In Ram Gopal Varma’s third installment in the “Sarkar” series, the once powerful protagonist is now a shadow of himself. Amitabh Bachchan reprises his role as Subhash Nagre, an overlord who once ruled over Mumbai with muscle power but now finds himself fighting battles at home to salvage his crumbling empire.
“Sarkar 3” comes nine years after “Sarkar Raj”, apparently enough time for Varma to develop selective memory about the characters in his franchise and their motivations.
There is no sign of Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan), the business magnate who takes over the reins of Nagre’s empire in the last film. Instead we see a frail Sarkar, caught in a power struggle between his sullen grandson Cheeku (Amit Sadh) and his henchman Gokul (Ronit Roy).
A project (we are never told what it actually is) in the heart of Mumbai that needs an entire slum to be displaced becomes the point of conflict in the film.
Nagre might be a strongman with an army of hired killers at his disposal, but in the honoured tradition of the Bollywood bad guy, he only kills to save the poor and downtrodden.
Believing it to be unfair to slum dwellers, Nagre refuses to take part in the project, invoking the wrath of Michael Walia, a mafia don whose character is perhaps the best thing about this film.
Jackie Shroff plays Walia with a deliciously deadpan face, issuing orders to kill assorted enemies from his terrace swimming pool and then spouting inane wisdom to his moll, who is always in various states of undress and randomly feeding animals every time we see her. Whether intentional or not, the scenes with Shroff are far and away the funniest in the film.
Unfortunately, the rest of the 132-minute run time is devoid of any surprises or action. There are conspiracies galore, each accompanied by a rising crescendo of the “Govinda” track from the first film, but none of the plot twists are new.
As in the previous films, the story revolves around a few people out to destroy Nagre and his empire and how he gets the better of them. His struggle to keep it going despite personal setbacks is never fully delved into.
Nor does Varma bother to explore the politics of Maharashtra, where the film is set. The film is far from political realities of the state, which is surprising given that Sarkar was modeled on the life of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray.
Bachchan tries hard to channel his inner Vito Corleone for the third time even as the rest of the cast dart piercing looks at each other. Amit Sadh as Cheeku channels so much intensity that you would be forgiven for thinking he was a soldier going off to fight at the border. Thankfully, Ronit Roy is the exact opposite, playing Gokul with dependable efficiency. But that is hardly enough to salvage a film that, like its protagonist, is a mere shadow of its earlier avatars.