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What makes Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster Returns a great film?

  1. Direction

The director has selected a brilliant cast ensemble and it is impossible to empathize with their brazen manipulation and scheming. Every character in this intriguing tale is grey; they have their own selfish motives, their own insecurities and their own internal conflicts to resolve. The sequel is actually meaner fare, more extravagant in the canvas it spreads and smarter in the way it manipulates relationships. Such a complicated story is handled with minimal melodrama, it’s the subtlety of this story that is hugely commendable. The dramatic-narrative core of the film, intelligently sketched with dichotomous layers – dark, brooding and lustful, is also suffused with a delirious quality that is both delightful and disorienting. Director Tigmanshu Dhulia has created an enthralling world with rajas fighting for their kingship, gangsters sleeping with the enemy, politicians watching porn and women unapologetic about adultery in the ballroom as well as in bedroom. The setting and story is dramatic, dark and witty at the same time. We have:

A ruthless KING

This sequel is a strange mix of foul games which unfolds in the land of the Uttar Pradesh kings, where all moustaches are twirled up with flair; we see a once-wealthy royal sits in a wheelchair and plots his second marriage, the crippled ‘Saheb’ (Jimmy Shergill) holding onto the last vestiges of his shrinking kingly pomp and glory.

A deceitful QUEEN

The boisterous, perfidious and alcoholic ‘biwi’ (Mahi Gill), mostly depressed, lives as Chhoti Rani in the same bunglow with ‘Saheb’ sharing extreme hate and contempt with her husband.

A vengeful GANGSTER

The movie’s high point is the insouciant but restrained swagger of the new gangster ‘Raja Bhaiyya’ (Irrfan Khan), a sly ex-royal out to settle scores with the family that drove his once thriving clan out of its abode and authority several generations ago. There’s also this pretty young princess (Soha Ali Khan) who is adored by Raja Bhaiyya, and she eventually becomes the barter in the battle for power between him and his mentor, and Saheb.

  1. Characterization

Ubiquitous with their own internal motivations, none of the mains can be trusted; we are never sure just how much each protagonist knows, and what their next move is or what, indeed, they want. This fascinating amorality keeps the narrative tense and genuinely unpredictable, and a very solid ensemble coupled with tremendously entertaining dialogue makes this a very rollicking film (not to mention Dhulia’s irresistibly quirky gallows humour.) The characters are a somewhat deranged bunch quite capable of doing the unthinkable without batting an eyelid.

Plus all the things that made the prequel impressive — its mood, its rawness, its boldness, and the tight trio dynamics at its epicenter — seem much too impressive in the sequel, so much so that the crux of the plot, the Biwi’s desperation and anguish at her negligence by her Saheb, that makes all her crimes and manipulation so forgivable in the prequel, here Mahi Gill alternates oomph and angst to play out the bizarre mix of alpha woman, seductress and vulnerable alcoholic to perfection.

Irrfan Khan is rage personified.

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