Bollywood filmmaker Ram Ghopal Varma has a verve for violence and it’s on vivid display in Company, a gangster chronicle about Chandu (Oberoi) and Malik (Devgan)–two Mumbai hoods whose friendship severs after one of them suffers a crisis of loyalty and conscience. In some ways, this 150-minute movie clips along quite well, shunting us from Mumbai to Hong Kong with pit stops in Switzerland and Nairobi as members of a big Mumbai crime syndicate try to elude their mob rivals and the police. The script, true to Indian standards, is ridiculously overripe–it’s bloated, inefficiently developed and poorly paced. The interrelationships are naive and simplistic, the acting is ham-fisted, and the whole thing is a silly contraption that you just can’t take seriously. Then again each culture has its own indigenous identity and signature, and qualities that seem silly to us are completely in line with, in this case, Indian narrative values. I’ve felt a similar cringe in watching certain Hong Kong movies too.
In spite of its egregious flaws, there are things that make Company interesting, particularly Varma’s matter-of-fact approach to gangland violence. After all, the theme of Company is that a gang’s ruthless tactics are simply business-as-usual. When a guy pulls a gun and blows away an unsuspecting victim, there is a disturbing nonchalance about it and I thought that very attitude gave a nifty psychological touch to the genre. As over-the-top as Indian cinema can often get, it was cool to see how this director can treat violence realistically, without pulling any punches and still manage a strange visceral rush. The director also uses dissolves and symphonic music to cool effect. If you like Bollywood, check this one out. If you like gangster movies, give it a shot, but keep a remote handy to jog through all Company’s more ineffectual, decidedly Bollywood-driven stretches.
Directed by: Ram Gopal Varma
Written by: Jaideep Sahni
Cast: Ajay Devgan, Mohanlal, Manisha Koirala, Seema Biswas, Vivek Oberoi