The years haven't been kind to Ram Gopal Varma, have they? When he first came on the scene, back in the '90s, Ramu changed the language of Hindi cinema with films like Satya and Rangeela. Somewhere along the way, though, the man clearly lost his way, perhaps when his homegrown talent, the likes of Anurag Kashyap, and Shimit Amin, moved out of his shadow and turned filmmakers in their own right. Though films like Sarkar have been half-way to decent, in the last decade-odd, Ramu has inadvertently taken to a self-satirizing sort of cinema, in an attempt to regain lost glory, capped by that terrible, self-aggrandizing affair he called Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag.
With his latest, Department, Ramu is championing what he calls 'rogue filmmaking', shooting with Canon 5D DSLR cameras, which, being about a quarter the size of conventional video cameras, allow him to cinematographically go where no man has gone before. He tried it with last year's 'Not A Love Story', but this time around, Varma has truly gone overboard, making his last outing look like a gentle oil on canvas in comparison. And it doesn't help that Department has little by way of plot to boast of, rehashing the same 'mentor-vs-protégé' fight that he had documented so brilliantly in Company, a decade ago.
The film deals with a new department set up in the Mumbai police to take on the increasingly brazen underworld taking hold of the city. The gangwar between the two dons, city-based Sawatiya (Vijay Raaz) and an unseen, terrorist-don called Ghori, leads the police to set up a new encounter squad led by Mahadev Bhonsle (Sanjay Dutt), who finds a protégé in rookie cop Shiv Narayan (Rana Daggubati). Though it's a trusting relationship at the start, cracks appear when Shiv realises that the squad only seems to be targeting Sawatiya's gang in the city, without a single hit on Ghori's men, only to realize that Mahadev might be in Ghori's pay. Shiv also starts taking direction from Sarjerao Jadhav (Amitabh Bachchan), an ex-gangster-turned-politician, who doesn't miss a beat in the city, even as Mahadev teams up with Sawatiya's treacherous lieutenant DK (Abhimanyu Singh) and DK's manipulative moll, Nazeer (Madhu Shalini) to take him out. It's the perfect setup for a showdown, or something like it, at least.
Right from the start, Ramu packs the film with vertiginous, nauseating visuals from cameras mounted on feet, hands, on carrom stikers, and more. Not a single scene is the movie is shot steadily, every shot panning up from somebody's head to toe, halting on the oddest parts of the anatomy when the opportunity allows, making for some truly bizarre, even hilarious angles. Ramu is so engrossed in making the film visually 'creative', that he seems to completely forget that direction also involves creating engaging characters and drawing out realistic performances from his actors. Instead, Varma is content to let every one of his players ham it up to their heart's delight. While a tired-looking Sanjay trolls it up with his monotonous, cap-wearing Mahadev, Rana, who impressed with his first outing in Dum Maro Dum last year, inspires smirks here with his wannabe-gritty cop. It's a pity that even the great Amitabh Bachchan is a let-down here, as Ramu reduces Sarjerao to a caricaturish act that seems to be a cross between the superb Sarkar and the terrible Babban, from RGV's 'Aag'.
Abhimanyu Singh is over the top as the crazed DK, Madhu Shalini as Nazeer is comedic in the way she keeps starting every dialogue with a Shakti-Kapooresque babeh. Deepak Tijori sports a garden creeper for a moustache and eye-brows, while Anjana Sukhani and Lakshmi Manchu turn in fantastically wooden performances. The only person who actually delivers a performance of note is Vijay Raaz, but then, what's the point of it?
The music of the film seems quite warped, in the way Ramu brings in random item numbers just to work in the sex-factor. Nathalia Kaur looks uncomfortable in Dan Dan Cheeni, which is understandable, since Sanjay and Rana are dressed like The Village People.
Department is just a sign that Ram Gopal Varma's vision seems to be going from bad to worse. His latest is a criminal waste of actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Rana Daggubati, Abhimanyu Singh and Vijay Raaz. Even in the sheer visuals, RGV has lost his way, cinematography gone rogue in the name of 'rogue filmmaking'. Ram Gopal Varma is the sort of maverick who needs just one film to bounce back. Unfortunately for him, Department is not it. Avoid this one like the plague.