Ahead of the release of Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster 3, director Tigmanshu Dhulia admitted that the franchise was following a pattern, with the gangster in the film changing every time. Randeep Hooda was the first iteration, Irrfan Khan the second, and Sanjay Dutt the third.
"If we don't get a villain for the fourth part, I will play it," he half-joked.
Clearly, Dhulia wants his pet project to continue. It's safe to say, without giving too much of the thriller's plot away, that the director is still injecting traces in the story to ensure a future for the franchise.
Dutt fits into the revolving door nicely, and does well in the role, despite not being in the most favourable of limelights recently outside of the film, and all barely two weeks after his biopic Sanju was released. But, the actor once again carries the image of a glorified gangster well, as he has throughout his chequered career, from Naam to Khalnayak to Agneepath.
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Dhulia's first in the SBG series was in 2011 and the second was in 2013 with SBG Returns. The first movie was followed by a string of critically acclaimed hits for the director, such as Pan Singh Tomar, Shahid and Gangs of Wasseypur. It really looked like he could do no wrong.
But then followed a string of four flops – two as a director and two as a producer. And so that's where Dhulia stood at the release of SBG3, and with the controversial Dutt filling in as the gangster.
Dutt's villain becomes the X-factor in the chemistry between royal couple Aditya Pratap Singh (played by Jimmy Sheirgill) and Madhvi Devi (a role filled by Mahie Gill), who are both yearning for power and conspiring against each other while living in the same old mansion and searching for love in their own way.
Dhulia's real challenge is to move the story forward into the modern era, while also clinging to the past and not changing the backdrop of the protagonists too much. It is a battle of past and present, much like that of the royal families of the princely states during India's post-independence after 1947, when they had to give up their status and subsist on a Privy Purse by the government, which also stopped in 1971.
If you are wondering how much more play can still be extracted from a feuding couple, Dhulia's script does well when it comes to settling you into the story. After seeing old mansions in the past two runs, the movie opens in modern-day London, cuts back into familiar royal territory and even sees characters being 'bugged', spy style. So plot twists is one test the director sails through comfortably.
With the royal families, who were merely a side prop in the earlier movies, coming to the forefront here, the ensemble cast gets bigger and the conspirators more complicated. This all keeps the drama going.
Another element for Dhulia was to see how actors like Sheirgill, Chitrangda Singh, Deepak Tijori, Kabir Bedi and Gill – all veterans in Bollywood but not that well-established – would match up to Dutt's star, especially Sheirgill, as he is the main lead role in all three franchises.
The three scenes where Sheirgill and Dutt come together are the most standout when it comes to dialogue delivery. Mahie Gill also delivers a strong performance. These lead you effortlessly to the climax, but that's where it all falls apart.
There are mindless scenes of deceit, guns and even a mujra – the old form of dance that the royals in the medieval age patronised – to replace the mandatory item-girl song.
In fact, the ending makes you wonder if Dhulia got impatient and focused too much of his thinking looking ahead at the fourth part of the series. It also led to us thinking that maybe Dhulia should have stuck to his part as a writer and let someone else give the direction.
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