There is the scene where you first see Sarkar. It comes right after some interesting dialogue on the nature of power wielded by the Nagre family. You see Subhash Nagre on his verandah in front of a cheering crowd on his birthday. His hands move up in a glow gesture that looks like part-benediction part-control, before completing their arc and joining together in a namaste above his head. In those few seconds where RGV lets you wonder about the intentions of a simple hand movement, he manages to convey volumes about the self-awareness that permeates the world of this godfather-like figure.
Then there is a scene where a number of people are meeting in Sarkar’s den. The participants are Subhash Nagre (AB), his son Shankar (AB Jr), two rival politicians who are part of a coalition government, one of whom is the CM and the other his deputy, a high-powered executive named Anita Rajan (Ash) who wishes to set up a power plant in Maharashtra and a man named Qazi (Govind Namdeo) who seems to be some sort of middleman and would like to bring Sarkar down (an earlier scene between him and the deputy CM makes this clear).
The conversation centres around the power plant, whose construction would involve relocation of four villages in that area. The CM, who owes his position to Sarkar, meekly puts the proposal before him and asks for his approval. Sarkar is not for it, primarily on account of the 40000 villagers it affects, and makes his displeasure apparent. His son, on the other hand, doesn’t think it’s such a bad idea. The deputy CM isn’t concerned so much about the power plant but about power itself, or more specifically the CM’s and his lack thereof. So he is delighted when Sarkar cuts the CM down. Anita came to the meeting because she was told that Sarkar is the man who can make or break the project. She is dismayed by his reaction, not to mention surprised by the CM’s meekness. Qazi doesn’t reveal much, but clearly the meeting has gone exactly as he had hoped it would.
Now, here’s the kicker. Only two people speak during this entire meeting: Sarkar and the CM. It’s not a long scene either. But watch how RGV shoots, nay, choreographs the scene. His camera never stops, and he knows exactly when to cut to whose reaction. It’s a bit like watching a billiards board – balls caroming into each other. And all this with minimal dialogue.
It is precisely because RGV is capable of such beauty that Sarkar Raj is such a disappointment. There is much to marvel at in those initial scenes where he plunges you headlong into the world he created in Sarkar, but once the plot gets well and truly underway, you find yourself increasingly adrift. You follow the series of billiard ball collisions he sets up, you alternately enjoy and scratch your head at the epigrammatic dialogue, you sit for a moment in complete shock at a late development you most likely didn’t see coming. And yet, you never really manage to get a grip on the whole game. By the time everything is explained in the end, it feels simply too contrived, almost as if he couldn’t be content with just summarizing it as “shit happens”.
When it is all over, there is a lovely little tracking shot where the camera follows Subhash’s wife (Supriya Pathak) walking through the rooms of her house, about to perform an errand that clearly breaks her heart. What her eyes convey in that little moment is, I think, the point of the whole movie. It is as if he wrote the entire convoluted story in order to be able to build up to that scene.
I am reminded of a poem by Charles Bukowski called man in the sun where he says:
sometimes you’ve got to kill 4 or 5
thousand men before you somehow
get to believe that the sparrow
is immortal, money is piss and
that you have been wasting
The trouble with the Nagres is, that realization doesn’t really stop them.