Movie Review: Department (2012)

1 Star (out of 4)

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Department is a comedy, right? It must be, because it made me laugh out loud.

Director Ram Gopal Varma’s latest political thriller focuses on a special branch of the police force designed to stop organized crime. The special department is cleverly named: “Department.” Whenever a character in the movie says the word “department,” it’s accompanied by a musical fanfare. It’s a lot like when someone said the “magic word” on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and all of the characters had to start screaming.

The Department is headed by Mahadev (Sanjay Dutt) and rising star Shiv (Rana Daggubati). Both prefer to shoot first and ask questions later, even if it means firing at a bad guy while standing in the middle of a group of children playing catch.

The main objective of the Department is ostensibly to stop a turf war between rival gangsters Gauri and Sawatya (Vijay Raaz). When gangster-turned-politician Sarjay (Amitabh Bachchan) gets involved, alliances become less clear and the Department falls apart.

Since the plot is just a disorganized excuse for innumerable bloody shootouts and embarrassing slow-mo chase scenes — look at Shiv leap over that small bag of rice! — I’ll ignore it for now. Department‘s biggest problems are visual.

Varma is clearly in love with camera technique. If there is a table with a glass top in his vicinity, you can be sure that he will position a camera under it to shoot a scene.

Department was shot using a number of cameras small enough to be mounted to almost any object, which Varma hoped would create “a completely new viewer experience.”ย It’s a technique Sam Raimi used back in the Evil Dead movies in the 1980s, to better effect. In order to get a first-person shot of the actors in Department, cameras are mounted on everything from a newspaper to a coffee cup. Ever wonder what driving a car is like from the perspective of the steering wheel? Watch Department and wonder no more.

Rapid cuts and awkward closeups make the action hard to follow, while some editorial choices are downright mystifying. Take, for example, the following sequence of shots.

  1. A man stands on the beach drinking from a coconut.
  2. Closeup on another man’s dreadlocks.
  3. Upside-down closeup on a messenger bag. The camera rights itself as a hand draws a gun from the bag and fires a shot at the man drinking from the coconut.

Why did the camera need to be upside down?! And why do we need a closeup of the dreadlocks? (It must be a theme, because there a number of strange closeups of body parts, including at least a dozen shots of dirty feet and toenails.)

About two hours into the screening that I attended, the picture flipped upside down. Only when the audio started running backwards — complete with upside down, backwards subtitles at the top of the screen — did I realize that this was a projection problem and not just another strange directorial choice.

Getting back to the plot, it contains a number of attempts at sexiness that nauseate rather than titillate. First, the item song “Dan Dan Cheeni” features an unintentionally hilarious performance by Nathalia Kaur, who gyrates as seductively as someone having a seizure.

Then there are Sawatya’s amorous underlings, DK (Abhimanyu Singh) and Nasir (Madhu Shalini), who exist entirely to try to heat things up on screen. They fail miserably. While soaking in a bathtub, Nasir strokes DK’s thick mat of wet chest hair with her un-pedicured feet as he blows cigarette smoke into her mouth. Gross!

If you’re in the mood for a laugh — punctuated by occasional dry heaves –see Department. It’s ridiculous.


18 thoughts on “Movie Review: Department (2012)

  1. TS

    worst movie i have ever seen. Weird camera shots. I had headache. I personally hate shaky jerky camera shots in action n this was way too much. I remember Crank 2 which was shot like this starring jason statham. Ram gopal verma has gone mad. N why the first person angle, to give the movie a first person shooter video game feel??? Too much experimentation killed the movie.

    1. Kathy

      “Ram gopal verma has gone mad.” Ha! Thanks for the warning for anyone who gets motion sick. Even I had to turn away a few times.

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    1. Kathy

      Thanks for mentioning Nathalia Kaur’s weird facial expressions in your review, Keyur. And I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s getting sick of movies about the criminal underworld.

      1. Keyur Seta

        Hahaha! Yes, those were scary expressions. And there are many who are getting sick of such movies. Actually, the thing is that if too many films are made on the same theme, people are bound to be fed-up of them.

        By the way, I was made to see Mr. Bhatti On Chutti for the magazine I write for. And I tell you, Department is way better than it. MBOC was just B or C grade. Lol!

        Since last few years, Marathi films are producing far more meaningful and novel stories as compared to Bollywood. Just have a look at these movies with such innocent story lines –

        This is my new blog meant specially for Marathi movies. (Halti Chitre means Motion Picture.)


        Keyur ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Kathy

          Thanks for the links to your Marathi review site, Keyur (and for translating its name for me!). You endured both Department and Mr. Bhatti on Chutti in the same weekend? You deserve some kind of award!

          1. Keyur Seta

            Hahahaha! Yes, I saw them on Thursday and Friday back-to-back ๐Ÿ˜€ Then I saw Ek Doctor Ki Maut (1991) yesterday on TV. Felt great and relieved to see such a well made movie which took away the hangover of those films ๐Ÿ™‚ You would like it too.

            And you welcome.

            Keyur ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. TS

    I compared department with crank 2. only the way it has been shot. Do you agree???? coz i had headache watching that too but i enjoyed crank 2 just for jason though it was a stupid film. Crank 1 was amazing.

    1. Kathy

      I didn’t see Crank 2, TS, so I can’t compare it to Department. But I did have to stop The Tree of Life while watching it on DVD because the swooping camera motions made me ill. RGV uses similar camera movements in Department, so people should be forewarned.

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  5. Jenny K

    Loved this review, Kathy…a long drink of cool sarcasm hits the spot every time! Hysterical. Almost wish I had seen it, but…that description of the “sexy” scene put me strongly in the “NOT” column.

    1. Kathy

      Thanks for prompting me to reread this review, Jenny. I just dry-heaved a bit when reading my description of the bathtub scene. Now I have to forget that scene all over again! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Shah Shahid

    Yea… I think RGV thinks that ‘disgusting’ somehow makes things more ‘realistically sexy’. I agree about the seizing dance sequence. There were a few times when I had to burst out laughing.

    I was looking forward to Daggubati after his strong debut in DUM MARO DUM, but no more. RGV always just seems to do something different, for the sake of doing something different, without any attention to if it’s justified to be used on its merits.

    A movie like DEPARTMENT doesn’t need tricky shots and unnecessarily elaborate panning and editing. It’s weird considering his other stuff (RANN) is so much more quieter and somber in terms of the camera work.

    Great Review!

    1. Kathy

      Thanks, Shahid! Sometimes, I wish RGV would get out of his own way. His over-reliance on showy techniques sometimes feels like a teen pop diva inserting lots of vocal trills into the National Anthem: the technique services the singer, not the song. As long as the techniques make sense for the movie, I’m cool with them. Here, I’m not sure that they do.

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