Class of 83, which is based on a book authored by leading crime journalist Hussain Zaidi, is set in Bombay in the 1980s when the underworld’s stranglehold on the city was becoming hard to break. Dozens of young men rendered jobless as a result of the ongoing mill strike were being lured into joining local gangs, and the nexus between powerful politicians and criminal gang leaders made it hard for the police to weed out the problem. With this as the backdrop, the film follows an ideological cop-turned-trainer who moulds five cadets into encounter specialists.
Yanked off the field for doing his job with more integrity than those in power would like him to, upright officer Vijay Singh (Bobby Deol) lands a ‘punishment posting’ as the dean of the Police Training Centre in Nashik. Convinced that the only way to restore order in a flawed system is to fix it from the inside, he handpicks a clutch of bold young officers and trains them to bend the law in service of the larger good.
It’s an interesting premise, and director Atul Sabharwal constructs a believable world on the strength of strong atmospherics and period detail. The problem, however, is with the script, which spends more time establishing – then repeatedly reminding us of – the city’s political and social climate, instead of fleshing out the five officers at the centre of the story. We never really get an individual sense of these men aside from stray details like one is a compulsive masturbator, and another is the son of a laid-off mill worker.
The other crucial issue with the film is the miscasting of the mentor figure. The part required a possibly older actor with some gravitas, which Bobby Deol is unable to bring. Dean Vijay Singh was an idealistic, firecracker officer, now trying to adjust to a new world and a new order. Bobby sports greying temples and old-fashioned wire-rimmed spectacles, but he doesn’t have the manner of a world-weary gent.
Inspired from real accounts of the city’s first encounter specialists, the film depicts how the officers shrewdly planned and executed hits while staying within the system and following all necessary protocol. But then it quickly slips into a predictable rise-and-fall-and-rise narrative with egos and corruption breaking up the friends, and a last-ditch shot at redemption triggered by their mentor.
The thing about Class of 83 is that it probably sounded great on paper, but doesn’t translate as effectively to the screen. There’s more philosophy than action, and because we don’t get to know the characters in a deep or personal way we’re never genuinely invested in them. Of the five actors playing the encounter specialists only Bhupendra Jadawat is able to make any impression in the role of Shukla. It’s a shame because the others perform just as competently but get little scope to leave a mark. Anup Soni is expectedly reliable as your stock villain-politician, as is Joy Sengupta as a senior officer.
The film had potential but it feels unmistakably inert. It serves, at best, as a slice of Mumbai’s police history. It could have been – and should have been – so much more.
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Stream on: Netflix