In Class of ‘83, a journalist suggests a smarmy headline for the subjects of his piece. “Dirty Harrys of Bombay,” he wants to call a squad of homegrown cops. The idea is then stretched: one of the cops’ wives protests that her husband isn’t ‘dirty’, mentioning the primness of his laundry. The scene is representative of Atul Sabharwal’s film: a police drama careful not to taint its leads.We begin in Nashik in 1982. Aslam, Shukla, Varde, Yadav, and Surve are cadets in the police training centre. Terrible at coursework, they belong to the first batch of Dean Vijay Singh, a spectral figure who has never turned up in class or shown his face. Until, one night, he does.
Now, here we must pause and brace ourselves. Bobby Deol, as you know, plays the dean. This is the actor’s Netflix debut, so pains have been taken to make him look gruff and grizzled. The posters showed an aging cop in dad glasses and wispy greys. As jarring as that image was — especially for us ‘90s kids, eternal devotees of the Soldier — the film goes a step further.
Vijay, still smarting from his punishment posting (he was once a hotshot in the force), takes the band under his wing. He inducts them quietly and trains them in the art of encounter killings. Later, he gets an old friend to install his pupils in Mumbai, as a hit squad against the mob. “Institutionalised killing of gangsters by policemen,” Vijay explains, glowing up, as though proposing a rock fest.
This comes as no surprise. Hindi films have a chronic affinity for staged murders: In Simmba, for example, this was done with naked relish — several constables dancing around a CCTV camera to off a rapist. The cops in Class of ‘83 are more sophisticated: they hide their tracks, plant alibis, and always beat the rap. Adapted from Hussain Zaidi’s nonfiction book, the evident glee is shocking. We get a glimpse of the corrupting effects of such power, but it’s all done via suggestion and equivocal tones. Even Vijay, brought back to the force to restrain his kids, chalks it up to errant behavior, so long as his vendetta is served.
There are a few nice touches. Vishwajeet Pradhan is fetching as a rugged PT instructor; “Mandhbuddhi manus...,” he calls a trigger-happy cadet. Numbskull. The cinematography is in a rusted brown: it feels oppressive at first but accentuates the period setting. Vijay dials a politician from a locked phone near a dock. A restaurant alternation is echoed in a later scene, with old friendship giving way to new jealousies. There are also lovely inserts from old newsreels: Marive Drive, Churchgate, strikes in mills.
Equally notable is the nagging meta-commentary linked to Bobby’s arc. Vijay (also the actor’s real name) is angry with ‘the system’, how it took him in and spit him out. He grumbles at something called ‘the hundred crore club’ — apparently also a thing among cops. For all its comeback-y vibe, Class of ‘83 doesn’t pack a punch. It’s a stiff performance buried in cop cliches, from the sob backstory to the messing around with a blade. Briefly, the film allows him some tenderness — Vijay watching his son graduate from afar — but quickly turns off the mood.
As the bodies stack up, Anup Soni, playing a corrupt CM, meets up with his foe. “Who thought that cotton mills would disappear from Mumbai?” he observes wrly, staring around at crumbling walls. There’s a relish in his voice, but also respect for a city of change.
Cast: Bobby Deol, Anup Soni, Vishwajeet Pradhan
Director: Atul Sabharwal
Produced by: Red Chillies Entertainment