Company, from start to finish, is anything but feel-good cinema. There are no Swiss Alps, no Tommy Hillfiger, not even an irritating comedy routine from Johny Lever. Instead of being treated to eye candy, we see the underworld from a grey looking glass, one that makes everything in the film seem gritty and dark. Ram Gopal Varma brings us an intense film with a dark message after being treated to contrived romances (Kitne Door Kitne Paas) and tacky action dramas reminiscent of the 1980s (Kranti). Here comes a harsh slice of reality from Varma.
Company is about Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) a young man raised in the slums by an encouraging and supporting mother (Seema Biswas) who desires a life of wealth and fame. He finds solace and friendship in Malik (Ajay Devgan), who introduces the boy to a life of crime. On their odyssey of crime and murder, the two men fall in love, Malik with the street-smart and spirited Saroja (Manisha Koirala), while Chandu begins seeing Kannu (Antara Mali). The two buddies get rich quick and, before you can even blink, distance themselves from the life of Mumbai crime to Hong Kong, leaving behind associates and underlings to handle the dirty work. Life is roses overseas for Chandu, Malik and their respective others, until anger rips the bond of friendship between our two protagonists apart.
Chandu has lived in Malik´s shadow in the past and hence forth swears Malik his bitter enemy. The argument between the friends culminates into an international gang war with the protagonists and their families rushing headfirst to their doom.
First and foremost, this is one of the finest group of performances from an ensemble cast that I have seen since Steven Soderbergh´s Traffic. The film doesn´t belong to any one person, though most would argue that it is Ajay Devgan´s film. Every performance is deserving of an award, especially those of Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi and Seema Biswas.
Devgan has finally found a role worthy of his intense talent. Not since Zakhm and Thakshak has he been given a role that puts his dark and brooding tendencies to full use. One wonders why he produces films like Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha where he plays candy floss roles when he can give such hard hitting performances. Company might just grab him his second National Award -- he certainly deserves it for his excellent performance.
Oberoi makes his long-awaited debut with Company and completely blows his competitors out of the water. Those who call Hrithik Roshan and Tusshar Kapoor serious competition for Oberoi need to do some heavy thinking. Kaho Na... Pyaar Hai and Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai look ridiculous next to Oberoi´s role in Company, one that demands some serious acting clout. Perhaps the only serious contender for Vivek is Arjun Rampal, who stunned viewers with his fine performance in Ashok Mehta´s wonderful Moksha. Oberoi´s facial expressions, dialogue delivery, etc. -- everything is dead-on. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the actor is his intense and expressive eyes. His aggressive nature and intense personality make the viewer sit up and take notice. Furthermore, he is excellent in his scenes with Antara Malli and Seema Biswas.
Seema Biswas is also excellent in a complex role that isn´t the apologetic and spineless mother that Hindi cinema has been witnessing for years. Biswas has defied the conventional stock character given to her and has turned her role into a memorable scene stealer. After Bandit Queen, Khamoshi, Shyam Benegal´s Samar, and now Company, Biswas has given herself an identity that is a slap in the face of those bratty film stars who consider themselves brilliant actors. She has shown once again that she is a force to reckon with even in a supporting role.
Manisha Koirala has yet another solid performance to add to her already overflowing portfolio of excellent roles. After Grahan (Her incredible performance was the film´s only bright spot), Akele Hum Akele Tum, Dil Se.., Yugpurush, Khamoshi, Bombay, 1942: A Love Story, Moksha, Agni Sakshi, etc. she has proved herself once again with a powerful and sensitive performance. She holds her own in every scene she´s in and is amazing in her emotional scenes, displaying confidence and maturity. Her new look suits her well. Here´s a girl who can really act.
Antara Mali has moved away from the trampy image she created with Khiladi 420 by giving one stunning performance. She not only looks pretty in the unconventional deglamorized get-up, but acts very well. That spark she displayed in Mast is still there. Her confrontational scenes towards the end are quite engrossing. Mohanlal has done a good job and, despite a small role, also has his moments to shine. Isha Koppikar is pure sex appeal in "Khallas". Her special appearence was quite surprisingly very nice, even if her song doesn´t quite fit in with the film. If only Varma would step up and give her a lead role, she could show what she´s really made of. As it is, she exposes like no tomorrow and looks absolutely amazing.
Urmila Matondkar has shouted from the rooftops that her special appearence in Company wasn´t routine and I agree with that. Her conceptual dance sequence in the beginning is unique and inviting without the trash appeal and she looks like a million bucks. She has the lead in Ramu´s next directorial venture after Company but, hey, are we surprised? Sandeep Chowta´s melodious music takes a backseat to the plot and characters. For once, the film is not hampered by unnecessary song-dance sections and ridiculous dream sequences. The songs are very much in the background, barring "Khallas", which does hamper the narrative, but had to be there for distributors. Furthermore, "Khallas" attempts to recreate the "Kambakth Ishq" magic of Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya and manages to have just as innovative a video.
Finally, Varma´s direction is excellent. Technically, the film is superb. Everything from the slick camera angles to the action shots shout panache and style. Varma´s use of fast edits and unconventional camera views are very innovative for Hindi cinema. The one complaint would have to be in the depeartment of editing, which could´ve been crisper. Some edited dramatic scenes could have led to a faster paced narrative in the second half.
The film is fine as it is, but could´ve been enhanced with a shorter running time. Another flaw in the film is, perhaps, the overuse of Mumbai slang and dialect, giving the film a limited appeal to those not familiar with Mumbai. Satya had the same problem, as did Mazhar Khan´s Gang. Perhaps more of a universal Hindi dialect would have worked in favor of the film.
Production values are worth a mention. Varma has taken his large budget and has put it to good use. Instead of doing what most big-budget film producers do (Silly song-damce sequences in Egypt and Alaska, etc.), Varma has used the money in the technical departments, giving the film a very unique look, as well as creating an important atmosphere for the story. Nowhere does Varma interrupt with mindless comedy or unnecessary romance. He keeps the regular Hindi film conventions at a minimum. After Jungle, Kaun, Satya, Pyaar Tune Kya Kiya, Rangeela, Mast, and Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega (He produced it, didn´t direct it), Varma has brought his audience yet another innovative and enjoyable film. Company should prove to be a sound investment of time and effort for all those involved. Ajay Devgan and Manisha Koirala´s erratic career graphs can, perhaps, boast of another hit, as they are bound to be appreciated in their respective roles. Vivek Oberoi is bound to have many takers once producers take notice of Company.
Varma´s next is Road, in which he repeats his Vivek-Antara pairing along with Manoj Bajpai. The film is a suspense thriller about a young couple who is pursued by an insane hitch hiker on the road. Lets hope he outdoes himself again, like he has with Company. The best film of the year so far, Company will go places. People, forget those Chopra/Johar love stories, Company is of the standard that the Indian Film Industry (I refuse to call it "Bollywood") should be striving to reach.