The third season of Rangbaaz, titled Darr ki Rajneeti (literally the politics of fear) opens with two contradictory messages. The first is the standard disclaimer that states how the show is a work of fiction, something that the actors and creators have reiterated multiple times. The second is a single-line message: ‘Inspired by true events’. In the end, Rangbaaz 3 skirts somewhere in between truth and fiction and it does that so very deftly. There is no dearth of crime or gangster dramas on Indian OTT space and yet Darr ki Rajneeti manages to stand out as a strong, crisp show, with some exceptional performances. Also read: Vineet Kumar Singh reacts to reports that Rangbaaz 3 is based on Mohammad Shahabuddin
First things first–is Darr ki Rajneeti based on the life of strongman MP Mohammed Shahabuddin? Yes and no. Those familiar with Shahabuddin’s reign of terror and Bihar’s politics will find enough parallels with reality, ranging from the infamous Fodder Scam to Comrade Chandru’s assassination. But the series is a dramatization of all that happened in Bihar’s political circles for two decades starting from 1989. It tells a true story but takes ample creative liberties too. Haroon Shah Ali Baig is as much Shahabuddin as Subhash Nagre (remember Sarkar?) is Bal Thackeray. The essence of the real-life strongman is there as are the key events of his life but the people are largely fictional.
The show has two difficult tasks–to carry forward a successful franchise with two solid seasons and to be noticeable in an overpopulated sea of political thrillers/crime dramas on streaming platforms. It does both by simply being an honest, fresh, and well-made show. Rangbaaz- Darr Ki Rajneeti is about the rise and fall of Shah Ali Baig aka Saheb, the ruler of the fictional town of Dhiwan in Bihar (the real Shahbuddin ruled Siwan, by the way). The 6-episode arc shows his rise from a young strongman to a criminal MP who rules the city with an iron fist, and chronicles his dreadful ascent to a cruel dictator.
The opening scene is reminiscent of Omkara and the monologue of Gangs of Wasseypur–two seminal works in depiction of crime in Hindi films. The show clearly has big ambitions. But it would be a folly to compare it to those works. It tries still to be a worthy successor and partially succeeds despite some flaws in the narrative. The writers have chosen to stay true to real-life incidents almost exactly as they occurred, which makes the drama gripping and rooted in realism.
The non-linear narrative is a little troublesome, as the timelines jump between 2010, 1989, 1995, and 2001 a bit too often. Then, many supporting characters aren’t fully fleshed-out. All the goons standing behind Shah Ali in the scenes of his speeches and firefights are like cardboard cutouts hardly distinguishable from one another. Thankfully, the main characters have more depth, giving the performers more room to bring them to life.
The performances are what make the show truly come alive. Vineet Kumar Singh shows his true mettle as he owns saheb, the scourge of Dhiwan. He is likable and hate worthy, charming and menacing, and completely relatable all at the same time. And he has worthy support, most strikingly from two underrated gems. Prashant Narayanan as the righteous cop tasked to take down Shah Ali is delightful and the viewer’s eyes in the show. He uses his understated manner of dialogue delivery to perfection in this role. The second star of the show is Geetanjali Kulkarni, who is as far from Gullak as possible but yet again in fine form. As the only common (wo)man bold enough to stand up to Shah Ali, she brings strength and humanity to the show and lights up the screen with merely her eyes. Add to this a cocktail of solid performers in Aakanksha Singh, Vijay Maurya and Rajesh Tailang, making Rangbaaz 3 one of the best-performed shows in recent memory.
The show does get something right. It glorifies neither the man nor his violence. There are times when the writing gets carried away and tries to portray the man as a messiah of the poor. But the very next sequence jolts us back to reality as he murders innocents. The reality check is needed. I still feel that a man guilty of so many murders and such senseless violence could have been portrayed even more negatively but at least he isn’t a hero here. And as for the violence, it never gets titillating or vulgar. Much of it happens off-screen. Director Sachin Pathak very sensitively chooses to focus on the characters’ faces when a violent incident takes place, conveying the horror and cruelty of the moment without displaying any graphic images.
Like its title suggests, Rangbaaz- Darr ki Rajneeti mixes crime and politics quite well to deliver an entertaining show that manages to be a good watch despite its apparent flaws. But the performances and a sensitive portrayal of crime and violence makes it easy to overlook those minor flaws. The 6-episode length ensures the show stays crisp and engaging throughout. Darr ki Rajneeti leaves an even bigger task for its makers and Zee5 now–just how do they top this in season 4 now?
Series: Rangbaaz Darr ki Rajneeti
Creator: Navdeep Singh
Cast: Vineet Kumar Singh, Aakanksha Singh, Vijay Maurya, Prashant Narayanan, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Rajesh Tailang
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