July Issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

Prakash Jha is the thinking man’s director. He steers clear of the boy-meets-girl fluff, as is evident in his earlier films Mrityudand and Gangajal. The movies may not have been box-office bonanzas, but they earned him critical acclaim and several national awards.

His latest film is running to rave reviews, but it may not fetch him any national awards for it exposes the sinister side of Indian politics and politicians. Variously touted as a Bollywood version of theMahabharata with shades of The Godfather,Rajneeti is the story of a political dynasty that splits into two over the issue of who will take over the reigns of the party when its chief is struck with paralysis, and the elections are nearing.

On the one side is Veerendra Pratap Singh (Manoj Bajpai), who thinks he should inherit his father’s throne. He solicits the support of an angry young Dalit leader, Sooraj (Ajay Devgan). On the other side are his two cousins, Prithvi Pratap Singh (Arjun Rampal), the politician in a tearing hurry to make it to the top, and his younger brother Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), a Ph.D student in the US who gets sucked into the political vortex when visiting India for a family celebration.

Every rule in the book is violated as the two sides try to outwit each other. Political clout, blackmail, deceit, money, sex, guile, and above all, violence (real murder), are used to score points and push each other to the brink.

Set in Bhopal, Rajneeti has a vast canvas, a wide array of characters and a big budget (estimated at 98 crores) compared to Jha’s earlier projects. But in his attempt to compress it into three hours, he rushes through certain sequences and characters. For example, the older Singh’s sudden emergence from his comatose-like state to announce his successor, and Samar’s overnight metamorphosis from a novice to a ruthlessly manipulative politician are handled in a clumsy manner. Also, the first 15-20 minutes of the film, with a ‘docudrama’-type narrative, are tardy and somewhat confusing, but as the events unfold, the characters with their shades of grey grip you.

Jha always makes sure his projects have star power to draw the initial crowds. Mrityudand starred Madhuri Dixit and Apharan had Ajay Devgan and Bipasha Basu in the lead roles. Rajneeti boasts today’s Bollywood sweethearts, Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif. Kapoor impresses in the role of a simple lad turned shrewd manipulator.

Kaif is not his love interest. Sarah Johnson, in the role of the Irish American student, is. There was a lot of speculation about Kaif’s role being patterned on Sonia Gandhi’s life. Not true — unless you are referring to Kaif’s style of dressing up in khadi saris and her Brit accent when delivering speeches on the campaign trail following her husband’s assassination towards the end of the movie.

Her resemblance (or not) to Sonia aside, Kaif turns in a convincing portrayal as the bold and brattish Indu Sakseria. As do her other co-stars, among them Manoj Bajpai, Ajay Devgan, Nana Patekar as Brij Gopal, mentor to Samar and Prithvi, and Naseeruddin Shah, who has a big role as the communist leader, Bhaskar Sanyal. Rajneeti’s plus point is undoubtedly, its strong performances. And, of course, its close-to-home storyline.

Rajneeti will ring a bell with audiences in Pakistan who are all too familiar with the shenanigans of Pakistani politicians and the seamy side of local politics.

Highly recommended viewing for all Pakistani politicians.