Friday, June 04, 2010



Prakash Jha’s Bihar films like Mrityudand, Gangajal and Apaharan had moments of great power and genuine insights into a land and culture that the director knows closely. That’s why it is doubly disappointing that a filmmaker of his accomplishments should want to make a tepid version of The Godfather mixed with bits of the Mahabharat, and let news dribble out that it is based on the Gandhi family. Expectations from Raajneeti were high because Jha is one of the few filmmakers who has the capacity and courage to be original, and knows of life at the grassroots level that is increasingly lost to cinema. That’s why the disappointment is further mutiplied, since it fails to live up to those expectations.

Jha is still able to give the first half of the film an epic sweep and well shot, realistic crowd scenes, then you watch with increasing discomfort as the film descends to the level of a shlock gangster film, abandoning subtlety for over-the-top violence.

Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) one of the two sons of a politician father (Chetan Pandit), doing his doctorate in Victorian poetry abroad, and dating an Irish girl (Sara Thompson) comes to India to find his life going to pieces. His uncle, the Chief Minister of the state gets a paralytic attack, and his position is eyed both by his brother (Samar’s father) and his son Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai), while Samar’s older brother Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is also in the fray. All the mayhem is controlled and directed by the benign-looking Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar), like Krishna of the Mahabharat.

The aggressive and uncouth Veerendra gets the support of rising Dalit leader Sooraj (Ajay Devgn), who, unknown to all, is the illegitimate son of Samar and Prithvi’s mother Bharti (Nikhila Trikha—a weak link). When their father is killed, Samar and Prithvi declare war against their cousin Veerendra by setting up their own political party. Samar becomes the brain behind it all and completely cold-blooded, willing to blackmail and murder; to dump Sara for rich girl Indu (Katrina Kaif), for election funds and then dump Indu, who loves him, so that she and her millions can marry his CM-aspirant brother.

Sara comes to India, and becomes an irritant in the plot, playing no part in the film except increasing the running time with her constant whining. More blood is shed, Indu is pushed into electoral politics, and Samar takes on even more shades of Michael Corleone as his ruthlessness knows no bounds.

What work are the Mahabharat bits, like the Sooraj/Karna subplot and Devgn plays him with the ferocious intensity he is known for, almost walking away with the film, with only Ranbir Kapoor’s smoothly evil Samar for competition.

Even if such a story is told well, it is déjà vu for the audience—it is Sarkar, with just more characters and a different milieu, and both these films owe their core to The Godfather, which must be the most imitated (call it homage or tribute, it is still a copy) film in history.
Jha’s casting is fine, even the minor parts played by Shruti Seth, Vinay Apte, Dayashankar Pandey, Kiran Karmarkar, Darshan Jariwala leave some kind of impact. But on the whole the film does not say anything about politics that is not already known and documented ad nauseum in cinema. From Prakash Jha’s firsthand experience of electoral politics, one wanted more than just an ‘end justifies the means’ conclusion. Only he was capable of making the definitive Indian ‘dirty politics’ film and he took the easy way out.


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