Joined: 05 March 2010
Ranbir Kapoor, the younger brother, plays what clichd cricket
commentators would call a "cool customer". He has a life beyond his
immediate family, is least interested in his ancestral business
(politics), is settled in with a girlfriend abroad. Were it not for a
tragic circumstance, he could continue with his innately quiet, private
The elder one (Arjun Rampal), fully enmeshed in the intricacies of his family's murky trade, is the mercurial dude; given to violent outbursts; his ego, quite easy to prick.
These two brothers Samar and Prithviraj could well be Michael (Al Pacino) and Sonny (James Caan) from the Corleone family in Godfather. Or, their equations may as much match the '80s siblings Rajiv (reserved), and Sanjay (rabid), from the Gandhi dynasty.
After his father's assassination, young Samar (Ranbir, first-rate) slips in like a fish into his family's dirty pond. This transition appears too hastily unexplained for someone who'd been pursuing for years a PhD in Victorian literature before this.
Bloodlines in this Rajput family tree are too complicated to recount. Suffice it to know, for simplicity's sake, the conflict is roughly over who's the heir to a political legacy: the eldest son (Manoj Bajpayee); or the younger brother and, given such a situation's arisen, his progenies (Prithviraj, Samar).
The latter also share a step-brother (Ajay Devgn), a locally popular Dalit youth leader. But no one knows this yet. He's Karn from the Mahabharat, picked up and elevated in the rival Kaurav camp. His birth also honours a popular Bollywood tradition: random one-night stands inevitably lead to instant pregnancies.
Nana Patekar, the Krishn like figure, manipulates from the backroom. In rajneeti, or politics, he says, "Faisle sahi ya ghalat nahin hote. Unka mol toh maksad poora karne ke liye hota hai. Chahe jaise bhi ho. (Decisions taken are never right or wrong. Their worth is restricted to meeting an immediate end: by hook, or by crook)."
Jha, the director, makes for an odd, relatively grass-root politician among mainstream filmmakers, if you may. Back in his home state Bihar; he's known to be close to its progressive CM Nitish Kumar. He's himself fought the general elections twice, both as a party candidate, and an independent from a hinterland constituency. Outside of a script from Karunanidhi (once a screenwriter himself), I suspect, we're unlikely to get a more authentically insider account of the intrigues within state politics, suited still for blockbuster cinema. Jha also knows a thing or two about producing shock and awe on screen. This helps.
It's clearly possible, the filmmaker smartly suggests here, to set the Mahabharat around India's present democracy, given the business of competitive politics is just as dynastic. The political party itself is the new monarchy.
He deftly shows us "the party's" abuse of news media, business, caste, qom (a religious vote-bank), coalitions, law courts, police, bureaucracy, even marriages and friendships: all to satiate a power trip. None of the actors assembled on stage let him down: right from an unusually inspired Rampal to his powerful, polar opposite Bajpayee.
What does the film in more than slightly is, but, the sheer commercial relentlessness of its drama. There's absolutely no relief, respite, rhythm, or 'thehrav' (for lack of a better English word). Impact of no tragedy calms this picture down. Introspection is wasteful; redemption, unnecessary. Eventually, when deaths become so cheap, so should your cinema ticket.
All characters finally discover for themselves their own awkwardly lame conclusions within enough sub-plots to pack in an entire Godfather trilogy. A state poll is the ultimate Armageddon.
It appears these politicians will either never contest another election, or the filmmakers will never make another film on politics. Editing of thought, let alone scenes, may not have been a poor idea in retrospect.
Jha's GangaaJal (2003, on vigilante justice) and Apaharan (2005, on politics behind a kidnapping and ransom industry) were, in comparison, finely focused works. The ambition of its sweep screws this up alone. This problem has as much to do with silly diktats of a mainstream multi-starrer as with the size of the Hindu epic the film supposes to borrow from.
There's a reason Mahabharat was a television series. Shyam Benegal could brilliantly adapt it around India's corporate boardroom, only for his contained minimalism (Kalyug, 1981).
What you sense here instead then is an over-dramatic, over-written screenplay: an over-boiled egg.
Just to let you in on a mental note I made smilingly stepping out of this film's interval: "You so know it when you're watching one of the most powerful Bollywood dramas ever!" I wish I could say that for the rest of the movie. Well. Halfway there then, I guess.
Joined: 05 March 2010
Joined: 05 March 2010
For a country so rooted in our mythology Raajneeti might be an
intriguing film. What Prakash Jha has done is, he has taken the
Mahabharata and turned it around on its head cleverly. The setting is
India's political scenario and the allusion to the mythological
characters is neat and never overdone.
There is Krishna and there is Arjuna. We have a dalit Karna and a Duryodhan who is as conniving and resentful as we know him.
And then there is drama. It oozes out of the screenplay, spills over into the screen. The tempo is high, there isn't a moment's respite. Everything is happening all at once and you need to pay keen attention to keep abreast of all the political mumbo jumbo strewn around. This was a film that could have gone horribly wrong. And thankfully it has come out wonderfully right.
The pace is near perfect. The screenplay is forceful and the story as we may have mentioned before is as old as the hills. The metaphors are subtle and never aggressive. If you are going to look for every subplot in the Mahabharata to be present here, you are looking at the wrong film. The film uses the epic as a fine bed to slather on its many layers. The core is right here-of power, politics, hatred, manipulation, conspiracy, war and ultimately victory. But at what cost?
Raajneeti is a film that draws you in and keeps you engrossed. This is political seduction at its best. The characters though derived are original. You have an Arjuna (Ranbir Kapoor) who is all set to get a PHD and whose thesis is based on the 'sub textual emotional violence in 19th century Victorian poetry.' He goes from wanting that PHD to wanting revenge. Ranbir is light on his feet with this role. He shows no signs of having tried too hard and yet he leaves a strong impression. Arjun Rampal pitches in a surprisingly nuanced performance. And are politicians really allowed to look that good? His chemistry with the film as such and his co-stars is amazing. Nana Patekar seems to have eased through what could be one of the most restrained roles of his career. His presence is strong yet never obtrusive. Manoj Bajpai is fabulous. Katrina's casting is a little mystifying as the role doesn't require a girl with an accent but to give her credit, she tries her best. And towards the end of the film, she gets into the 'neta' persona beautifully be it her walk or her body language. Ajay Devgn as Suraj brings in his trademark intensity. But the Karna angle of the film is weakest. This is the character you should ideally feel sympathy for. And sadly you don't. The character is not etched as finely as you would imagine. Even the face off between Suraj and his biological mother is tepid and uninspiring. This is the only weak link in the film. The climax too leaves you wanting a little bit. It seems a little hurried and clumsy and Suraj's death lacks the required melodrama.
That said, Prakash Jha is a deft juggler. He has so many balls up in the air all at once and he maneuvers them all with enviable skill and dexterity. This is a film designed to impress. And it does so successfully for most parts. Raajneeti is a war cry you can't ignore.
Joined: 05 March 2010
Director: Prakash Jha
Starring: Nana Patekar, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif
All right, I know what you want to know.
No, Katrina Kaif is not Sonia Gandhi. She speaks Hindi much worse than Mrs Gandhi and though she plays a widow in the film, she ends up in power, as opposed to the person who listened to her inner voice.
No, Ranbir Kapoor is not Rahul Gandhi. Or Rajiv Gandhi. Or Sanjay Gandhi. Not unless any of them has ever blown up the car of an opponent, murdered their own kin (he's Arjuna from the Mahabharata you see, so I'm not giving much away), or even come within a week of doing a PhD on the subtextual violence in 19th century Victorian poetry.
And no, Bhanu Pratap Singh's family is not the Gandhis. Not unless any of them has had a dalliance with a revolutionary, had a brother who lies paralysed in hospital and another who was shot dead in a staged traffic jam. And I know, I know, I will sound like an aunty, but it's not a bad thing that the CBFC snipped off some sex. There's quite a bit of it already for a movie graded U/A.
But folks, what a movie.
Prakash Jha is a filmmaker who concentrates on the story. Follow the characters, all else will fall in line. It does. It's an absorbing palette he draws for us, straight from the Mahabharata. There's Bhaskar Sanyal, the revolutionary, played by Naseeruddin Shah, who is Surya. There's Brij Mama, the wise counsel, played by Nana Patekar, who is Krishna. There's Prithvi, the hotheaded challenger played by Arjun Rampal, who is Bhim. There's Samar, the calm, focused younger brother, played by Ranbir Kapoor, who is Arjuna. There's Manoj Bajpayee as Virendra Pratap, the scheming Duryodhana; Ajay Devgn as Sooraj Kumar, the illegitimate son, Karna; and yes, Katrina Kaif or Indu Pratap as Draupadi. Who's Sarah Thompson? Well, she's just plain Sarah, with an accent that oddly matches Kaif's.
It's a film often brutal and quite violent, in its sex scenes as well as gunslinger scenes. There's a man caught in bed with another man, a woman felt up by a man and brought to orgasm in front of a mirror, a shower scene and even a bed scene, done tastefully keeping Kaif's A-list status in mind. Jha doesn't believe in sparing the sledgehammer. Car bombs go off, shootouts take place in deserted garages, enemies are axed. The dialogue doesn't spare anyone. "Hamari roti unse nahin chalti. Unki roti hamse chalti hai,'' says Devgn, the kabaddi champion and driver ka beta turned Dalit neta. Chief ministers drive around in Mercedes, the financier's daughter coasts along in a Lexus convertible, dreaming of the day she will become the youngest minister in the state with a lal batti, the mother is always in the kitchen fixing breakfast and the girlfriend is always clingy.
Everyone will do anything to get a ticket. Sleep with a rising politician, align with an enemy, sup with the devil. There is not much effort at subtlety but not much is needed. This is a landscape that is dipped in tomato sauce red blood. It requires the purple rhetoric to match it. Rampal, sniggering at an arriviste, says: "Raajneeti ko public transport ki bus samjh rakha hai, haath dikahaya aur chad gaye?'' "Musalman muthi nahin kholega abhi," says a Muslim leader to the Krishna-Arjuna-Bhim triumvirate. "Power paida karen hum log, aur button unko de? Yeh videshi candidate band karne hoge," says Devgn's character to the people of his basti, Azadpur.
Samar, part Arjuna, part Michael Corleone (down to an accident with a
car bomb which I cannot give away), is the central fulcrum on whom the
movie rests. He is watchful, silent, allowing his rage to grow. There he
sits smoking, playing chess on his BlackBerry, with a chessboard on the
wall (I did say that Jha likes to underline everything), and plots, and
plots. He plots selling his brother to the businessman to finance the
election, he plots the rival Kaurava endorsement of Prithvi at a public
rally, he plots the downfall of Duryodhana, and he plots the victory of
his family. That's the leitmotif of the movie: family above all and the
family firm above everything else. Kapoor is excellent as the thoughtful
Samar, who waits for the dominos to fall, seeing every scenario unfold
in his mind's eye, journeying into the heart of darkness.
What is Kaif doing here, with her Donald Duck lips and her accented English? Waiting to transform into a widowed martyr, who asks the voters to dry her tears. It's only then that she comes alive. Jha could have done a lot of things better. He could have done with less clunky scene between Devgn and his mother, Kunti/Bharti (played by newcomer Nikhila Trikha) confronting Karna after all those years. He could have avoided the too-tidy dialogue between Kapoor and Kaif at the end. He could also have snipped even the brief item song entirely. But those are minor quibbles. This is an ambitious film, which manages to say much about politics today. Yes, it does bring out the shaitan (devil) in men. Yes, the poor do want the government to be liberated from its self appointed responsibility to "remove poverty", which is just another name for corruption. Yes, it does show that identity politics has only deepened with development, not become less virulent. And yes, it shows that money matters, always.
For its stirring lines (raajneeti main mudde gade nahin jate, zinda rakhe jate hain-issues are never buried in politics, just kept alive), its powerful confrontations, and more twists than in the road to hell, this is a film that will engage you and entertain you. Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali take a bow.
And yes, Ranbir Kapoor, you too. It's a performance that is studied and yet so spare.
Joined: 11 December 2009
Joined: 01 April 2005
Joined: 06 November 2007
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