Film Review: Sarkar Raj

BOTTOM LINE: A once revolutionary Indian director has nothing new to offer.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Sixty-five-year-old Amitabh Bachchan, India's vibrant and virile living legend, is riveting in nearly every film he does. But even a true fan's ardor is tested by the tedious political thriller, "Sarkar Raj."

The film is inspired by the real-life, intricate machinations of power in the country's richest state, Maharashtra, where the fortunes of many a billionaire have flourished and faltered under the eyes of religious, turbaned old men like Rao-saab (Dilip Prabhavalkar). Rao holds the rights to a huge plot of land where a multinational corporation wants to build India's largest power plant; some 40,000 villagers will have to be displaced, but the project guarantees glory to whoever is attached to it.

The power company's clever CEO, Anita Rajan (Aishwarya Rai), soon learns that no progress can be made until the egos and bank accounts of "Sarkar" (leader) Subhash Nagre (Bachchan) and Nagre's son and successor, Shankar (Abhishek Bachchan, the actor's son and Rai's real-life husband), are sated. Sarkar himself, who holds chief ministers and other VIPs in the palm of his hand, has to defer to Rao-saab.

Add to this the fact that social activists and bitter ex-employees are set on destroying the project -- and Sarkar himself -- and one can see the film's potential as an aware, contemporary thriller. This film is a sequel to the 2005 drama "Sarkar."

Iconoclastic director-writer Ram Gopal Varma is single-handedly credited with introducing a coarse, profane realism to Bollywood films ("Satya," 1998, "Company," 2002) that was refreshing for its time. But Varma seems to have fallen into a rut, relying here on excessive close-ups, blaring background music and long, pretentious speeches instead of character development.

Viewers should seek out Mani Ratnam's 2007 film "Guru" instead, to appreciate the on-screen chemistry of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and to get a far more interesting take on the ways power is brokered in India.

Opened: June 6 U.S., India, U.K. (Adlabs Films)

Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai, Dilip Prabhavalkar, Javed Ansari, Victor Banerjee, Upendra Limaye, Govid Namdeo.
Director: Ram Gopal Varma.
Screenwriters: Ram Gopal Varma, Prashant Pandey.
Executive producers: Ram Gopal Varma, Praveen Nischol.
Director of photography: Amit Roy.
Production designer: Sunil Nigvekar.
Music: Amar Mohile.
Costume designer: Urmilla Lal Motwani.
Editor: Nitin Gupta.
125 minutes.