(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 4 October, 2011, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/sahib-biwi-aur-gangster/320056.html)
Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Mahie Gill, Randeep Hooda, Deepraj Rana, Vipin Sharma
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Rating: 4.5 stars
Throw together the scion of an erstwhile royal family trying to maintain his lavish lifestyle through contract killings and government tenders, a neglected neurotic wife, a wicked stepmother, a loyal man-at-arms, an avaricious mistress, a devious power-hungry double agent, a sleazy politician, a self-made goonda, a wary Delhi businessman, a street-smart village belle, and a mute maid into a tight script, garnish with gandi gaaliyas and perfect comic timing, and chances are that the audience will devour the offering and slurp for more.
It’s hard to pick a mistake in the stylish, fast-paced Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster. Part thriller, part action movie, part crime flick, and part noir, the story develops through its rounded characters. From the overweight industrialist who stammers after witnessing a murder, “my wife told me not to get into this business” to the old chauffeur who curses away at the nephew who has temporarily replaced him, every character leaves an impact on one’s mind. Each of the caricatured ones is shown in a different context, which fills out another dimension of his or her personality.
Jimmy Shergill has turned in several powerful performances since he resurrected his career in Bollywood, and his portrayal of Aditya Pratap Singh may be his best yet. With haughty glances and an inherited sense of entitlement, he wars with his stepmother, a grovelling minister and his brash political rival Gainda Singh (Vipin Sharma). Intolerant of slights, contemptuous of thriftiness, and ready to flare up at the least provocation, he is every bit the dethroned royal trying to find a new crown. Politics is an option, but an expensive one. And it may well cost him more than he bargained for.
At his side is the trusted senapati Kanhaiya (Deepraj Rana) who refers to himself as a ghulam (slave). He ruthlessly guns down dangerous gangsters, but tamely accepts a hard slap on the cheek from the proud Chhoti Rani (Mahie Gill). When Gainda Singh commissions a quick-tempered young man Babloo (Randeep Hooda) to become the mole in the haveli, a host of volatile characters come together, and the resulting instability threatens to explode any time.
Mahie Gill slides neatly into the role of the fiery bahurani, who consumes alcohol, cigarettes and psychiatric medication in almost equal measure. After Dev D, the actress was threatening to go down the path of several others who debuted as gaon ki goris – desperately tearing off their clothes in a bid to avoid being forgotten, or worse, typecast. In this movie at least, she only pulls them off when the script demands it. Her role is a complex one – she is jealous yet disdainful of her husband’s mistress, bossy yet beseeching with her driver, sarcastic yet playful in her husband’s presence, and respectful yet dignified while speaking to her stepmother-in-law. The ease with which Mahie Gill presents the subtleties of her character’s persona is a testimony to her potential as an actress.
Randeep Hooda is so convincing in his portrayal of a driver that one can practically smell his greasy shirt and hear him smack his greedy lips. Mean-eyed and ambitious, on the constant lookout for opportunities to upgrade his rank, his know-it-all swagger highlights the irony of the ending.
The movie itself is entertaining while being evocative. Its gripping pace keeps the viewer hooked, and it seems much shorter than the two hours it lasts. However, its greatest achievement, perhaps, is that it gets the audience thinking about themes it doesn’t brood on – the question of honour, the pathos of clinging on to a disappearing past, the sting of betrayal, the contrast between stateliness and the means by which it is achieved.
At a time when audiences have been largely insensitised to violence, this movie has the excellent sense to leave grisliness to the horror of one’s imagination. One particular episode is reminiscent of the ear-cutting scene from Reservoir Dogs in that it hits harder by showing less. The stunt sequences have been choreographed very well, and blood and gore largely avoided. Another positive is that the intimate scenes have been shot both realistically and aesthetically.
The final verdict: It’s difficult to think of a downside to Saheb, Biwi Aur Gangster. And your theatre experience is unlikely to be ruined, as annoying kids are banned and giggling couples usually choose the boring fare.