Director Ram Gopal Varma admits to being greatly inspired by The Godfather (Widescreen Edition). SARKAR is his homage to the Mario Puzo/Francis Ford Coppola classic and is itself a taut crime melodrama but centering on the true power of Mumbai, Subhash Nagare, who is dubbed Sarkar by the general populace. "Sarkar" translates to "The Government" and is also an honorific used when speaking to someone of great authority. As played by the magnetic Amitabh Bachchan, Subhash Nagare is regal in presence and not one to be trifled with.
So, in Mumbai, everyone bows to Sarkar. Even the local ruling government respects and even fears Sarkar's far reaching influence. Each day sees the downtrodden people of Mumbai frequenting his abode and patiently lining up for hours to air their grievances to Subhash Nagare. Subhash is considered a "parallel government," as one character in the film puts it, and he's able and willing to dispense justice when all other channels have proven ineffective.
But Subhash Nagare is largely misunderstood by the governing establishment. He is labeled an underworld don; Nagare considers himself a man of the people, a man with a vision, who doesn't shirk from what needs to be done, even if that should be an eye for a bloody eye. No, he's not a gangster but rather a charismatic man who wields extraordinary clout and unchecked power. But a man with such sovereignty always inspires jealousy. It was only a matter of time before hidden forces conspire to frame Sarkar in the assassination of a popular politician, who had condemned him as a thug. With his friends and allies turning on him and with his freedom and very life threatened, Subhash Nagare turns to one person: his son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan). But will the thoughtful and idealistic Shankar be able to muster the drive and ruthlessness necessary to do what must be done?
Some damn fine acting in this one. Amitabh is his usual excellent self, bringing the gravitas to his role like no one else can. Meanwhile, for the first half of the film, Abhishek just seems to linger in the scenes, being the faithful, goody-two-shoes son. But he reaches his stride in the second half as he then turns in a performance matching his father in concentrated intensity and brooding angst. Abhishek, not surprisingly, won film awards as Best Supporting Actor for his role of Shankar. A pat on the back also goes to Kay Kay Menon who plays the other son, the vicious and tortured Vishnu. I don't know the actor who played the evil, scheming swami (could he brush his hair aside more?), but he, too, is very effective - I hated him on sight. Tanisha has some good wistful scenes as Shankar's childhood friend. Katrina Kaif is okay as Pooja, Shankar's girlfriend who forces him to choose between her and his father. Katrina Kaif, by the way, is very hot. But she's a lot better in Namastey London DVD.
Is SARKAR as good as THE GODFATHER? Well, let's not kid ourselves. As mentioned, SARKAR is this director's homage to Coppola's epic film and only superficially resembles the 1972 classic. In its own right, SARKAR is a compelling motion picture with riveting acting performances by the superstar father and son tandem. Then, there's the powerhouse score and that ever recurring song "Govinda Govinda" which greatly enhances the tension level. But SARKAR is no GODFATHER.
In its style and ferocity, SARKAR's probably as far from a typical Bollywood film as one can get, especially since it makes do without any musical dance productions and, at 2 hours in length, is far shorter than the Bollywood norm. If certain narrative points were tame and derivative, well, there were still enough highlight moments to make up for them, including the last 15 minutes or so, when Shankar comes into his own and gets his dark revenge on (although I did feel that certain sequences there were too rushed). I also really liked the final scene. Yes, you could see it coming a mile away - the movie, after all, had been leading up to this moment - but it still ends up as the most fitting way on which to cap things.
Incidentally, SARKAR proved to be enough of a box office hit in 2005 that a sequel, SARKAR 2, is in the works and is scheduled for theatrical release in early 2008. This sequel is slated to co-star my favorite Bollywood actress, Abhishek's newlywed wife Aishwarya Rai (now Aishwarya Bachchan). Director Ram Gopal Varma has stated that SARKAR 2 won't be patterned after GODFATHER 2 but will instead tell its own different story. I can't wait to check it out!