Ann Jo’s Department review

It is difficult to hate Mr. Ram Gopal Varma (RGV). But the problem is that film by film, he is making it easier for his fans to ‘start’ or ‘increase’ hating him. Since SARKAR and NISHABDH, he has only managed to slightly increase or decrease the hate-quotient but has not been able to take the audience back to the SARKAR days of likeability. Raktha Charitra – 1 (RC1) and Raktha Charitra 2 (RC2) had to an extent managed to warm the cockles of his fans’/audience’s hearts but again he subjected the same hearts to attacks through NOT A LOVE STORY. And with DEPARTMENT, he again only reduces –not prevents— the risk of heart attacks to his fans. So this enterprise is recommended mainly for RGV and Amitabh Bachchan fans.

DEPARTMENT is, by all means, a full-on commercial film – only a commercial film that RGV can make. When I say that, I mean that it is distinctly different from directors like Apoorva Lakhia’s SHOOTOUT AT LOKHANDWALA which was a dishonestly derivative commercial venture in the garb of a ‘factually inspired’ movie, what with almost all the inspirations coming from RGV’s nether-world movies. DEPARTMENT, in that sense, bears the RGV stamp, but not with the standards that are associated with his movies. There is actually only one shot in the entire movie which seems a blatant rip-off from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with Sanjay Dutt (SD) enacting the famous scene of Harrison Ford point-blankly shooting the guy, threatening and trying to show off his skill with a sword. The movie definitely is covered with Scorcese’s THE DEPARTED’s clouds but when it rains in the form of story-telling, it is as different as chalk from cheese and total adherence to the Indian setting.

DEPARTMENT is the story of an extra-constitutional body formed by the Mumbai police in order to reign in the under-world elements’ alarming rise in the city of dreams. SD pulls in Rana Daggubati (RD), along with Deepak Tijori (DT) and a couple others to be a part of this DEPARTMENT to cleanse the city of the garbage of underworld – and if it involves propping up a gangster to beat another gangster, so be it. Everybody, right from the government to attorneys to police heads are a part of this team, either visibly or invisibly-with SD and RD being the main foot-soldiers from the movie’s perspective. Amitabh Bachchan (AB) plays a gangster-turned wily politician over-seeing this operation. The story then spans the internal politics that everybody in the DEPARTMENT plays and is a part of to keep the Mumbai underworld under control – not totally eradicate it. RGV keeps the pacing frenetic and reveals the sides
SD and RD or even Vijay Raaz (VR) take at key moments in the film, never too late or too early – and that
is clearly a success. The film’s writing, however, is clearly a problem. The interactions of RD and SD with their families are so horrifically clichéd that the scenes almost seem cut out and pasted from some 2000 episode running sitcom from a Hindi satellite channel. The film’s lines swing from smart one-liners to idiotically clichéd reactions. There is one howlarious moment in the film when the female gangster
played by Madhu Shalini (MS) almost resorts to bra-burning feminism when questioned of her ability to
perform the daily chores of murder and mayhem and remain a part of the gang. It is problems like these
that mar the film from becoming a truly entertaining RGV film. Talking of characterizations, RGV gets
them right except for Abhimanyu Singh’s and Madhu Shalini’s. The two appear –intentionally or unintentionally—as clowns in the form of gangsters.

Let us then come to the main hero (villain) of this enterprise – RGV’s camera-work. One can understand the intentions of RGV using shaky/erratic camera angles when he says these shots represent the ‘attitude’ of the character and also reflect the totality of the situation-at-hand. (Steven Spielberg’s
logic of shooting SCHINDLER’S LIST in B & W was that he did not wish to add any more color to a tragic
event and remain focused on the black and white of the event.) But it is exasperating when this logic
totally goes out the window and RGV resorts to weird camera-angles when it is entirely unnecessary and
adds absolutely no value to the scene – be it the camera staring inside a cup when AB is stirring sugar, or a camera following a tea-vessel, or a camera disgustingly—so disgusting that it could shame even snuff
porn makers— close-capturing from top RD’s moustache— when he drinks from a soda can. The worst
has to be when it comes to women. RGV’s camera follows MS’s derriere in a way one would not even capture the movements of a sex-worker when on business. And MS, for her part, cat-walks as though she is taking part in a Gangster 2012 fashion show! And Nathalie Kaur (NK), the newest RGV pass-time has her derriere kneaded with innumerable male hands and faces a frontal camera-assault to her crotch in a horrific song in the garb of an item. Her expressions, to say the least, put her in a 101 class when compared to another brilliant student of her class – Nisha Kothari. The good things about RGV’s camera-angles are best represented in a brilliant action-sequence in a crowded-market place and the climactic hand-to-hand action sequence between SD and RD (this sequence is reminiscent of Hrithik Roshan-Sanjay Dutt climactic action sequence in MISSION KASHMIR but in a better, more-stylized format). The background score, by the way, is again noisy, to say the least. It is almost as of RGV doesn’t believe that his scenes would have the requisite impact and hence would expect the loud background music to do the job for the scene in question.

Coming to performances, SD does his part well but the age on his face is accurately captured – which is a good thing for the clarity of the cameras used but a bad thing for SD. VR plays his part of a gangster the only way he can uniquely play. Abhimanyu Singh carries over the Bukka Reddy sweaty face to DEPARTMENT. He is clearly wasted in a role that would be chewed up by Jeevan in yester-year films.
RD will give a stiff (and by that I mean wooden) competition to the ever-arched eyebrow of the great
John Abraham. His Hindi is horrific (beja for bheja; bai for bhai) and that only adds to his stiffness. By the way, DEPARTMENT is actually a full-blown action movie for RD and I can imagine his fans in Andhra
going berserk with wolf-whistles and aarti for him during the movie-show. AB steals the show occupying
only 15 minutes of the movie. He manages to maintain that fine line between caricature and cacophony
with an arresting act. He succeeds in eliciting the right amount of repulse from the audience. Most of his lines are a hoot and he matches his actions and reactions word-to-word. It is sad to see him doing ‘items’ in movies like BOL BACHCHAN when there is clearly a huge unused craft-potential.

The issue with RGV is that he seems to be more concerned maintaining his image of a rebel and less with the more important image of being a fine film-maker first. Infact, it would not be wrong to say that DEPARTMENT would be his first film in which style has totally over-shadowed substance. It seems like he is putting his brain to work over-smartly on the most unwanted of issues (like writing a ‘review’ of a review for SARKAR with acidic one-liners (I am expecting one for this too if he gets hold of this); or
trying to ‘revolutionize’ the DOP’s role in a movie). It is hard to believe that his artistic pendulum can swing so wildly. And it is exasperating to support his philosophy that he is a terrific film-maker by
accident. But he is making it so very easy for people to think that route. It is extremely difficult for a person that works beyond the realm of ‘logic’ to see some light in accusations of treating screenplay/
story as a foster-child in cinematic ventures. If the accumulated arrogance and thick-skin does not soon
follow-up with some introspection, the day will not be far when RGV would have more followers on TWITTER than in cinema-halls. Or has that day already come?


6 Responses to “Ann Jo’s Department review”

  1. thanks for the piece Ann Jo, this was a good read..


  2. The overwhelming sense here as elsewhere seems to be that this is another Varma film spoiled by his idiosyncratic visual choices. A shame. He doesn’t seem to be changing these sensibilities so watching his movies these days is really like a test of patience. One really has to “endure” the technique, which can be trying, but it’s also the thing that most distinguishes Varma as a director now. In an age where the “revolution” he initiated (by which I mean the introduction of a certain anti-Yashraj cinema) is being shouldered by younger talents (some of whom he helped foster) and where his relevance isn’t what it used to be, one can’t help but think that his distinctive, often bizarre visual approach is an attempt to stay “fresh” to some degree.


  3. Oh and to be fair to Varma – he’s an equal opportunity voyeur of crotches and rear-ends. Usually he shoots men as awfully as he does women!


  4. Alex adams Says:

    A good piece there Ann Jo ..
    Haven seen the film but an curious to see how he has used the miniature cameras tied to the actors arms, chest etc
    Seeing the visuals of Amitabh thru a teacup !! Surely has a novelty !!
    Somewhere feel rgv continues to do injustice to his undoubted talent..Ditto to dutt n bachchan now
    Ps-what did MShalini indulge in? Literally ?


    • Madhu Shalini takes off exactly where Nisha Kothari left..the same horrific/wh!@#$h expressions. She sways her hips as though she is fanning the air toward the camera and does everything except act.

      When someone is bringing over a newspaper, he ties the camera to that guy’s wrist. In effect, it looks like a horror film since the paper is floating unruffled in thin air..

      However, I do feel there has been a sustained campaign to destroy this movie right from the onset. Seriously, there are many movies out there that are really way, way worse than DEPARTMENT. But they have gotten away with average financial results and press. This movie has really been stomped onto the ground. Mid-day gives it half a star!! I mean, even HATE STORY got 2 or 2.5 stars..

      What is baffling is the public’s unwillingness to give this movie even a single look!! I don’t know whether this is a result of sustained negativity toward RGV and/or AB or just a case of being completely repulsed by RGV’s experimentations.


  5. Alex adams Says:

    Agree there Ann Jo
    Haven’t seen this movie but can’t believe that this is the worst half a star movie out there ..
    Lol@ madhu Shalini ‘swaying her hips’
    Isnt that more common in ‘south’ Indian films…


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