Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And the power to create cinema that takes the prevalent language of narration into the domain of the dark and unpredictable is a privilege belonging to some politically savvy filmmakers. Sudhir Mishra tops the list. Tigmanshu Dhulia follows close behind.
The manner in which Dhulia brings into play the murky, sleazy politics of Uttar Pradesh is remarkable for the fusion of lies and truth with the borderline between the two extremes simply blurring.
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is an audacious tongue-in-cheek homage to Guru Dutt's timeless classic Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Don't believe the director's protestations to the contrary. Dhulia's film even opens with an unabashed tribute to Guru Dutt's film with skeletons being dug out during an excavation.
There onwards there are plenty of skeletons tumbling out of secret places in the zamindar's (Jimmy Sheirgill) bedroom and other workplaces, all leading to a series of climaxes, many of them aggressively sexual in nature.
Dhulia deconstructs and demystifies Meena Kumari's alcohol-laden mysterious Choti Bahu from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. As played by Mahie Gill in Dhulia's new-age deconstructed version of the old film, the wife is a full-blooded sexually dissatisfied, curious and predatory creature somewhat annoying in her insistence on going against the rules of her husband's crumbling haveli.
Scenes showing the wife's rebellious streak are awkwardly constructed.
It is no coincidence that the intruder in Dhulia's film is a libidinous over-ambitious driver whose hunger for sex and power drives him to self-destruction. As played by Randeep Hooda, he is quite the opposite of the gentle shy besotted little creature that the Choti Bahu befriended in Guru Dutt's film.
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster creates a world far removed from Guru Dutt's classic, and yet the two works are miraculously joined at the hip. Almost every character from the Guru Dutt film is replicated if not parodied in Dhulia's film. There is even Deepal Shaw playing a modern day version of Waheeda Rehan's Jabaa from Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.
Waheedaji's reaction to her new-age avatar is awaited.
Sex and politics fuse into the fading crumbling feudal world of Dhulia's cinema, creating a potent mix of passion and politics. As the goon, who dares to enter his benefactor's wife's bedroom and dreams of taking his place, Randeep Hooda has the best lines and graph graph for his character. Here's an actor who is yet to get his due.
Mahie Gill plays the desolate wife with an absolute absence of enigma. Meena Kumari didn't quite know what she was searching for. This woman knows exactly what she wants and finally gets it through the nozzle of the gun.
Jimmy Shergill has over the years evolved as an actor of subtle skills. As the embittered husband and doddering landlord he brings to the storyboard a kind of gentle persuasiveness that goes beyond the narration. His scenes with his father's mistress are gems conveying wry disdain for a woman who controls the resources of a rapidly crumbling feudal kingdom.
Dhulia is in the habit of bringing into play the political forces that determine human nature in Uttar Pradesh.
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster turns progressively Shakespearean towards the end with three protagonists hurling towards self-destruction. As they delve toward doom you are left with no choice but to watch the characters as pathetic paradigms of an era that has long gone.
The crumbling sepia-toned interiors and colour tones scream out a message of live and let live. But it's too late, Dhulia's characters are felled by their own greed and lust.
Guru Dutt would have probably choked at this bad land bawdy burlesque of Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam. Lekin man-na padega, boss. Tigmanshu Dhulia's homage to Dutt is saucy if somewhat uneven in tone and jagged at the edges.