Thursday, June 10, 2010

Interview: Anjum Rajabali

Anjum Rajabali, who penned the script for Raajneeti along with director Prakash Jha, speaks to Sandhya Iyer on how he isn't really satisfied with the film, among other things

Considering the sweeping success of Raajneeti, one would have expected its writer Anjum Rajabali to be elated. However, when I called up the man behind films like The Legend of Bhagat Singh and Ghulam among others, he accepted the congratulations, albeit stating that he was having mixed feelingS. “A writer is never pleased. It was a very ambitious task, to take the Mahabharata, an all encompassing, influential text and adapting it into a contemporary electoral set-up. I won’t say we succeeded entirely, but it was a worthy endeavour nevertheless” says Rajabali, one of the most well-spoken and erudite film writers we have today.

“Am I satisfied with the way the film shaped up? No, not fully. But yes, it’s good to have a hit, rather than have a film you are not entirely content with, and also ends up being a flop! So yes, in a qualified sort of way, I am happy," he says.
Raajneeti has come in for some criticism, for taking scenes too literally from the Mahabharata and not incorporating it deftly. For example, the scene where Kunti meets Karna seemed out of place. The writer says he was aware of the flaws and was not surprised when these portions were criticised. “I’ve watched the film so closely and Prakash (Jha) and I have discussed the film so much, that I knew where it suffered. I was unhappy myself with certain parts, so the critics weren’t far off the mark when they pointed out mistakes,” he says.

There were genuine difficulties too, he notes. “Within the format of a two and a half hour feature film, we had to squeeze in all the main events of the Mahabharata, at least the essence of it. Some in the audience could take a leap of faith and they didn't mind the transformation in characters. There were others who were dissatisfied with the narrative.”
Talking about how the subject came into being, he says, “I have a view on the Mahabharata. I have grown up on it. My grandma used to narrate it to me as a child. Since then, my interest in it has been a continuous and consistent one. The Mahabharata has a world of situations, but in this particular film I was primarily interested in re-interpreting the character of Arjun and his moral decline. The Pandavas do a lot of things in the end that are not honorable. Instead of Arjun being a passive character, I wanted to see him as an active protagonist, who starts enjoying his demonic nature. I wanted to look at the darkness residing in his character. Samar’s subject as a student is ‘sub textual emotional violence in Victorian poetry’. He has a predilection for violence that is sublimated in the arts. But when he enters the war-zone, those demons are unleashed.”

Many have compared Arjun’s character (played by Ranbir Kapoor) to that of The Godfather’s Michael Corleone. In fact, many felt that the film itself had several shades of the iconic Hollywood film. Anjum Rajabali assures that it was never done consciously. “Perhaps Prakash and I should have been more careful and taken the Godfather parallels away. We allowed it to go how it was going. For example, that bomb blast scene between Sara and Prithvi would instantly remind people of The Godfather. Inadvertently, some resonances came about. The archetypal graph of Samar and Micheal Corelone are similar, but their motivations are very different. I never had The Godfather in mind,” he clarifies.

In spite of not being entirely satisfied with Raajneeti, Rajabali agrees that the process has whetted his interest, and he would love to take up more aspects of mythological in films. “I derived great joy writing the first few drafts of Raajneeti,” he says. Given how conscientious and candid he is about his work, one can expect the bar to be set much higher the next time around.


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