Saturday, October 27, 2012


The Becket List

The idea comes from the Jean Anouilh classic Becket, which was beautifully Indianised by Hrishikesh Mukherjee for his Namak Haram.  At a simpler level, the undercover infiltrator having a change of heart idea was used by Anjum Rajabali for his Drohkaal (Govind Nihalani) script.

He recycles it for Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh, without half the impact.  Jha has been making semi-realistic films based on social issues and setting them in mofussil (Bihar, mostly) India, and in fluff-filled Bollywood, often makes them work.

For Chakravyuh, he takes the complex issue of Naxals or Maoists fighting a bloody, high body count battle with the Indian state, for the rights of tribals. As usual industrialists trying to set up industries in backward areas are seen as greedy and callous, politicians are expectedly corrupt, the cops are fighting a losing battle. But strangely, for a film that takes a pro-poor stance, the real issue of the plight of tribals is just skimmed over.  The Naxals resort to extortion to raise funds for arms, and terror tactics to keep the villagers silent, and that, according to Jha is acceptable. It’s a difficult issue with multiple points of view possible. (Films like Red Alert, Laal Salaam and the far superior Hazaaron Khwahishen Aisi had looked at the Naxal movement with varying degrees of accuracy).

A police officer Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), accepts a tough posting in the Naxal-infested region of Nandighat, vows to wipe them out and arrest the leader, Rajan (Manoj Bajpayee).  He is sympathetic towards the villagers, but unable to make much headway, till his long lost buddy Kabir (Abhay Deol) offers to infiltrate the Naxal ranks and become an informer.  Kabir is briefly introduced as a loose cannon, police drop-out, but nowhere is his friendship or political views established strongly enough for him to take such a huge risk.

Rajan is arrested with Kabir’s help, but he stays on with Comrade Juhi (Anjali Pandit) and the other Naxals, slowly replacing Rajan, with the blessing of an old intellectual revolutionary (Om Puri).  His abrupt transformation to the tribal cause and his ready willingness to use violence, even against innocents, is never properly explained, which leaves a wide emotional and ideological gap in the film. Surely, before he went into the Maoist camps, he couldn’t have been so ignorant or naive.

Those who don’t care about issues will not like this film, and those who are clued into the politics of the region, would find it too simplistic.  The intention is clearly stronger than the execution.

Then, the performances are uneven—Arjun Rampal not equal to the task, Abhay Deol is passable, Esha Gupta (as Adil’s cop wife in figure-hugging uniform) is miscast. That leaves Manoj Bajpai and Anjali Pandit to hold the fort and they do their best. Om Puri in a small role conveys a lot more than all the combined histrionics. As for the Sameera Reddy item number—it’s not going to sell a single ticket.


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