After Urmila Matondkar, Nana Patekar is now getting to be somewhat of a fix-ture in Ram Gopal Varma’s film domain. Close on the heels of playing the self-deprecating cop in Varma’s Bhoot, Patekar again gets into a police identity in Ab Tak Chappan—here sans a uniform—to tackle Varma’s favorite subject—Mumbai’s criminal underworld. Violent and vulgar, Chappan scores as much for highlighting a mature Hindi filmmaking style as it does for its startlingly high titular body count.
Patekar’s Sadhu Agashe commands a ruthless, near-vigilante band of undercover cops whose “suspects” mysteriously seldom make it alive to the courtroom, let alone to the police station en route to the courtroom. Sadhu’s non-conformist ways draw both a silent majority of admirers and a nest of poisonous jealous insiders. Preoccupied with a far-reaching cat-and-mouse game with an international gangster (a sleazoid Purandare), Sadhu is blindsided when a shrewd underworld assassin puts in his crosshairs both Sadhu’s life and reputation.
In addition to a wonderfully restrained Patekar as Sadhu and Revathi as Sadhu’s wife, Chappan’s punch would not be as forceful if not for Salim-Sulaiman’s powerful background score. Jagged-edged and taut, this is the best background score in a Varma-handled film since 1997’s Kaun?
The other huge factor in Chappan’s favor is the by-the-book plot that twists routine police procedures into a clever plot device. Producer Varma, here backing up able director Amin, understands the complexities of Indian urban living like few other Hindi filmmakers. As a plausible chapter in the life of a vibrant metropolis on the other side of subcontinent, compare Chappan to, say, Devdas. Captured on Neptune’s first-rate DVD transfer, Chappan’s score is well worth keeping.