With Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar 3, Amitabh Bachchan's career comes a full circle: Here's how

Gautam Chintamani

May,12 2017 20:04 01 IST

There is a world of difference between 2005, when the first Sarkar released, and 2017 when the third in the franchise, Sarkar 3, makes it to a cinema near you.

After a long time, almost a decade, the average viewer would be enthused about a ‘Ram Gopal Varma film’ hitting the screens. Most of the buzz is because the film reunites Varma with Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpayee, an actor who was practically ‘discovered’ by filmmaker and transformed into a sensation with Satya (1998).

Even though the initial response to the film has been far from overwhelming, Sarkar 3 in some little way, makes you want to believe in Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) again.

Ironically enough, Sarkar 3 releases forty-four years later on the same day as Zanjeer (1973), a film that established Bachchan as a major talent to look out for. If Zanjeer ushered in the Angry Young Man, Sarkar gave Bachchan one of his most memorable characters in the recent past in the form of Subhash Nagre. The role is rumoured to be fashioned on Don Corleone from The Godfather (1972) and the Shiv Sena supremo the late Balasaheb Thackeray.

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Zanjeer was released on the same day as Sarkar 3, fourty years ago.

Back in 1973 when Bachchan featured as the upright cop who is pushed to take the law into his own hands in Zanjeer, he was a near non-entity. A bevy of then well-established stars right from Dev Anand, Dharmendra and Raaj Kumar had refused the film before either Pran or Om Prakash suggested his name. The two veterans were featured in pivotal roles in Zanjeer and Om Prakash had shared the screen with Bachchan in Parwana (1971) where Bachchan had played an anti-hero.

Even then director Prakash Mehra wasn’t too keen but asked writers Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar to go take a look at Bachchan in Bombay to Goa (1972), the only film featuring the actor playing in cinemas at the time. Impressed with Bachchan in the action sequences, the writers convinced Mehra that it would be the right move to cast the lanky young actor and the rest, as the idiom goes, is history.

Today, Bachchan-RGV and Sarkar look like a match made in heaven but in the initial days of the shoot, Bachchan began to have doubts about the project.

Besides Sholay (1975), The Godfather is a film that Varma hails as his film school and by the time he got around making yet another version of The Godfather (Dharmatma, Zulm Ki Hukumat, Aatank Hi Aatank being the others), it would be practically impossible to imagine Sarkar without Bachchan as the desi Don Vito.

Sarkar was the first time that Bachchan was working with RGV and even though his son, Abhishek — who was his co-star in Sarkar and had also worked with RGV before (Naach, 2004) — assured him that it would all turn out okay, Bachchan sensed something amiss. It is said that RGV then shot Bachchan sipping chai from the saucer, edited the sequence, added music and effects to make a small teaser and showed it to Bachchan to give an idea of what he had in mind.

Legend has it that once Bachchan saw it, not only was he a converted man but also began to trust RGV’s vision. The two later teamed up for Nishabd (2007), an Indianised version of Lolita and perhaps his implicit faith in RGV was the reason why Bachchan agreed to be a part of the misfire called Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag (2007).

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Amitabh Bachchan in the Sarkar franchise.

Sarkar in an oblique way is RGV’s tribute to not just The Godfather but also Amitabh Bachchan and Bruce Lee, two actors who have made a tremendous contribution in his life. Enter the Dragon (1973) is one the films that RGV had watched over 30 times in the theatre and one of the most recalled dialogue from Sarkar – “Subhash Nagre ek aadmi hai... Sarkar ek soch... Aadmi ko maarne se pehle, uski soch ko maarna zaroori hai” - can be traced to one in Enter the Dragon where Shaolin Abbott (Roy Chiao) telling Lee (Bruce Lee), “the enemy has only images and illusions behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.”

Interestingly enough, the years when we first saw Subhash Nagre, 2005, and Zanjeer’s Vijay, 1973, were also important phases in Amitabh Bachchan’s career.

In 1973, Bachchan featured in Namak Haraam (1973), the film that consolidated the Angry Young Man image that the actor would don across Deewar (1975), Trishul (1978) and Kaala Patthar (1979), and Saudaagar (1973). In 2005 besides Sarkar, Bachchan also featured in Black (2005), a film that won him critical acclaim besides fetching him his second National Film Award for Best Actor. He also had a special appearance in Bunty Aur Babli (2005), one of the biggest hits of the year.

A lot has changed in the twelve years since the first Sarkar released, or even in the nine years since its sequel, Sarkar Raj (2008).

There is no denying that RGV is not even a pale shadow of the colossus that he was once considered, a fact that can be gauged from the detail that he has directed over 20 films and most of them have been washouts.

Even the Sarkar 3 poster, lacklustre as it is, featuring Manoj Bajpayee, Amit Sadh and Yami Gautam in addition to the ‘Sarkar’ (Bachchan) reveals how the times have changed.

Yet for many out there who witnessed the impact that RGV has had on Hindi cinema in the last three decades, the idea of Varma directing Amitabh Bachchan, Manoj Bajpayee and Jackie Shroff, who featured in Varma’s Rangeela (1995), somewhere suggests that he might be finally done with the assembly line production that his filmography had begun to resemble.

Of course, when it comes to Ram Gopal Varma there is no formula and optics mean zilch.