Movie Review: Company (2002)

company3 Stars (out of 4)

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Thanks to Just Me Mike for lending me his DVD copy of Company! Check out Mike’s film and TV reviews here.

Having seen four of his Hindi films dating back to 2008’s Sarkar Raj, it’s fair to say that I am not a fan of director Ram Gopal Varma. Still, wanting to know how he earned his acclaim, I watched one of his earlier movies. 2002’s Company is easily the best Varma film that I’ve seen, yet it also confirms my aversion to many of his directorial quirks.

Company‘s plot is based on the lives of notable Mumbai dons, and the story certainly feels authentic. A high-ranking gangster named Malik (Ajay Devgn) recruits a goon named Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) to act as his lieutenant, and together they wrest control of Mumbai’s most powerful gang from its aging patriarch. They expand the gang’s influence into movies, real estate, and politics, only for egos to get in the way and ruin the fun.

Criminal enterprises of this sort — where legal and illegal activities are intertwined across borders — are complex, thus the burden falls on filmmakers to explain them in the simplest way possible. Writer Jaideep Sahni’s story gets better as the film goes along, but only after a confusing setup that should have been condensed.

Malik’s emotional detachment enables him to kill without batting an eye, but it makes him a hard character to love. Instead, the audience is supposed to empathize with Chandu. We watch him transform from street thug to attaché, dealing with the internal conflict the change awakens. We also get see his romance with Kannu (Antara Mali) blossom, whereas Malik’s relationship with Saroja (Manisha Koirala) preexisted.

The women’s role in the narrative can’t be minimized. They follow their other halves to Hong Kong, where the gang sets up a base after police pressure in Mumbai becomes too strong. The friendship between Kannu and Saroja makes Hong Kong feel like home away from home, but it also causes a catastrophic misunderstanding.

Back in Mumbai, chief of police Srinivasan (Mohanlal) waits patiently for the gang to implode. Mohanlal’s performance is as laid back as that of Devgn, but it makes sense in the context of his character. Srinivasan chips away at the enterprise, knowing that one day, cracks will form that he can exploit.

The sprawling landscape of characters — played by some of Bollywood’s best supporting actors — leads to surprising twists as the story moves along. Patience is rewarded in Sahni’s story. He deserves additional kudos for making the women in the plot integral to the story, rather than just window dressing.

Yet time after time, I find my attention being drawn away from the story to Varma’s distracting camera techniques. Whether it’s crazy angles, garish filters, or blocked lines of sight, the techniques seem to exist only for their own sake, not to serve the narrative.

Lighting is a persistent problem in Company. The camera alternates between closeups of two characters having a conversation in a sunny room, with one character’s face brightly lit while the other is grainy with shadows. When Malik delivers one important line, you can’t even see his facial features, he’s so covered in shadows.

Probably the worst example is a reaction shot of Chandu late in the movie. As he mutely reacts to bad news, a spotlight illuminates only his mouth and nostrils. How is one supposed to judge Oberoi’s performance in this scene? By the quality of his nostril-flaring?

I may never be a Ram Gopal Varma fan, but I appreciate Company for its riveting exploration of gang politics. It’s a more enjoyable way to encounter his quirks than many of his more recent films.


7 thoughts on “Movie Review: Company (2002)

  1. JustMeMike

    Kathy makes some excellent points in her review including points about the camera work and lighting. For me, the film was enjoyable for the intensity, and the violence that came often unexpectedly. Plus I received a good like at the hierarchy and workings of a Mumbai gang.

    I particularly liked the feral energy of Vivek Oberoi ( who was at times kind of the over-the-top) as the young goon Chandu who clawed his way to the top of the ‘Company’ as well as the top spot in the policeman Srinivasan’s most-wanted list. By the way, I was most impressed by Mohanlal as the copper. For the record, this was Oberoi’s first role in a movie.

    Devgn was almost a joy to watch as the powerful mob boss Malik who made the Bhai who ruled the gang from afar (Dubai) almost an after thought. While Chandu had a short fuse and was given to explosive violence, Malik was more controlled, composed and calibrated.

    I saw this film back when it was relatively new having purchased the DVD in Manhattan’s Little India. For me it was exciting to visit (cinematically) Nairobi, Kenya, a place I’ve not been to, and Hong Kong (a place I know so very well), as well as the underbelly of Mumbai.

    And I will also commend Kathy for mentioning the role of the women in the film. Besides Kannu and Saroja, I’ll give a positive mention to the actress who portrayed Chandu’s mother – Seema Biswas.

    For me, Director RGV could have cut the night club sequence. Hoodlums may indeed need a break from being gangsters, every one needs a refresher at times, but the scene seemed unnecessary and pointless to me.

    1. Dave Martin

      >”By the way, I was most impressed by Mohanlal as the copper.”

      Mohanlal is a good actor, but he was a jarring presence in this movie. His speech is very unnatural, like he’s been coached to say his lines over and over until all emotion and inflection have been drained out of them. He sounds like a robot.

      I suspect it’s because of the language barrier. He’s from Kerala and his mother tongue is Malayalam, not Hindi. They should have just had him speak English in the movie and kept his Hindi to a minimum. Indian audiences would understand. As it is, to a Hindi/Urdu speaker, his manner of speech is too distracting and takes focus away from his character.

      I agree with you that both Devgn and Oberoi did an excellent job. Antara Mali was the big surprise to me. I hadn’t seen her before, but she was good as Kannu. Too bad she seems to have taken a break from acting since she had her baby.

  2. Chandrashekhar Joshi

    I think you guys have not really understood this great work by Ramu… Ajay Devgun has underplayed the Don consciously and adds feather to his acting skills and capabilities. Mohanlal appears quite natural as the way he speaks Hindi. He is an IPS officer and is liable to be placed anywhere in India… so he tries to speak Hindi as any Malayalam person would do. Actually he is role is based on a south Indian cop who later became the Mumbai Police Commissioner. The cinematography by Hemant Chaturvedi is excellent as it enlightens the crime world as a corporate legacy. He has added noir which enhances the visual quality of the frames to its top…
    Chandrashekhar Joshi

    1. Kathy

      Good grief. I gave this a positive review, Chandreshekhar! Just because I didn’t like it as much as you did doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand it. That’s insulting.

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