By Pankaj Sachdeva

The first time I got to know about Atul Sabharwal’s Class of ’83, I imagined that it would have some connection to India’s cricket world cup victory in 1983. But after watching the film, I can say that there is not anything remotely related to cricket in it. The film is based on S. Hussain Zaidi’s book The Class of 83: The Punishers of Mumbai Police and is a kind of an origin story of the controversial encounter specialists in the Bombay police that found fame in the eighties.
The protagonist of the film is Vijay Singh, a police inspector played by Bobby Deol. After a failed operation to catch a gangster, he is sent on a punishment posting to Nasik as a dean of the police training institute. He picks up the five bottom-ranked students in the class—Vishnu Varde (Hitesh Bhojraj), Aslam Khan (Sameer Paranjape), Pramod Shukla (Bhupendra Jadawat), Laxman Jadhav (Ninad Mahajani), and Janardan Surve (Prithvik Pratap)—and trains them to become policemen who would clean up the corrupt system with unconventional methods while being part of it. He likens them to anti-bodies that fight disease like a vaccine. During a dinner party in the training school, the five of them approach him and sing his praises. An unimpressed Vijay questions them, “Safaai karna jaante ho?” and then puts them to the task of washing plates. This safaai becomes a cleaning of the system later where the five go to indulge in the institutionalized killing of gangsters.
In writing, there is a literary device called callback which is defined as a reference to an event that takes place earlier in the narrative. This is typically done to tie the loose ends of the narrative or depict the change in the behavior of the protagonist when they end up in the same situation again. It could even be just a reference to a line or an image. Writer Anton Chekhov phrased this in a different way which is now known as Chekhov’s Gun—”If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.” Callbacks are quite common and seen in many films. Class of ’83 also employes this literary device at many places in its narrative. Most of them would be obvious to the watcher but I wanted to elaborate on them.
  • The film opens with the lines—”Police system ek aisa sikka hai jiske do side hote hain—ek side law aur dusra order. Kabhi kabhi order banaye rakhne ke liye law ko bali chadhana padta hai kyunki order bana rehta hai toh system sahi chalta hai.” The film ends with the exact same dialogue where the narrator signs-off with the same words. At one point in the film, Vijay and his friend Raghav Desai (Joy Sengupta) are sitting on a see-saw when Vijay proposes the idea of the institutionalized killing of gangsters. The see-saw also represented the two sides with Desai as law and Vijay as order. Vijay’s side is more in control where he bargains with his friend to set up the squad.
  • Early in the film, the friends meet over dinner in a restaurant. They argue on the condition of mill workers in Bombay brought about by a capitalist economy. Jadhav takes offense as his father is also impacted by the frequent strikes at the mills. Later, the friends have a meal together on the festive occasion of Eid at Aslam’s house. The friends have now become fathers. They again have an argument that starts with giving money to Shukla’s son and segues over to money and gangsters. The food pictures in the two scenes are styled in the same way initiating a callback to the earlier scene.
  • In one of the classes, Vijay Singh teaches his students to cover their tracks when they are planning any operation. The three friends had tried to assault their teacher Dikshit (Vishwajeet Pradhan) but were caught red-handed. During the verbal questioning, they cooked up lies but had no evidence to back them up. A similar sequence reoccurs later when the friends killed Pathan in an encounter but this time, they covered their tracks with meticulous detail. Varde made an injury mark on himself to prove that a gangster was carrying a weapon. The exposition also reminds the audience of their classroom scene.
  • In another class, a professor is teaching them about a case related to arrest without warrants. The two inspectors saw some suspicious activity and searched for contraband in a car. Later, the inspectors in the film find themselves in a similar situation where they spot a dreaded criminal in a car.
  • During some stage, Vijay narrates the story of the violent confrontation at the ship when he had tried to capture Kalsekar (Adesh Bharadwaj). Before the operation, he had called Patkar (Annup Sonii) from a locked phone booth. At the ship, Vijay and his men are tricked and Kalsekar escapes, leaving only a burnt cigarette behind. The film concludes with the epilogue on the same ship. Learning his lessons from the past encounter, Vijay calls Patkar this time as well but it is a fake recording of his voice from a public phone booth at the post office. He also sends him the same cigarette from the earlier encounter which he had preserved all these years. This time, it is Kalsekar who walks into the same ship and is knocked off in minutes.
  • The first time when Vijay Singh comes to the class, the narrator welcomes him by saying, “Dean ki entry hamari life me kisi villain ki entry se kam nahi thi.” The narrator repeats the same lines later with a small twist when Vijay is asked to take over an investigation. He says, “Dean ki entry hamari life me kisi hero ki entry se kam nahi thi.” The villain has now turned into a hero. “Patak Patak Ke” lines are also repeated in the narrative.
  • Vijay reveals to his friend Desai that he had tried to kill himself in the past. Later, he again tries to kill himself blaming his self for the events leading to Aslam’s death.
  • Vijay’s wife Sudha (Geetika Tyagi) says to him that she is the Saheb—the boss—at home. When Shukla comes along with his wife Ameeta (Spruha Joshi) to a newspaper office, she also behaves like she is the boss at home. Aslam’s fiancée Sakina (Annapurna Soni) tells him that he can have two wives—her and his work. All these three seem to have the same underlying theme.
Set in the eighties, the film uses many references from pop culture of that time. Vijay is named after the most popular character name of Amitabh Bachchan. The angle of training the bottom five students is reminiscent of Sholay. At one point in the film, the posters of some Hindi films of 1983, such as HeroJaane Bhi Do YaaroJustice Chaudhury, and Nastik can be seen at a bus stop. There is also the mention of Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood. The film’s music is done by Viju Shah who gave memorable music to many films of that time.
Class of ’83 incorporates significant political events of the time, such as the insurgency in Punjab and the clash of the Indira Gandhi and Datta Samant clash. It reminded me a bit of Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet at places. It also adds documentary footage from that time into its narrative. However, the issue with the film was that many details that help the audience to understand a film’s universe and its characters are missing. For instance, we never get to know what happened to Vijay’s wife. There are other missing events about the lives of the characters which prevents us from fully embracing them. The film feels too rushed. Towards the end, Kalsekar enters the ship and is easily killed without any buildup of dramatic moments. However, I liked that the film does not excessively valorize these men. At one point, Patkar even tells Vijay that he is not much different from Kalsekar. The inspector and the gangster behave in the same way. The film also opens with a quote of Plato that reads, “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws,” which sort of indicates that it calls some of their actions bad, or at the least, has thought about the morality of their actions.
During a charged moment, Vijay Singh reveals the questions he asked himself for years. He considers himself more capable and talented than his colleagues. He adds that he could have taken the easier route and become part of the mediocre 50-crore or 100-crore club. This scene seemed to be a kind of meta-commentary where it feels like that it is the film’s director Atul Sabharwal who is trying to say these words about the box office which has become the barometer to judge the quality of a film. It is ironic that the times we are having in the pandemic, 50-crore or 100-crore clubs seem like a thing of the past.
Class of ’83 is a competently made film that reminds us of the cinema of the eighties. I wish there was more to it.
1) Class of ’83 opens with a quote by Plato—”Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.”
Atul Sabharwal’s first film Aurangzeb also opened with a quote but that of Horace from Odes—”Deep in the cavern of the infant’s breast, the father’s nature lurks and lives and anew.”
2) Food stylists in the film
[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here.]