Sarkar Raj

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      Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, and Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan. Rated PG.

      Bollywood’s summer-biggies season opens on a rather gloomy note with Sarkar Raj, a gangster epic/political thriller starring the Indian film industry’s first family in a sequel to Sarkar.

      Amitabh Bachchan reprises his role as Nagare family patriarch Subhash (aka Sarkar), a Mumbai gangster who rules the state of Maharashtra as an unelected populist. The film paints him as some sort of a messiah of the people, but there is no mistaking that Sarkar is a criminal mastermind who runs a syndicate involved in everything from political corruption to murder and racketeering. Because this is India, where corruption, greed, and assassinations are systemic, Sarkar is shown as a sympathetic figure who only kills those who have it coming.

      The film revolves around a proposed power plant to be built by a foreign conglomerate that needs Sarkar’s help to get the land, which would mean the displacement of 40,000 villagers. Sarkar is against the project but his son Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan) thinks it represents the state’s future. He’s gung ho to make it happen, perhaps because he really digs the sexy project manager, Anita (Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan). This brings a whole host of unsavory one-note villains into play.

      Director Ram Gopal Varma, who specializes in the crime genre, goes overboard with this story which lacks genuine drama and real characters. And although the Bachchans and the supporting cast do an adequate job, the film occasionally goes off-track with incomprehensible plot lines. Also not helping is the cacophonous music score by Amar Mohile.

      Sarkar delivers a long monologue at the end of the film that explains what really happened: chiefly that the power plant was just a ruse for a power struggle. Too bad Varma didn’t make that film.