Udita Jhunjhunwala’s Verdict: ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns’

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Tigmanshu Dhulia’s follow up to 2011’s ‘Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster’ is a true sequel. The writer-director has indeed taken the story forward; rather naturally and smartly introduced a few pivotal new characters. So while the ‘Saheb’ Aditya Pratap Singh is still played by Jimmy Shergill (albeit in a wheelchair) and Mahie Gill plays the alcoholic and wayward ‘Biwi’, Madhavi, there is a new gangster. Irrfan delivers a punchy performance as Rajkumar Inderjit Singh, the vendetta-driven erstwhile royal focused on avenging the atrocities and humiliation faced by his family.

With their marriage becoming hollow and needing an heir, Saheb decides to remarry. He sets his sights on Rajkumari Ranjana (Soha Ali Khan) who happens to be in love with Inderjit. Saheb will go to any lengths to get what he wants. The Gangster is determined to exact revenge on Saheb’s family and agrees to play Ranjana as a pawn in order to entrap Saheb. But the web is so complex that ultimately only one can come out a winner.

Set in the heartlands of UP, where politicians and former royals are forced to collude, Dhulia delivers a story about relationships, power struggles and ego. Set in present times, the local MP (Rajiv Gupta, superb) is shown befuddled by a Skype meeting and unable to switch off his laptop when it starts replaying an erotic video in the middle of an important meeting. But the milieu is confused with the engagement party taking on a colonial style as a crooner in a long old-fashioned gown sings and couples pretend to waltz.

The male characters are well etched with two standout performances coming from Shergill and Irrfan. Shergill carefully balances playing the arrogant royal with the charming suitor while Irrfan slips into his part like it was tailored for him. In contrast, the women’s parts are given little depth perhaps contributing to Gill and Khan looking like they are acting rather than feeling their parts. Because of this you don’t sympathise with either woman. But the real stars of the piece are the locations, production design and the dialogue (Dhulia). Sample this line delivered by Aditya Pratap Singh: “I am a king. I can afford an extra wife.”

But Dhulia pushes the story beyond its natural tension. The momentum flags in the latter part with a sudden importance being given to Inderjit’s policeman brother. And why the inclusion of two jarring items numbers? A few good scenes are not enough to bind the film. And it ends leaving options open for part 3. But then feudal India is a rich canvas and there are enough sahebs, biwis and gangsters to imagine.
 
Rating: ***