Class of ’83
Director: Atul Sabharwal
Cast: Bobby Deol, Joy Sengupta
Londoners call their cops, Bobby. Bombay Police is often called India’s Scotland Yard. Bobby (Deol) plays a Bombay cop. And that is the only inspiration I can think of, for casting DJ Waale Bobby (his last films being Race 3, Housefull 4), in the role of a quiet officer, shunted to head the Maharashtra police academy, because he found himself at the intersection of government and the underworld, in pursuit of a major don.
Let’s check off the apprehension first: Bobby D, as the Academy dean, for the first time on the small screen, pulls off the look and feel of someone simultaneously frail and majestic rather well. Suits him, no doubt.
Class of ’83 is based on crime journalist S Hussain Zaidi’s novel of the same name. It is, as the title suggests, set in the year Maggi came to India, and India won the cricket World Cup. Neither is referenced, I’m just trying to place 1983 in my head, while the film itself does a fine job of interspersing stock outdoor-footage from the decade — matching colours/visuals with the sets created — to make it somewhat look like a parallel/art-house film of the same vintage.
You spot posters of films Hero, Justice Chaudhary, Nastik, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro in the background. An ’80s Bombay cop in an Enfield Bullet simply equals Om Puri in Ardh Satya for all. Foreground could well belong to, say, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, the Saeed Akhtar Mirza movie where the line, ‘Apna time ayega’, first appeared.
The backdrop is the same. Textile mills in Bombay are closing down. With the rise of the unemployed young, you sense a steady supply of cheap guns on hire for the city’s underworld. This also makes Class of ’83 the nth film on the Bombay police plus underworld — the hardest sub-genre to pull off. Every aspect of it — perhaps between Parinda (1989) and Ab Tak Chhappan (2004) — has descended into cliché.
I’m mentioning so many movies, because this is, in many ways, a movie about the movies, in hindsight, rather than the people in it. Especially when you notice inspector rank policemen debating advent of capitalist economy and decline of socialism over an adda at the local crab joint.
Where can you specifically place the film in real life though? At the phase, when ‘encounter specialists’ cops in Bombay became a thing — tasked with killing off criminals, outside the purview of law. Not that the movie overtly takes a stand on state-sponsored vigilante justice, it does lend it a lot of filmic authenticity, with Western-style, few good cops/men, surreptitiously trained by the frustrated dean, to take on the system, rotting from within.
Some of the police academy scenes (unrelated to the ’80s Police Academy franchise) are killer. Practically every policeman out on the beat, in the world outside the classroom, is sold out. The crime-syndicate is doubly protected by the state.
Watch the trailer of Bobby Deol, Joy Sengupta starrer Class of 83 here:
Do you see how this tallies with Netflix’s last release Gunjan Saxena, with general folk and the armed forces irked over portrayal of the Indian Air Force in it? Does it make sense for Mumbai Police to similarly go after this movie? Do you realise how we’ll be left with no fiction, only hurt sentiments to nurse, if we went that route?
Class of ’83 attempts to pack in tonnes into 90-odd minutes. This is great for a global release. But plot-wise, it is so staccato and leaves so much to be desired that at no point do you feel particularly pulled in by any of the lead cop-characters. I couldn’t even tell one from the other. They’re doing the system justice by literally putting their necks on line for it.
Would it matter, or shatter my heart, if they copped it? Perhaps not. Certainly not in the same way that it would, if we were watching one of those three-hour long, seamlessly emotional chor-police dramas from the ’80s! This feels distant.
That said, where this scores is in its counter-factual history — meaning a what-if situation, arising out of a set of well-known facts. Every movie, inevitably with some real elements, is counter-factual, for sure. But this is about a top politician named ‘Patkar’. A Mafiosi, with the last name ‘Kalaskar’. What if Kalaskar didn’t settle abroad for good? Or his nexus with Patkar could be overcome still? It changes a lot of things, if you’re into Bombay, and its politics!
It is this bit of history that gives all the movie’s moodiness in moments, setting, lighting and production design, firm legs to stand on — never mind the lack of adrenaline. And while Bobby Deol is cast against type, Class of ’83 helmed by director Atul Sabharwal is par for the course. Sabharwal’s under-rated directorial debut Aurangzeb (2013), with the ‘feels’ of an LA Confidential, no less, had something interesting going on in Gurgaon. Can say the same for this. Very interesting is correct; no more.
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