Friday, June 4, 2010

Review Raajneeti

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Ranbir Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Rampal and Katrina Kaif

Director: Prakash Jha

Promises big, delivers little

Political films are rarely attempted in Bollywood - the kind of awareness and insight that is required for tackling such a subject is not generally found among directors. And even otherwise, save for a niche audience, the genre has never received much attention or interest. The last political film that made a stunning impression was Sudhir Mishra's Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, but apart from that, we've had no film seriously exploring the political scene. There was Ram Gopal Varma's Sarkar Raj, but its framework was still that of a standard commercial film.

But when Prakash Jha - the director of serious social dramas like Mrityudand, Gangaajal, Apaharan - directs Raajneeti, with heavy-weight actors on such a grand scale, one naturally expects it to be a definitive film on politics. Also, given that Jha has always taken a keen interest in politics and even fought an election makes him a credible name. The director's previous films have all been gritty and dark, also somewhat heavy and lacking in respite. In Raajneeti, the novelty rests with the fact that he attempts to re-tell the Mahabharat by setting it in a contemporary political world. The result is mixed and Jha does not really succeed in balancing both aspects and creating a plausible narrative (screenplay Anjum Rajabali and Jha) that would have made for a compelling watch.

The first 15-20 minutes are highly confusing, as too many characters are introduced. The story is about the struggle for power between two cousins - Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai) and Prithviraj Pratap (Arjun Rampal). Veerendra considers himself to be the rightful heir of their political party, as his father was their chief - before he got struck with paralysis. The power equation gets shifted to the other family and Veerendra sees red. To get even, he takes under his fold a promising Dalit youth leader, Suraj (Ajay Devgn). When things still don't go as he desires, he plots the murder of his uncle (Prithvi's father). All of a sudden, Veerendra again is in the driver's seat, but now he has to contend with Prithvi's younger brother, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor). So far, the young lad had distanced himself from politics, and was quietly studying 'subtextual violence of Victorian poetry' in America. But now, determined to teach his enemies a lesson, he turns all evil and conniving. So you see him sitting and smoking, giving intense expressions against the backdrop of a chess board. From here on, the Mahabharat is forgotten and the film goes full blast into Godfather mode.

Raajneeti is a colossal disappointment for those expecting a nuanced, incisive look into the world of politics. Stunningly, Jha's focus is minimal on real politics and his aim is mainly to weave in the chief characters and episodes of Mahabharat into the narrative. This proves to be a double-edge sword. The film has little or no resonance with contemporary political figures or families, and the action that take place is cliched and uninspiring - seen dime a dozen in standard family revenge dramas. The film shows one leader after another getting killed in quick succession - as if it is so easy to murder important political figures! Also, there's too much gloss and grandeur in a film about politics, making the drama somewhat superficial. The characters stay in a palatial house, wear expensive clothes. Even the folks who appear in the background are dressed in spotlessly clean, designer kurtas. Perhaps Jha intended to retain the majestic appeal of the Mahabharat - the dialogues have words like 'jyeshta putra' and 'kartavya', but all this weakens the film's contemporary appeal considerably. Again, some of the instances taken from Mahabharat - like Kunti meeting her illegitimate son, Karna - seem ludicrous the manner in which they appears in the film. Without adequate character build-up and contained drama, the scene feels out of context and redundant.

Mani Ratnam adapted Mahabharat far more successfully in his Rajnikanth-Mammooty starrer, Thalapathy. Jha struggles to balance the two ends and achieve a coherent narrative.

On the upside, the film is shot very well. Some of the scenes between Ajay Devgn and Manoj Bajpayee are highly watchable. These are really the only two actors who seem completely convincing in their parts. Bajpayee, in particular, gives a solid performance as Duryodhan. For the first time in his career, Ranbir Kapoor looks lost in a film, where his character is extremely ill-defined. Again, Katrina for the first time gets to prove her acting skills, to disastrous results! What was supposed to be a showcase vehicle for her ends up exposing her limitations as an actress. Arjun Rampal's role is very loud. Nana Patekar, who doubles up as modern-day Dronacharya and Krishna, plays his part well.

Raajneeti is worth a watch for Bajpayee, but in terms of crafting and narrative, the film achieves very few of its goals.

Rating: **1/2

- Sandhya Iyer


Blogger Abhishek Bandekar said...

Saw this yesterday. Disappointed is the term I'd use. Even then, like most, I will attest that the biggest strength of this film is its watchability. It is a consistently gripping narrative despite its 3 hour length.

For Jha's most ambitious film till date, this is also surprisingly his least original. It lacks, inspite of the title, Jha's political insight. This is primarily Mahabharata meets Thalapathi by way of The Godfather! And that is the film's failing. It tries to cram too much, and ends up somewhat a mess. Also, the film offers no real subversion of the epic Hindu text. Ratnam's film offered an interesting take on the Mahabharata where Krishna was the bad guy. Here, though Ranbir's Arjun has grey's less to do with subversion and more with the fact that he & his hot-headed brother Rampal are modelled after Michael & Sonny Corleone. Kauravas vs Corleones!

Nana Patekar, playing a mix of Bhishma, Dronacharya and Krishna, seems to be the only actor willing to read more into his role and invests it with a sly, all-knowing connivance that is a charm to watch. Devgan wears a consistent scowl, but is let down by a weak one-note role. What should've been the most gut-wrenching moment of the film, Kunti meeting her son Karna, ends up laughably bad...robbing Devgan of what could've been his 'scene'. It is Manoj Bajpayee though who is the real star of the film, and for the lack of definite black & white, the film's lead. Certainly his best outing since Shool. Ranbir is terribly exposed in this company...even Rampal faring better than him, if only marginally so. Katrina, like her namesake hurricane, is a disaster!

Raajneeti, for all its flaws though, is still a better film than most that Bollywood offers. And it has key sequences, which with the powerhouse cast, is all the more relishing. A missed opportunity nevertheless.

June 6, 2010 at 3:51 AM  
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