Just take a moment to consider this list: Rangeela, Daud, Satya, Kaun, Mast, Jungle, Company, Bhoot, Naach, Sarkar. If there’s anything that defined Ramgopal Varma’s early directing career it was his unpredictability. No matter how good or bad each film was there was no guessing what he was going to do next. It’s what made him one of the most exciting filmmakers in the late 90s up until the mid 2000s.

And then it’s as if he decided to live up to the name of his production banner – Factory. It was all remakes, sequels, and gimmicks. Just like that his tendency to surprise the audience was gone.               

Watching “Sarkar 3”, the latest installment in his saga centered on a powerful Mumbai crime family, it is the death of Varma’s most marked feature – that very unpredictability – that you mourn more than any of the dozen or so characters who’re gruesomely gunned down on screen.

“Sarkar 3” is set in modern day Mumbai, but it may as well be ten years ago, or fifteen. Barring the sight of a drone, there is nothing – from its plot to its aesthetic – that appears to have been updated since the first “Sarkar” in 2005.

Amitabh Bachchan returns as Subhash Nagre, a figure both respected and feared, based in equal parts on Don Corleone and Bal Thackeray. It’s not hard to guess how things will pan out when Nagre’s now grown-up estranged grandson Shivaji (Amit Sadh) returns home to join the family business and clashes with the old man’s long-serving right-hand man Gokul (Ronit Roy).

Nagre Sr is pitted against a rogues’ gallery of disgruntled businessmen, politicians and thugs, including Manoj Bajpai as a voluble neta, and Jackie Shroff as a Dubai-based millionaire whose sexist one-liners directed at his bikini-clad girlfriend are the film’s guilty pleasure. The story involves the usual double crossing, conspiracies and twists…every single one of which is entirely predictable. As is Varma’s fascination for shooting his characters in silhouette, taking repeated close-ups of entirely pointless props, and placing the camera in the strangest of places, although I’m grateful he doesn’t move it around as much. Then there is that eardrum-shattering background music, and that incessant “Govinda govinda” chant.

Not everything will make you want to slit your wrists though. There are occasional flashes of the talented filmmaker we once knew. You’ll spot it in a handsomely mounted Ganesh aarti sequence and the scene that immediately follows. Also Varma and his cameraman Amol Rathod find interesting ways to use the bustling city as a canvas against which the drama unfolds. This is an intrinsically Mumbai film and they exploit the varied landscape shrewdly.

Of the cast, Amit Sadh is especially impressive as the hotheaded successor to Sarkar’s legacy, and expectedly Amitabh Bachchan commands the screen as the imposing protagonist. The actors, however, are saddled with cheesy lines straight out of the gangster-movie playbook.

“Sarkar 3” is an improvement on many of Varma’s recent films, which, quite frankly, were unwatchable to say the least. Yet it’s steeped in familiarity and an overwhelming sense of repetition and pointlessness. Did we really need another “Sarkar” film? Sadly, the answer is no.

I’m going with two out of five.

Rating: 2 / 5

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