India Today - - LEISURE - —Am­rit Sarkar

Start­ing with Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya (1998), the gritty gang­ster epic has wooed au­di­ences away from bub­blegum ro­mance. More re­cently, Anurag Kashyap re­de­fined the genre with Gangs of Wassey­pur and took it to the small screen with Sa­cred Games (with col­lab­o­ra­tor Vikra­ma­ditya Mot­wane)—and the flood­gates don’t look to be clos­ing any­time soon.

Fol­low­ing Eros Now’s mid­dling Smoke and Ama­zon Prime’s Mirza­pur, Zee5 in De­cem­ber un­veiled Rang­baaz—a mould-break­ing gang­ster se­ries set in Go­rakh­pur in the 1990s. Tal­ented Saqib Saleem stars as Shiv Prakash Shukla, a dreaded crim­i­nal who’d dipped his hands in the blood of 20 vic­tims be­fore he turned 25.

Sur­pris­ingly, Rang­baaz blows against the wind, with lim­ited doses of blood and sex. The char­ac­ters are so real that it some­times be­comes dif­fi­cult to re­mem­ber you’re watch­ing a fic­tional por­trayal by ac­tors, rather than a doc­u­men­tary. Even the gang­ster’s girl­friend Babita is not a bimbo by that yard­stick. The di­alect is con­sis­tent, the pe­riod de­tails from 1990s Lucknow and Bangkok are spot on, and the film of­fers a com­pelling por­trait of the nexus be­tween caste, pol­i­tics, and crime that stran­gles the Hindi hin­ter­land like a python.

Best of all, like Satya, the char­ac­ter who ar­guably started it all, Shukla has his share of weak­nesses that make his guts all the more en­dear­ing. Though he starts out with a bang—be­com­ing the most dreaded ‘rang­baaz’ of his time in Ut­tar Pradesh—his life ends in a whim­per. More than any of the re­al­is­tic de­tails, it’s that end­ing that shows the bold­ness of Di­rec­tor Bhav Dhu­lia and Zee5.

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