Co., Review


Samrat & Co.

A distribution company that moved to production in the early 60s, Rajshri is an Indian banner known for socially relevant cinema. Over the last 20 years, after founder Tarachand Barjatya passed away and grandson Sooraj emerged as a director, the emphasis has been on grand love stories and sacrificial family drama, all firmly entrenched in the milieu of the rich and famous of the present era. Most of them have worked. One, Hum Aapke Hain Koun (directed by Sooraj), is ranked among the biggest hits of all time.

Going back to the 70s, when the company decided to produce a spy thriller with some level of sex, it was so concerned about possible damage to Rajshri’s image that it floated another banner for Agent Vinod. In 2014, times have changed. This time, it is the female heir Kavita who has produced a detective thriller, but without shying away of the Rajshri Productions banner, which has Hindu goddess of wisdom and knowledge, Saraswati as its insignia. There is a good measure of action, though not gory, an item number that has words like Tequila Vequila but sans the de rigueur dozens of white-skinned bosom display. And the heroine does wear a mini-skirt throughout the film, but it never rises above the thin red line.

Samrat & Co. is the name of a firm of private investigators, consisting of two partners, Samrat TilakDhari (abbreviated to STD, in an attempt to infuse humour, played by Rajeev Khandelwal) and ChakraDhar Pandey (CD!, Gopal Datt). Samrat is an expert private eye and proficient in martial arts, while CD hosts a television crime show, in a loud, sensational, playing to the gallery style, but is a pun-cracking dimwit while on the job with his hard-nosed better half. In walks Dimpy Singh (Madalasa Sharma), seeking his help, in cracking the mystery of the wilting flowers. Before you can say Sherlock Holmes, Samrat tells her that she has come from Shimla, is very rich, drove to the airport in her own car, plans to return the same evening, is in a relationship for the last few months, reads Hindustan Times (a popular English daily newspaper), plays the guitar and underwent corrective eye surgery to get rid of spectacles. How in heavens did he know all this?

Dimpy is carrying an expensive purse, but wielding it casually, so she must be rich. The bag has a flight tag marked Shimla, there are car keys in her purse, indicating that she drove to the airport and will return to Shimla the same evening. Her phone is a cheap model that was launched six months ago, so she must be in a relationship, and the boy-friend has gifted it to her; otherwise, she would not use such a cheap phone. Since she accidentally adjusted her absent spectacles while reading, she must have undergone eye surgery and is still in the habit of adjusting glasses that she has gotten rid off. Her nail is chipped, as is the case with those who play the guitar. An article had appeared in the Hindustan Times recently in which Samrat’s address was published, but not his phone number, so that is where she learnt about him and headed for Mumbai, instead of calling him first.

Loopholes begin right here. Why corrective surgery? Why not contact lenses? Was the article in Hindustan Times the only thing ever published about Samrat? And why would they give his address? That would tantamount to advertising. It is 2013-14, the age of the Internet. Emails are at the core of the investigation in the story. Couldn’t Dimpy use the Net or contacts in Mumbai to look-up Samrat first? What if he was not in town when she landed? How could Samrat possibly keep track of over 100 brands launching various mobile models practically every week, as to be sure about a model and its launch date even six months later? Do nails chip only by playing the guitar?

Once he accepts the case, Samrat finds there ‘more to it than meets the eye’. Within minutes of arriving at the estate of Mahendra Pratap Singh (Girish Karnad), he faces a hostile Anuj (Ajay Bhandari), Singh’s son, who appears to take an instant dislike to him. Samrat whispers in his ear that he knows some secrets about him and threatens to reveal them, and that takes care of Anuj. Singh himself starts verbal sparring with Samrat as soon as the two meet and quotes Shakespeare. When Samrat identifies the quote, Singh is highly impressed, but Samrat confesses that he read it in the room, which is full of such quotes pasted as posters. This is one of the few good examples of self-deprecation found in the film. Soon, Singh is dead. Murdered. And there will be several deaths and a host of red herrings before Samrat will crack this case.

Director Kaushik Ghatak is one film and several TV serials old. His only film before this one was Rajshri’s 2008 Ek Vivaah Aisa Bhi, a box-office misadventure. He calls Samrat & Co. a suspense adventure. On the apparent multiple influences, with the centre of gravity remaining the modern screen versions of Sherlock Holmes, he lists them all: “Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, The Old Fox, Feluda (Satyajit Ray’s Bengali detective) and Byomkesh Bakshi (a Bengali TV series).” He is candid enough to admit, “Because Samrat is from South Mumbai, I have placed this case in Himachal Pradesh, just so that he can wear the classic overcoat and scarf!”

Incidentally, it took four years for Ghatak to write Samrat Ki Duniya (The World of Samrat) a huge dossier with everything about him. He says he has used only 10% of that in this film, and the other 90% could form the basis of sequels and series. Three writers are credited with the script of Samrat’s ‘initial’ public offering: Writing Manish Shrivastav, Sanjay Masoom and Kaushik Ghatak. Treatment is episodic and full of sub-plots, not ideal for a cinema audience. Dialogue is clever for the most part but unintentionally funny and pedestrian on a number of occasions. Ghatak is simply in awe of classic detective literature and films like the recent Sherlock Holmes series, Death on The Nile and some horror films as well. Rolling them all into one and punctuating every 15 minutes with a murder or a twist is no easy task, and Ghatak has obviously found it daunting.

Rajeev Khandelwal puts in some effort and his poker-faced dialogue delivery is an asset. But the tons of fuzzy hair, on a long face, doesn’t match. He still shows some Rajesh Khanna and Dev Anand modulations, albeit without shaking his neck. In fact, his neck is too stiff to appear normal. Also, his fights, well composed as they are, seem unconvincing, in view of his relatively frail physique. Madalasa has made her way from films in south Indian languages, since 2009, and one in German, to a main-stream Hindi film. She looks understatedly sexy and has little to do in this hero-oriented caper. Karnad is wasted, so is RamGopal Bajaj (Satydev Baba). Rajneesh Duggal as Deepak gets an opportunity to show some muscles and fighting skill, and has acting potential too. As the deranged Divya, Shreya Narayan is suitably tormented. Gopal Datt has a typical voice which can be very jarring, perhaps a piece of intentional casting. He has written a song too. Unfortunately, like most Hindi films in the past decade, there are too many lyricists, singers and composers, though the songs themselves are not integrated. Others in the cast are Smita Jayakar, Ravi Jhankhal, Gufi Paintal, Priyanshu Chatterjee, Puja Gupta, Anurag Jha, Barkha Bisht, Pradeep Welankar and Navin Prabhakar.

Will there be a sequel? Read the review again for clues.

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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