Director: Ram Gopal Varma
Music: Sandeep Chowta; Lyrics:Nitin Raikwar
Running Time: 2 hours and 25 minutes
Ram Gopal Varma's SATYA is one of my very favourite Hindi movies, though rather an anomaly in the Hindi movies that I've seen. Much darker in tone than Bollywood usually offers, it's also one of the most intelligent movies about gangsters ever made in my opinion. RGV returns to similar themes with his movie, Company, but this time brings a whole new style to his direction that makes the movie stand out even more from the Bollywood crowd. The movie still has a grittiness and realism in its examination of the underworld, but this time it is filtered through post-MTV-post-Wong Kar-Wai sensibilities. I've always found Indian movies to have some of the best cinematography in the world, but never seen one that looks like this.
It is inevitable that Ram Gopal Varma fans will compare the stellar Satya and the stylish Company as great Hindi gangsta flicks. On the other hand, it's not really fair to compare the two to one another. While Satya retained some ethnic Bollywood elements, Company almost sanitized itself of any Bollywood cliches and seems to be overly aware and manipulative of how Western audiences will perceive it. In the end, it seemed to me that Company wasn't necessarily made for Bollywood audiences; it's meant to be showcased in international film festivals.
I don't recall when Fernando Mereilles' City of God was done but Company can compete with its vertigo-inducing camerawork at times, especially during the Nairobi shoot-outs in the labyrinth of streets. The characters were not as engaging as Satya's. Vivek Oberoi's -just-got-back-from-New-York method acting grates on my nerves, and his A-Streetcar-Named-Desire-Marlon-Brando grimaces reduces him to a greasy-looking moron. He exaggerates the animal, primal quality of his character.
Here, Satya's Bhiku is now Chandu who loves life and has a soft heart, and Malik is Satya who is cold, calculated, and all for the business. When I saw the DVD bonus interview, I gasped at how condescending the actors were towards their characters. Vivek regards his character as a guy from the slum and he probably thinks the best way to portray this guy physically is to wear a grimace and smear grease on his face. If Chandu is the equivalent of Bhiku in Satya, then I think Vivek's Chandu has none of the charisma and flair of Bhiku whatsoever. I find it a little disturbing that actors who play these characters have such stereotypical, prejudiced views of the people in their own country, and yet they want to profit from these roles by winning awards and praise that they are bold enough to portray characters which are so far away from their privileged backgrounds.
Antara Mali says her character is very fascinating because she is an unsophisticated, village girl who isn't all that bright. Her attitude towards her character implied a definite level of high-browed distance. Face it, your character is not fascinating or interesting. She's just the chick in a gangsta flick. Manisha Koirala is so underused it's shameful, but her Hindi version of Mrs. Mobster with the heroin chick look is a rather cliched formula. Her character leaves a lot to be desired and they could have spent more time on elaborating her role. I think actresses should boycott playing one-dimensional girlfriend/chick roles in gangsta films. Women still weren't gangstas in Satya but at least their presence was central to the film. Satya is much more classical in tone and structure, while Company does this MTV video routine. It's just meant to be a cool-looking piece that Andy Warhol clones can accept.
As for Ajay Devgan's Malik, all I can say is that I hope Kajol is sincerely in love with him, or she might turn into a zombie when she has to stare at his bland face for the rest of her life. Devgan's Malik is competent but again after seeing the intensity of the characters in Satya, it's hard to feel much for Company's characters. They didn't command as much sympathy and support as Satya characters did, and Vivek Oberoi can't possibly compete with J.D. Chakravarthi's (what happened to him anyway?) complete immersion into his character. Chakravarthi embodied Satya along with the coolness factor, the beard factor (as Simon Booth says), sympathy factor, cold-blooded factor, and acting factor. As for the moral, didactic messages of Company they seemed to be unclear unlike Satya which obviously had an agenda but it was at least brilliantly told. Even with adding more complexity to Company, Satya still stands out as the superior gangsta film.
Company just didn't have the suspense, build-up, and intensity that Satya had. And Company's music was Westernized, or rather, MTV-ized so I didn't find it interesting at all. I'm not sure and I haven't done enough research, but Urmila Matonkar had a guest number whose theme showcased Urmila as a devil temptress of some sort in a very red background. Some of the twists of the story are 1) not every major character dies unlike huge bloodbaths of great gangsta flicks like Godfather II, 2) RGV made this a gangsta film that focused on the internationality of Mumbai's underworld economy with scenes in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Nairobi, etc., 3) split gangs make up (what is there to see then?!), 4) gangstas and cops become friendly and cooperate to bring down evil (?!?!). If RGV's message is for the gangstas and cops to work together for a better society ?wait, let me just laugh first. Therefore, I didn't like it because it sounded too much like an idyllic fantasy.
I wonder why RGV made another gangsta flick after Satya. How can he possibly emulate his past work? I rather have a fantastical, supernatural RGV story where Satya and Bhiku are resurrected from the dead than have another gangsta flick with weird motives, weaker characters, less sincerity, and more intentions to please Western audiences by sacrificing Bollywood elements. Company is a very good film nonetheless, even though it doesn't draw you into the story like Satya does.