A movie set in the 80s doesn’t necessarily have to look like it was made in the 80s. In fact, setting a movie in a particular period is a great opportunity to look at the time with a critical lens - this isn’t to suggest that one has to abandon the realism of that era to make it retroactively woke, but to look at the period through the prism of modern-day sensibilities. The film might be set in the past but it is still a product of the present.
Class of ’83 ― directed by Atul Sabharwal is about a middle-aged cop named, Vijay, of course, wronged by the system. He, like all cops wronged by the system, has a tragic backstory that involves a dead wife. Since he’s a hindrance to the police-gangster-politics industrial complex, he is assigned a ‘punishment posting.’ He’s made the Dean of a police academy where he decides to recruit the lowest-ranking students of his class and turn them into a parallel police force that’ll act outside the system, with, well, zero accountability. Why the lowest-ranking? Because, as Vijay has learnt, the rules don’t work. These kids already know that.
There’s something about Bobby Deol playing this role, an actor who, despite his legacy surname, couldn’t keep up with the changing times, was relegated to obscurity by an unforgiving, cut-throat industry, who then crafted his comeback through a parallel ecosystem of streaming. This is Bobby hitting back at a system whose rules are ever-evolving. Except nothing has changed. In the film, he’s dull and doesn’t command the authority or the gravitas the part demands. His performance feels laborious. He’s understated but at times, a little too much, defeating the very purpose and coming across as dry.
It appears that Sabharwal and Abhijeet Deshpande’s screenplay is hesitant to fully engage with the complexities of the elaborate nexus between cops, gangsters and politicians. It chooses to use caricatures as placeholders for broader social ills: upright cop, corrupt politician, evil gangsters without probing the specificities that shaped them. The film spells out the fact that the killing squad is a way to institutionalise extra-judicial killings but never pauses to reflect on its moral and legal fallacy. It’d be nice if Vijay hung out for sometime with Sartaj Singh.
The only part that inspires any excitement is Bobby’s Beast turning into a Frankenstein Monster. The kids he groomed are now outsmarting the Master (imagine the virtual lynch mobs of the right-wing turning against Dear Leader) and need to be reigned in. And yet, what could be an intricate exploration of how subverting established systems may seriously backfire, Class of ’83 uses the ‘system-is-broken’ idea to defend its ideology and sentimentalise the violent oppression of a brutal system. The idea that the lines between the cop and the criminal, who exist on the opposite end of the spectrum, may not be as stark as it’s made out to be, is actually spelt out by a character who equates Vijay with the gangster he’s chasing. Not very subtle for a film that pretends to be.
In one scene, when some from the squad of 5 men ― played competently by newcomers Hitesh Bhojraj, Ameer Paranjape, Bhupendra Jadawat, Ninad Mahajani and Prithvik Pratap ― mess up one of their extra-judicial encounters, there was a real chance to critically assess their own methods, but this film is too trigger-happy to delve into complex moments such as those. A lot of the dialogue is expository, in some cases a voiceover just declares how events just happened. The scene where the Chief Minister approves of constituting the squad is laughably bad: a senior cop pitches the idea matter-of-factly and the CM says, “okay” to which the cop says, “Jai Hind.”
There’s never a real sense of what the stakes are for these five men who’re risking a potential career (and their lives) for some sort of an imaginary glory that might not even be theirs to claim, given the secrecy of it all. There isn’t a sense of their arcs either: in the absence of strong character motivations, the cause never feels personal or intimate. The dialogue is so uninspired and recycled, it’s hard to be moved by any of it. “Mera blood group hi negative hai,” says a character to which Bobby says, “Aur mera B positive hai.”
Well, okay then.
The most hilarious bit about the film is an opening disclaimer that declares that the makers do not endorse the view of the film. For a film about radical ways to combat a rigid system, this is the kind of lazy cop-out that tries to hurriedly absolve its creators of perpetuating an unnecessarily sanitised version of police brutality, the excesses of which are stuff of everyday headlines and ought to have been interrogated, not celebrated.