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.” 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.
- A man stands on the beach drinking from a coconut.
- Closeup on another man’s dreadlocks.
- 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.