Sequels, by now a Bollywood formula, usually get made for major blockbuster hits. But that’s not necessary. The kind of footfalls on the day of a sequel’s release could give you a fair sense of how many people in the audience had actually liked the film’s first part. Box-office receipts only tell you how many people had bought the tickets. This is a reason I suppose Salman Khan’s Dabangg would get Dabangg 2, but not Bodyguard, even though it must have been a bigger hit.
Anecdotal evidence suggests Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster (2011) – though hardly the year’s top grossing film – was largely enjoyed by those who had paid to watch the film. It was a richly plotted hinterland thriller with a twist at every turn. The two main characters in the film had eventually survived all the intrigues and blood-bath. There may be a captive audience interested to know what happens to them thereafter. That explains this sequel. It lives up to its basic promise.
Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster Returns is a re-run only in the sense that there is of course the ‘Sahib’ (Jimmy Shergill), who is bound to a wheelchair now, though he looks quite fresh and at ease for someone who’d taken two bullets on his upper body. His chief henchman I thought had been shot dead, but he’s around and seems to be in good shape as well. The Sahib isn’t obviously very fond of his seductive, slimy, deceptively sharp and drunk Biwi (Mahie Gill). He is still probably being too kind to someone who’d planned to finish him off in the first place.
She is his ‘stamp paper’ MLA now. The Sahib’s “kingdom” is his legislative constituency. This is true for his neighbouring landlord friends. Caste, religion, development or democracies don’t matter when people are ready to be ruled by kings and queens. As they have always been. This is why I guess Mayawati needs to erect her own statues in Lucknow – to convince her public of a new monarchy. These Don-Raja MLAs don’t need political parties to win elections. As Independents, who don’t follow party lines, they become crucial to the passing of closely contested bills in the Assembly. This is how the politics of the state mixes with the local and kitchen politics of this film.
Recalling the original then doesn’t seem necessary to appreciate the sequel. It’s the new ‘Gangster’ who changes the game. There is also the ‘other woman’. The Sahib had a mistress before. He has a love-interest now (Soha Ali Khan, she kind of falls flat in this role though). So you can watch this film for its own sake. This is good to know. There are enough shades of grey between the picture’s four lead characters to keep you guessing their next move: “Har rishte ke peeche saazish hai (there is a conspiracy behind every relationship).”
The ‘Gangster’ goes after the ‘Sahib’ to set right the wrongs of history. His forefathers, three generations ago, used to be royalty. The Sahib’s ancestors had finished them off. The gangster could’ve been king. He is currently a lukkha, aspiring politician. Exploring this protagonist’s world further could provide us fabulous insights into the ‘taesh’ and ‘tashan’ of street politics in Uttar Pradesh. But this movie is mostly set indoors, in and around a palace.
This gangster or upstart neta is called Indrajeet Singh, locally known as Raja Bhaiya. Reference to Raghuraj Singh, an Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister with shady credentials, also known as “Raja Bhaiya”, is quite obvious. Such fictionalised touches of truth only elevate the film’s credibility.
The incredible Irrfan plays this part. It's not that he always gets the best roles or lines. It’s the icy coolness with which he casually delivers them that inevitably sets his character apart. He’s also on home turf here. Irrfan was first widely noticed as a UP college politician/goon in Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Haasil (2003). One of his best roles was in and as Paan Singh Tomar (2012), which is also Dhulia’s last film. The filmmaker had a better story to tell there. No leap of faith or fiction can match an honest, inspiring real-life journey such as that.
Dhulia himself is a movie polymath of sorts – currently on a roll. He also made an explosive acting debut last year with Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur. Here he is credited for “screenplay, dialogue and direction.” The actors take care of their lines. He takes care of quick, smart one-liners that beautifully come and go: “Aapko pata hai mard itni gaaliyaan kyon dete hain? Kyunki woh rote kam hain (You know why men cuss so much, because they don’t cry much)”. It’s the music that sounds derivative of several soundtracks you’ve heard before. Nothing sticks. The narrative thankfully does.
The Gangster could’ve plotted his whole life to bring the Sahib down. It turns out the Sahib wants to forcibly marry the same woman (Soha) that the Gangster is in love with. She belongs to an adjoining royal family. This makes the need for revenge all the more urgent. You know the cunning Biwi will get involved in some way.
Bigamy is illegal in India. I guess that shouldn’t matter once you’re sure of being the “king”. The film’s title refers to Abrar Alvi’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam, which looked at delusions and decadence among India’s extinct or ex-royals. The ones here are comical. Even in their heydays, their ancestors would’ve been glorified landlords. Their homes have crumbled, their attitudes haven’t. You laugh at their antics just as you feel sad for these characters. I guess comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin. This film captures it quite well.