July 09, 2020
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Director: Ram Gopal Verma; Starring: Ajay Devgan, Vivek Oberoi, Mohanlal, Manisha Koirala

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The bullet is in the mind, goes an old underworld saying. Ram Gopal Verma makes it reside in the camera—the world of the gangster comes alive as never before through a series of rapid-fire incidents tied together by a commentary. Unlike Satya, which relied more on raw appeal and a passionate exploration of individual fate in a violent world, Company breaks the emotional chord by going objective. The narrative moves, newspaper-like, recounting the story of Mallik (Ajay Devgan) and Chandu (Vivek Oberoi), two budding gangsters, who cross paths and entwine fates.

The film subtly hints at a time when the new mafia arrived with a new attitude. Verma's achievement lies in the way he brings out the attitude. Mallik ditches Aslambhai, his own mentor. Chandu breaks old rules of Bambaiyya underworld during his rise. Later, the two friends go against each other and lose much in the bargain. Yet, they do not express remorse or regret.

For the first time perhaps, criminals express a hard-boiled, professional approach towards their job in Hindi cinema. The same goes for police officers. Joint commissioner Srinivasan (Mohanlal) never betrays a trace of emotion on his face. Faced with the betrayal of his senior officer, he beats the man quietly inside the office.

For people fed up with stereotypical depictions and melodramatic character sketches, the relief borders on ecstasy. Verma's directorial style stays faithful to the tone of the narrative. There are few ballistic camera movements or wild editing techniques. Cinematographer Hemant Chaturvedi captures, instead, the nuances of violence and death. At the point of the decisive falling out, Chandu shoots Mallik's advisor. His dead body is shown in soft focus as Mallik walks up the stairs with his entourage. The scene highlights the hidden dilemma of a cold, amoral world. Mallik then sends his men to kill Chandu. Shots of Chandu's desperate bid to flee are inter-cut with the confused search by his pursuers. Chaos and fear, in place of heroism and sensationalism, mark the sequence.

Music also acts more like a character in building the attitude. In this purely director's film, all actors perform according to the script, but Mohanlal touches international levels of performance. If Lagaan broke new ground in Bollywood, then Company invents a new language for Hindi cinema. Is saal sach mein bach ke rehna.
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