COMPANY (2002)

Vivek Oberoi as Chandu in a still from Company
  • Release Date: 12/04/2002
  • Cast: Ajay Devgn, Vivek Oberoi, Mohanlal, Manisha Koirala, Antara Mali, Seema Biswas, Rajpal Yadav, Vijay Raaz
  • Director: Ram Gopal Varma
  • Writer: Jaideep Sahni

One of the finest Indian gangster films that broke all conventions and carved out a niche for its director 

Malik (Ajay Devgn) and Chandrakant Nagre aka Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) meet for the first time when Malik is recruiting fresh blood to fuel his dreams of expansion of his underworld business. The two strike up an instant camaraderie as Malik recognizes Chandu’s potential. Soon Malik decides to hijack the power of the gang from the withering leader, Aslam Bhai. Malik, with Chandu’s help cleans up his opponents and takes over the gang successfully. It is at this juncture that the Mumbai police appoints a new Commissioner, Veerappalli Srinivasan (Mohanlal). Srinivasan understands the dynamics of the underworld and looks set to upset the delicate balance between the underworld and the upperworld. He, after much effort, is able to get an arrest warrant against Malik and Chandu. But before he can nab the two, they make their way out of India. Srinivasan believes that he has incapacitated the gangsters, but he is wrong.

Ram Gopal Varma made Company as a follow up to Satya. While Satya was about how a young man is forced into the underworld and what kind of bearings his choices have on his life and his relationships with people from the two spectrums of existence, Company is more about how the underworld functions and what goes on to micromanage an enterprise that uses fear as its primary product. The film doesn’t get into much of details but shows us just enough to understand how the local module of the business works, how a interviews happens to join the gang, how they get work, how the men makes investments and in which industries, how their families react to it all and most importantly, what the men and women of the gang think of their line of work. This is something that is effectively put forth in a short and crisp dialogue between Chandu and his mother, Ranibai (Seema Biswas). Chandu explains to her how they hardly have any fallouts and how Aslam Bhai’s name is enough to get most of their jobs done without inciting any violence.

Ajay Devgn as Malik in a still from Company

The film also takes an intimate look into the personal lives of these gangsters. We mostly see these moments through the character of Chandu who thinks of his work as any other. He is ruthless but would not venture beyond a point of soft morality. The film builds up to a crescendo through many minor falling offs that he has with his boss Malik until the character reaches a point where he rises in rebellion against Malik. What follows is a bloody feud that is best left enjoyed in the film. Varma intricately crafts a drama that is subtle, makes perfect sense and is engrossing from start to finish. In the Indian gangster films of yesteryears, over the top action and a clean divide between right and wrong was imperative. Varma violently unsettled this balance and created characters that were neither heroes nor villains. They were all heroes in their books and were just living their lives. How the viewers interpreted these characters was left up to them. There was an utter lack of stylized and choreographed action but there were scuffles which happened out of need of the story and not so much to entertain and extract cheers. The protagonists spoke like normal people and didn’t say anything that gave the impression that their words were off the pages of Gulzar.

Ram Gopal Varma introduced the idea of killing off major character unceremoniously. For a mainstream Bollywood film, this was strict a “no, no” for a very long time. Varma questioned and changed this bias of Bollywood in his storytelling. I can still remember my utter shock at the death of Chandu Mote and Bhiku in Satya. The kind of impact that these two deaths had on me was because of how well the two characters were developed, made integral to the story, made likeable and affable to the audiences and then taken away in one swift move that too without any precursor or warnings. They didn’t even show the encounter of Chandu Mote, giving us only a glimpse of his bullet ridden corpse in a news report. In Company, there aren’t any shocks as massive as those in Satya, but it does have its share of moments that would fill many with a tinge of regret.

Mohanlal as commissioner of police Srinivasan in a still from Company

Ajay Devgn and Vivek Oberoi nearly play out the film between them. I didn’t mind that one bit because both the actors are stupendous in their respective acts. It breaks my heart to see Vivek Oberoi rotting under the weight of his own poor choice of roles these days. This was his first film and the director paid more attention to his character than that of a superstar like Ajay Devgn. The audiences still lapped up the film and his character. That goes on to tell us how good he must have been in it.  Vivek Oberoi showed immense bravery to pick up a role like this for his debut. Not only that, he worked extremely hard to get the feel and mannerism of the character just right and it shows in his performance. Had he not been so believable as Chandu, this film would have lost its teeth. When he says, “Malik, aaj se Company khallas”, you take him for his words, and you know that he means business. Such is his intensity and conviction. It is even more devastating since he has spent a large chunk of the film being under Malik’s graces.

Ajay Devgn as Malik is equally good. He doesn’t speak much and prefers to emote through his eyes. He shares some of the film’s most effective scenes with Oberoi and these scenes encompass the spirit of the film. There is a scene in the beginning when Malik apologizes on Chandu’s behalf to a compatriot. While he is at it, looking at his eyes, one can tell that it is not the end of the conflict. The film is peppered with many such scintillating moments that make his character instantly likeable. Mohanlal is one of my favorite actors of recent times and he literally knocks it out of the park as Srinivasan in this film. There is a sense of calm in his demeanor that serves his character very well. He says some of the most threatening things to other characters but always says it with a smile on his face. This is one aspect of his character that made his essays even more fun to watch. The rest of the ensemble cast including Antara Mali, Manisha Koirala, Seema Biswas, Rajpal Yadav and Vijay Raaz are in perfect sync with their respective characters.

Antara Mali as Kannu in a still from Company

Company is one of Ram Gopal Varma’s best films if not his best film. Everything in it fell in place. Be it the performances, story, execution or the direction, it is difficult to find a single flaw in the film. Varma took a departure from what was the norm of the time for gangster films and made a film that was different, engaging and shocking. There were rumors that the film was based on the true story of the fall out between Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan. It only added to the lore of the film and since the finished product was so good, it has enthralled generations of filmgoers for years.

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)

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