Raajneeti is easily one of the most awaited films this year, what with Prakash Jha (a real politician himself) directing a cast so big, dissecting politics in contemporary India using the Mahabharata as its template it’s a hard film for anyone to resist watching. Really though, more than the Mahabharata, it’s The Godfather where the real inspirational parallel must be drawn. The bits it openly pays ‘homage’ to are its highs and the film is better for it.
And yet Raajneeti is undone by a screenplay too mechanical, too studied, too perfectly graphed. This can happen because the sometimes the direction is not in sync with the script. Take for example the series of connecting scenes where –
1. Katrina is forced to marry Arjun despite being in love with Ranbir [this is not a spoiler]
2. Katrina putting a shawl on Arjun as he falls asleep on the couch
3. Katrina telling Arjun she’s genuinely fallen in love with him. He reciprocates.
4. Arjun dying [not a spoiler either – didn’t the trailer give it away with Katrina saying “Mere haatho se mehendi utri bhi nahin ki…”]
The scenes are shot in quick succession and are blistering in their unraveling. There is hardly any time for the audience to register these moments and for the movie to garner sympathy of its protagonists. And if you think this is quick, try the first half hour. Dense dialogue, breakneck editing, a mega-convoluted plot with scores of characters, and two (yes, two) voice overs which are not always in sync with what’s going on in screen. This sort of technique worked superbly in Jha’s previous work Apaharan, because the film itself was much more focused. Raajneeti of course is a much more ambitious piece with its telling of Indian politics as is (with a lot of creative license of course) and the multiple sub-plots and spider web-like connections. And then there are superfluous scenes (what was that club/item song scene smack in the middle of nowhere?), the unnecessary co-incidences (was it really that important for Devgan to be Ranbir’s half-brother?), and unanswered questions coupled with lack of motivation for characters to act the way they do (why should the big shots wield the guns themselves in the end? Why didn’t Bajpai’s father give him a decent post in the first place?). Yes, cinematic liberties are aplenty and yet… And yet the film takes a turn half an hour before the interval and lifts itself from the quagmire it has created, it rises like a hot spring geyser and shoots up to end on a remarkable high.
The absolutely commendable part about this mainstream film is that there is no good vs. bad story here. Everyone is a villain; everyone is gray and yet our sympathies keep shifting from self-indulgent character to another. The characters are well-defined and one marvels at the control Jha has shown in reigning in such big stars, most who’ve been cast against type. Ranbir’s progression, Katrina’s transformation, the final deaths in the climax, even the Godfather moments are memorable and make an impressionable impact. It’s hard to pinpoint the finer instances without giving away the plot, but suffice to say the sum is greater than its parts given its adrenaline inducing intensity.
Technically, the film is a bit of the let down. The camerawork is the biggest culprit here as there is no semblance of style and few moments in this department are innovative or memorable. The first half of the movie is banal primarily because of the way it is shot and as the film gathers pace and becomes more coherent the camera too becomes more fluid and more suited even though lighting remains flat throughout. It is said that art (production design) dictates camera in films, but that is not the case with Raajneeti, because the art direction here is good and the lens doesn’t do it justice. There are times when you’d actually begin to wonder if scenes in a house, hospital, and office are all shot in a single location as they would be in a low-budget film but in actuality it’s the tiresome repetitive camerawork that makes it seem so.
Costumes are marvelous. The look of each actor has been tailored in great detail to highlight their character’s personalities. Check out Manoj Bajpayee’s short shirts and gaudy glares, while Ranbir’s clothes suit his first blasé then unflappable state of mind perfectly. And dressing up the thousands of extras must’ve been no easy task. Wayne Sharp’s background score is too overwhelming. There is hardly a moment of silence. Music in this film is nothing but a useless crutch.
Performances. A lot of people seem miscast in this film. Ajay Devgn seems older than his mother Nikhila Tirkha (this could also be blamed on poor make-up) and Ranbir’s father looks more like an older brother. Arjun Rampal is cast against type and even though he gives it his best (his stand out scene: the one with the baseball bat) it does not entirely work. Nana Patekar’s Krishna act is restrained and not in your face as you’ve come to expect. He’s mostly smiling, leading people in the right direction, showing the way, and staying in the background. Katrina Kaif is pretty as the politician but does little differently than she would in Anees Bazmee’s next. Ajay Devgn pulls the short straw and is trapped in a role under the guise of Karna playing someone who is, essentially, Bajpayee’s sidekick. Manoj Bajpayee/Duryodhan is excellent in all but the scenes he’s drinking in, but then this is his home-turf.
Ranbir Kapoor is the man of the moment. More than Arjuna, he is Michael Corleone and boy, does he put up an act that Al Pacino a run for his money. He is in full control of his actions, speech and character graph. The unwilling, calculative, unassuming foreign-return boy who’s got a PhD in poetry thrust into a morass of a political feud comes out with a solid performance reiterating his standing as one of Hindi films finest actors. Unquestionably, this film is but his stage.
Raajneeti, despite all its flaws (and there are many) works because you don’t come out of the film feeling let down. It’s a diamond in the rough; a mega-budget multi-starrer that focuses on characters and story rather than lavish sets and look. The incredibly complex plot and the multitude of actors are effectively handled and tip the scales in favor of a positive review.
Hindi, Drama, Action, Color