Film Review: Department

Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma

Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Sanjay Dutt, Rana Dagubatti and Vijay Raaz

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There is a heartbreaking moment about 10 minutes into Department – it was the point I realised this film was not going to be the one to silence Ram Gopal Varma’s (RGV) vociferous critics and will ensure he stays an easy target for the ever snarky Hindi cinema media. Furthermore, I also realised watching Department was going to be a waste of time and another phone-it-in review to write; as usual, all the elements are there for a good film – an interesting concept, good production values and a capable star cast. But there seems to be a massive disconnect between the conception and execution of Department which I have to be honest, is the only thing that made me stay till the end to try and figure out what it was. (Being a Hindi film obsessive can sometimes be a real pain in the perennial…)

There were two elements that spoilt Department for me. The first is the script which is incredibly weak – there is hardly any momentum or focus which results in too many storylines, an ensemble cast with no co-ordination and a running time that seems to drag on forever. Sadly, the malaise also reaches the dialogue writers with some truly crap (and forgettable) lines being spouted with the utmost seriousness. The second problem is the cinematography – interestingly, a five camera set up was used for some scenes and for others, the camerawork seems to be operated by the work experience intern who seems to forget he/she is actually there to follow the narrative. Not only does it disorientate the audience but using the technique with a lack of consideration makes Department feel more like a student project than a unique mainstream film.

Having said that, the five-camera set up does hit the jackpot a few times, giving the scenes a new dimension and challenging the actors, which actually make for the few and far between compelling moments in the film. Sadly, Department also wants to be all things to everyone so we have unnecessary songs, pointless titillation (make of that what you will) and overblown action which overshadows some of the better sequences. RGV even throws in a wedding song which may have been intended as a curveball but as two people walked out before the interval, I’m guessing most viewers will find the song by other means.

Interestingly though, the cast are very good – RGV hasn’t lost his ability to coax good performances out of his actors. Amitabh Bachchan is good as always and though his characterisation is massively uneven in a bad way, Bachchan still gives the role more gravitas than it merits. Sanjay Dutt gives a reasonable account of himself – after Agneepath, this is nowhere near what he is capable of but at least he looks present in most scenes which helps. The real stars for me were Vijay Raaz who steals the show in a few performance orientated scenes and even though he is criminally wasted, Raaz still commands respect and gives nuance where it is not present. The other winner is Rana Dagubatti who stands shoulder to shoulder with Dutt in most scenes and plays his part just right, keeping his enthusiasm in check without compromising on intensity.

Needless to say, I was massively disappointed by Department, not just because the concept itself of a lawless police department has infinite possibilities to be explored but also RGV has given us amazing films like Company, Sarkar and Rangeela and I felt that Department was almost a defiant waste of his talent, provoking his detractors but also damaging his own name in the process. This is definitely one to watch if there is no paint on a wall around to watch drying or to be kinder, on in the background whilst being telecast but not a film that will be remembered by the Class of 2012, never mind May 2012 itself. Forgettable.

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