Class of '83 movie review: Bobby Deol and his terrific co-stars are the icing on a masterclass in entertaining minimalism

Class of '83 demands close attention and that's not hard to give because the director and editor keep it rivetting at all times.

Anna MM Vetticad August 21, 2020 14:58:43 IST

3.5/5

It has been a quarter century since Bobby Deol debuted in Bollywood. In the years that followed, he earned success in the thriller and action genres, but was unable to emerge from the shadow of his legendary father Dharmendra and superstar brother Sunny Deol. Post-2002, the younger Deol faded from public memory, barring brief revivals with the box-office response to the family vehicles Apne (2007) and Yamla Pagla Deewana (2011). Class of '83 is his shot at a comeback and at being his own person in a film industry that is more experimental and adventurous than it was when he was starting out.

Directed by Atul Sabharwal and "loosely inspired by" journalist S Hussain Zaidi's non-fiction book The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police, this film is about a frustrated senior Mumbai policeman who forms an unauthorised killing squad within the force to shatter the politician-underworld nexus that has made it impossible for honest officers to effectively fight crime.

As with most extra-legal strategies with violence as their cornerstone, soon this one too takes on a life of its own and goes out of the hands of those who initiated it.

Crime and corruption have long been Sabharwal's areas of interest. A decade back, he had written and directed the then-underrated-but-now-cult TV narcotics drama series Powder. Links between corporates, politicians, police and gangsters in Gurgaon were his focus in his debut feature film Aurangzeb (2013) starring Arjun Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Prithviraj Sukumaran and Amrita Singh. Sabharwal has now found a perfect match in Zaidi who gets an associate producer credit in Class of '83 and whose books on the Mumbai underworld have yielded several Hindi films including one of the finest works to emerge from the industry in the 21st century: Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday.

Class of '83 is less dramatised than Aurangzeb, its tone more akin to Kashyap's docudrama approach to his masterpiece. It does not play out as a suspense thriller, but as a matter-of-fact chronicle of actual events — precise, concise, credible and as tightly drawn as a leash stretched just short of breaking point.

Bobby Deol here plays Vijay Singh, the dean of a police training institute in Nashik. Class of '83 opens in 1982 with a bunch of students who are excited at the prospect of being taught by a top cop.

This is a film with no time to waste and a director in no mood to waste it. It gets down to business from the opening shot and not a second is squandered thereafter. Abhijeet Deshpande's screenplay and Sabharwal's dialogues have clarity and purpose. The humour in the friends goofing around at the institute, the cutting repartee between them and later scenes once they enter the professional arena all have a real-world feel to them. Sabharwal believes in an economical use of words and shots, and ensures that every moment serves to take the plot forward or add another element to the characterisation.

Class of 83 movie review Bobby Deol and his terrific costars are the icing on a masterclass in entertaining minimalism

Bobby Deol in a still from Class of '83. Netflix

The writers clearly enjoy the use of language and are fortunate to have with them a first-rate cast who favour naturalism, whether it is the exceptional newcomers Sameer Paranjape, Hitesh Bhojraj, Bhupendra Jadawat, Ninad Mahajani and Prithvik Pratap who play Dean Singh's handpicked students Aslam, Varde, Shukla, Jadhav and Surve respectively, or their senior co-artistes. Veteran actor Vishwajeet Pradhan as their PT instructor Mangesh Dixit cracked me up when the deliciously lofty epithet "mandbuddhi maanush" (dim-witted human) rolled off his tongue with seeming effortlessness.

It has been a while since Bobby Deol has made an impression on screen. In Class of '83, Sabharwal uses him intelligently and reins in the star's tendency to over-emote. Despite being up against two gifted contemporaries — Annup Sonii as a high-ranking politician and Joy Sengupta as his police chief — Deol earns his keep in this film that is meant to be his big return to our screens. He is effective even if not outstanding. What gives Class of '83 a massive edge, however, are the charismatic youngsters mentioned in the previous paragraph — I have not been this excited about an ensemble of newbies since the release of the 2018 Mollywood film Angamaly Diaries and that, my friends, is a huge compliment.

Class of '83 is a showcase for Maharashtra politics and society, and the primary characters are a microcosm of the state's caste and class dynamics, cultural and religious markers. As with most Hindi police/gangster flicks though, the one social group that gets relegated to the background here too are women — they are wives, fiancées, daughters and even classmates in Class of '83, but never a full-fledged character in their own right at the centre of the action. This marginalisation is particularly ironic since the two real-life figures mentioned by their actual names in the voiceover are India's first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi along with the Maharashtra union leader Datta Samant. Although silence about women was a problem also in Sabharwal's otherwise engaging 2015 documentary on Agra's shoe trade, In Their Shoes, it's not as if he does not have it in him to write solid women — Amrita Singh did, after all, play a memorable character in Aurangzeb's male-dominated universe.

As much as Class of '83 is about the despair of an upright policeman, it is also about poor workers caught between netas, unions and criminal gangs.

One point that merits a discussion is the position the film takes on the extra-constitutional means used to eliminate gangsters. While Class of '83 does not glorify these methods, it does not merely dispassionately tell it like it is either — there is a stance being taken with the air of inevitability in the premise articulated by Aslam Khan's voiceover, "Sometimes to maintain order, one needs to break the law, because when order is maintained, the system runs properly," which is troubling considering the realistic vibe the film gives off.

While these aspects of Class of '83's politics may be debatable, its cinematic quality is not. Every technical department is in spiffing form. Cinematographer Mario Poljac plays around throughout with light and shadow, gloom and grey, all of which serve to exacerbate the narrative's brooding air.

Viju Shah's original music score complements the director's unadorned storytelling while unexpectedly lending urgency to crucial passages.

Class of '83 is not to be watched lightly. Especially in the latter half when youthful banter is dispensed with and harsh realities take over, it demands close attention. As it happens, that attention is not hard to give because Sabharwal and editor Manas Mittal keep the proceedings rivetting at all times.

Class of '83 is a masterclass in entertaining minimalism.

Class of '83 is streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***1/2

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