To say that Indu Sarkar kicked up a storm before its release would be a waste of a sentence. Lets waste two more:
The matter was controversial — let's get over that.
A movie had to be made — let's acquiesce with this.
While the events depicted by Madhur Bhandarkar in Indu Sarkar do hold an important place in the history of independent India, there is no getting around the fact that they occurred all of four decades ago. That Emergency was invoked is known but its true significance in this day and age needs to be imagined, if not quite experienced.
What was it like to live and love in India in the 70s? What did the colours look like? What did the people wear? What was the prevalent form of ambient lighting? (incandescent bulbs, fyi) What were the people's aspirations? Within or without Emergency, this is the context that needs to be added, and that, first and foremost, is where Indu Sarkar provides believable representation.
It was a time when the sarkar was all-powerful. Think: license raj, nepotism, bureaucracy, corruption, influence, contacts, sycophancy. On top of it all came the Emergency: propaganda, curtailment of rights, sterilisation (nasbandi), a clampdown on free speech... and Sanjay Gandhi. It's impossible to not view him as a manifestation of the Emergency machine. His every moment on screen entails the menace that only true and unchallenged power can inspire. And yet, he drives around with fancy-looking company in what is the definition of a hippie van. But it's the little people (politically) whom he plays proxy ruler to that this is all really about.
At the crux of Indu Sarkar are the Sarkars — a married couple that can be considered to be a model for those days. He's an increasingly important government officer working for an ambitious yet subservient mantri and she's a homemaker who's managed to navigate and eventually overcome stigma related to her stutter. As such, the Sarkars and their story offer a compelling commentary on the social structure and beliefs of the time, and even today: A girl's 'education vs. marriage' conundrum and his devotion to the creed of 'Yes men' that do their politician masters' bidding, reaping the rewards while turning a blind eye to the suffering of others.
And then there are those who oppose; not because it's their job to do so but because someone must.
Indu Sarkar is full of the kind of details and subplots that a historical drama needs. The social narrative, the government's various propaganda schemes, the characters (including a greasy guy who has a crooked solution to any problem and Police officers who must bend the knee or make way); the part where Lutyens' Delhi is and has always been Lutyens' Delhi; the kind of atrocities that the powerful are capable of committing when the power gets to their head, and a lot more. It really is quite good.
Cast: Kirti Kulhari, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Anupam Kher, Sheeba Chaddha, Supriya Vinod, Parvin Dabas
What it nails: The essence of what it may be like to have your rights curtailed. The helplessness that the common man (and even the RSS, in a cameo) may have felt during those dark days. Its exposé on politicians, their motives and methods. Kirti Kulhari's performance as the film's eponymous protagonist and Sanjay Gandhi — a triumph of villainy!
Where it falls: A distinct lack of drama at the end with regard to the lifting of Emergency.