t’s a dirty word – politics. But in India it is also big business and big money. The quick get-rich scheme that it is, politicians must acquire a thick skin, and the wiles to survive in a cut-throat hierarchy of power.
Cashing in on this corruption-laden profession, Raajneeti, Prakash Jha’s latest directorial venture is placed in a politician’s world and centers around a political family in the throes of an election.
Raajneeti’s story is clearly inspired by the Mahabharata. There are the Pandava brothers, two in this case, a.k.a Samar (Ranbir) and Prithvi Pratap (Arjun Rampal), their mother Kunti a.k.a. Bharati, and father Pandu a.k.a. Mahendra Pratap. Then there is the lone Kaurava, Duryodhana a.k.a. Veerendra Pratap (Manoj Bajpai), son of Bhanu Pratap, Mahendra Pratap’s elder brother. Bhanu Pratap and his younger brother Mahendra have Indian politics well in hand. The elder stands for and wins elections with the political stratagem of the younger. However trouble looms when Bhanu Pratap suffers a heart attack which leaves him paralysed, and Mahendra Pratap must single handedly quell the war for the political fiefdom between the brothers.
Raajneeti sounds like and purports to be a magnum opus. It is long, heavily drenched in political stratagem and reeks of the staples of good drama – deception, betrayal and wily, capricious people. It is a complex tale – imagine the Mahabharata zipped up into a 3 hour span. Jha takes on an onerous task in trying to incorporate all the elements of that epic tale into one film. And while the film does work in fits and starts, it also drags and is weighed down by too much happening in too short a space of time.
Raajneeti starts off in quick clipped short takes with an omnipresent voiceover, to the point where it seemed almost documentary-ish and felt like we were very quickly being brought up to speed to current events instead of leisurely trying to wend our way around this many textured tale. I tired of the narrator narrating and wished that the film would show us events instead of telling us about them.
Well, then it did. We are introduced to the new kings and queens of India – the political class. While the old hands, the sitting politicians go around in dhotis and Nehru topis, giving patriotic bhashans, they also groom their progeny for political futures. These princes and princesses are casually wealthy, study and holiday abroad, zip around in expensive, imported cars and are waited on hand and foot in their sprawling bungalows teeming with ever-ready servants.
Ranbir, is clearly the star of the film as Samar, the babe-in-the-woods turning into the conniving politician (and in that, it reminded me of Virasat) . He is ably supported by Darshan Jariwalla as his wily politician grand-father and Nana Patekar as Brij Mama, his political mentor. Arjun Rampal as Prithvi cuts quite a dashing figure in long, flowing churidar kurtas, but his acting is just about adequate. Ajay Devgan is the upstart Dalit leader, the Karna to Bajpai’s Duryodhana, and does play his part quite well. Manoj Bajpai of course, is flawless. As for Katrina, the female lead, she spouts long weighty dialogues in shudh Hindi, but fails on the acting front, huffing haplessly as she tries to portray lost love.
Jha delineates his characters well-enough that we identify the Mahabharata character that they are based upon. And just like in that tale, there is no “hero” here, no lone man who stands up to do the right thing. All characters have shades of grey in them so it is hard to root for one particular person. As far as emotions go, there is a marked lack of depth. We never actually get to see enough of them to sympathize or feel for the predicaments that the characters face. And not having a single character with remotely redeemable qualities is bad for the film, because then I’m watching this from a distance, removed from everything.
The story seems inspired and if well-done, this could have been the film of the year. Unfortunately, Jha ham-handles it, bringing in what looks to be a sophisticated product but leaving it rough around the edges. There is a lack of attention to detail, that little extra time spent on polishing off the scene just so. The film doesn’t turn into what it could have been because it tries to do too much in too little time. Jha tries to make it all encompassing, prefacing the story with a rushed narrative. I could easily see this as a two or three part film series where we would be gracefully introduced to the characters, the drama would build up leisurely, and we wouldn’t feel like we were being crammed full of story angles and events.
It is not that this film doesn’t work; rather Raajneeti doesn’t work as well as it could have because Jha bites off more than he can chew. Still, as of now, this is one of the better films of the year and worth a watch.
Kidwise : Some violence and sexually suggestive scenes make it unsuitable for kids younger than 15.