"To kill is a crime, but to kill at the right time is politics."
Sarkar Raj is the sequel to the 2005 movie Sarkar by Ram Gopal Varma, which is said to be the Indian equivalent of The Godfather starring megastar Amitabh Bachchan in the titular role where a gangster gets elected to political power. You don't really need to watch Sarkar in order to enjoy Sarkar Raj, as characters get introduced fairly quickly, and their motivations spelt out clearly on the surface. Necessary links to the original were presented in flashbacks, while the story here takes off with new challenges that present themselves to the characters whom you can get chummy with in a jiffy.
There were a few things I was amazed with regarding the movie. For starters, to a relative Bollywood newbie like myself, this movie will debunk all notions that Indian movies have to come default with song and dance. There is absolutely no forced musical sequences in the movie, perhaps only the the Govindar theme song which gets repeated play. Next, the richness of colours I am used to when watching movies from the Indian continent gets replaced by a very strained palette, with quite a gritty look that aligns itself with its subject matter. And the shaky camera technique invades the industry too, though there was adequate contrast provided in its camera styles to reflect the innate characteristics of the leads - for a seasoned gangster who has mellowed and found calm, the camera is measured and still to reflect the old ginger's state of mind, whereas when following his heir apparent, it's shaky-cam for the most parts to accentuate his cock-sure impatient nature beneath a facade of confidence.
Going by the loud chuckles of a predominantly Indian audience I was with, there were certainly some nuances that went unappreciated by myself because my lack of knowledge was likely to have not allowed me into some of those jokes, though there were times I could identify with the story's slight mocking of the state of Indian politics, and with the lack of clear direction amongst the chief villains as well, which played for stifled laughs.
Sarkar Raj opens with Aishwarya Rai's Anita Rajan, the daughter of an industrialist in England who wishes to build a power plant in Subhash Nagare's (Amitabh Bachchan) controlled state. Celebrating his birthday, Subhash takes opportunity to signal that his son Shankar Nagare (played by real life son Abhishek Bachchan) has arrived on the big political arena, and is likely to take a more active role in decision making. This shows when he quietly backs and puts faith in his son's pursuit in having the power plant located in their territory, despite having to displace 40,000 people in the short term. Like all politicians with good intent, they're looking toward the long term goals of providing basic electrical infrastructure to their people, but as with all things, there are bound to be opposition to decisions by the incumbent.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as in slightly more than 2 hours, we're bombarded with political battles made with strategic moves akin to a game of chess, only that the players involved are more than two across a wooden board. There are outright opponents in your face, but the deadlier ones are always those who remain in the shadows, and are difficult to pin down. Gentlemanly campaigning does not suffice, as tricks from the illegitimate book of tactics get drawn out, to consequences that will spiral everyone down the road of violence begetting more violence.
While Amitabh clearly is the head of the household here, just when you thought he had taken a backseat in his role in the sequel, he jumps right back into the driving seat with a vengeance, and it's always interesting to witness the charismatic actor in action. Son Abhishek holds his own against his father's imposing figure, and the both of them as on-screen father-son brings about a sense of realism and naturalness to their characters' relationship, as the son whom the father can trust, and as the father whom the son could rely on for support. Rounding up the Bollywood royalty here is the first post marriage pairing of Abhishek and wife Aishwarya Rai, though Rai's character happens to be somewhat sidelined to a few appearances with plenty of tear duct activation, and doesn't really forward the plot much. But should there be another sequel, then Rai's character is already primed for a meatier role then.
Sarkar Raj has enough story elements to keep you engaged throughout as the characters make all attempts to outplay, outwit and outlast one another. Basic greed of man and being unappreciated (then growing feet too big for their shoes) usually are reasons enough for one to turn against another, but the reminder that goes out is to never rub another man's rhubarb, especially when it belongs to someone with political clout, powerful base support, and well, is a top gangster with no qualms of exacting punishment without remorse.
It makes me want to hunt down the DVD for the first installment already, to see how the Nagares got to consolidate their power, and how certain outcomes mentioned here were played out earlier. Definitely a recommended crime and political thriller!