Sunday, November 10, 2013

Satya 2: Review

Satya 2 isn’t the worst Ram Gopal Varma film this year, but audiences may end up rejecting it as emphatically as they did The Attacks of 26/11. It'll remind them that Varma once made films as good as Satya, even though his latest has little to do with that film beyond the fact that both are set in the Mumbai underworld and the director probably thought it a good idea to revisit the site of his greatest triumph on its 15th anniversary. Varma is clearly daring audiences to compare him against his younger self.

Like the earlier film, this one also begins with a shadowy man, Satya (Puneet Singh Ratn), coming in from another town; this time, however, his arrival is accompanied by a voice-over which informs us that he will revolutionise the Mumbai crime world. So much for suspense. We watch his steady, unimpeded rise – aided by the dumbest, dullest set of stock villains assembled in a long time. As Satya goes from right-hand man to a crooked builder to lord of his own crime syndicate, which he calls Company, you’d expect the film to explain why he’s doing all this. But beyond a vague mention of a dead Naxalite father, we’re offered little insight into his psyche.

After churning out gangster films for years, Varma seems to have bought into the self-serving arguments of his antagonists. It’s one thing to have Satya think he’s running a Robin Hood-style outfit, quite another to allow that opinion to go entirely unchallenged. A lot of time is spent trying to convince us that the organisation he’s building is cutting-edge, but his methods – poisoning, exploding ear piece – have all the nostalgia value of a Vijay Anand thriller. Not that you should take anything the film says at face value. “In our organisation, we won’t use shooters,” Satya declares. Five minutes later, two people have been shot.

Ratn’s performance is a single note played in a minor key. Physically unimposing, he glares his way through scenes, a humourless variation on the “reasonable gangster" archetype. Anaika Soti, as the love interest, overcompensates for his lack of emotion, biting her lip and widening her eyes as if she’s trying to channel Sridevi in Sadma. The camera, meanwhile, is on its own trip – wandering off for repeated aerial shots, looking up from under a translucent chess board. There’s a brief moment of surreal wit when a smoking gun barrel peeks through a hole in a billboard. But that’s lifted from Once Upon a Time in the West – the kind of film which now seems beyond Varma.

Related: Piece I did for GQ on 15 Years of Satya.

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