In a nod to the Guru Dutt classic from which it derives its title, director Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster explores the premise of a married woman’s isolation in a sprawling estate, and the unlikely relationship she forms with a devoted male help. Sadly that’s where the comparisons must end. For where Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam was the poignant portrait of a complex friendship, Dhulia’s film is an over-simplistic and somewhat predictable tale of love and betrayal.
Mahie Gill is the mentally fragile wife of Jimmy Shergill, a former royal struggling to keep up appearances in hard times. Unloved and neglected by a husband who spends more time conspiring against his enemies or in the arms of his mistress, Mahie finds herself seduced by the charms of Randeep Hooda, her scruffy driver. Randeep, incidentally, is working as an informant for her husband’s rival, who is making plans to take down the royal.
The film opens intriguingly and maintains an even pace, but it’s betrayed ultimately by a confused script that hobbles around in all directions, never quite finding its rhythm. Dhulia knows the milieu, so the film has an earthiness that is attractive, and much of the dialogue is clever. Yet, key dramatic scenarios are handled amateurishly – like a sequence in which a simple misunderstanding causes Jimmy to cut off the mistress he’s so vulnerable to. Or one in which Mahie pours her heart out to her husband from the other side of a curtain; only turns out it isn’t her husband on the other side. It’s lapses of logic like these that are unforgivable.
Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster is ambitious in its idea, and the dynamics of the relationships between its central characters are nicely handled. But Dhulia slips up in the tiny details. An uncomfortable tension between Jimmy’s character and his step-mother is never convincingly justified, and no adequate explanation is provided for Mahie’s delicate mental condition. The film’s music score, attributed to as many as seven composers, is terrible to say the least, barring the spirited Jugni track.
The film is saved to some degree by the credible performances that Dhulia extracts from his lead actors: Mahie Gill, Jimmy Shergill, and particularly Randeep Hooda whose rakish charm is his character’s strongest weapon. The solid acting keeps your interest grounded in the film, despite the script’s shortcomings.
I’m going with two-and-a-half out five for Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster – it’s inspired by a classic, but let down by its own triteness. Not a perfect film, but one that has its moments.