Two Steps Backward

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CONTRACT. Director: Ram Gopal Varma. Players: Adhvik Mahajan, Sakshi Gulati, Zakir Hussain, Sumeet Nijhawan. DVD (Shree).e12b38036a1b0a24d8dace92f5777627-2

Much of Ram Gopal Varma’s near-mythical street cred as a gifted filmmaker comes from having made some fantastic gangster-land exposés. WithContract, Varma shifts focus slightly by overlapping Mumbai’s mob scene with violent international jihad—surely the new global boogeyman. While Varma tries hard—too hard—he ends up with limited success on both of those urban war fronts.

Pivoting off newcomer Mahajan as Amal Malik, a retired Indian anti-terrorist commando who is lured back for one final mission, Prashant Pandey’s story becomes a tale of vengeance almost instantly. That would not be bad except for some glaring narrative gaps. Given that the bad guys thrive on air-tight secrecy, it’s funny how easily Malik is able to make phone contact with his spy-agency counterpart. To his credit, Varma is able to distinguish between the divergent schools of scoundrels: mobsters, for the record, are border-line secular goons who thrive on racketeering and drug smuggling for personal gain while jihadis are pseudo-religious goons who profit from racketeering and drug-smuggling to create mayhem.

While individual elements (edgy camera work, gritty street chases, foreign puppeteer powers who call the real shots), succeed, the sum total doesn’t. What is most disillusioning about Contract is that given real world recent events, this fictitious jab at creating onscreen anarchy may meet with audience apathy. While Varma’s earlier forays into this genre—Satya,Company and Sarkar—all clicked as three career-making steps forward, Varma’s latest offerings on the subject, Sarkar Raj and now Contract, are, sadly, two steps backwards. It may be time for Varma to retire this genre for awhile.

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

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