The concept of bringing a tale based in part on the Mahabharat and using it as a metaphor for the present is an interesting one and one that is ably executed by Prakash Jha in this mythology-meets-Mafioso tale set in modern day India. Treachery, corruption, shoot outs and murder punctuate the narrative as you hurtle towards what is ultimately rather predictable fare.
Leaving aside the opening sequences which prepares the viewer for the background to the expansive cast, we enter the frame with two warring factions of one family, both striving to oust the other and wrestle control. Bhanu Pratap leads the Rashtrawadi political party, but suffering a stroke, hands over the control of the party to his brother Chandra, with Chandra’s son, Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and his own son Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai) to share the honours as joint general secretaries. Humiliated by his father’s actions, Veerandra makes the type of unlikely alliance only seen in politics. Throw in the rape of a party worker, a cover up, some very ugly threats, and you have a full blown political drama on your hands.
Into all this sordidness comes, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), the baby of the family, uncorrupted by the lure of power, studying poetry in the United States... or so one believes. It doesn’t take him too long to get his hands dirty. Samar proves a faithful lieutenant to his family, proving his stripes by orchestrating the marriage of the woman he loves to his brother, in order to raise funds for his party. Veerendra sees yet again the mantle of power slipping away and into the hands of his loathed cousins and plots a bloody revenge.
Raajneeti is an epic film and one that could conceivably have devoted some more time to some of its characters to provide credence where one simply has to assume it. The film borrows heavily from the Godfather in its feel and characterisation. Rampal is no doubt the maverick Sonny Corleone in what must be the finest performance of his career whereas Kapoor is Michael Corloene. Kapoor’s Corleone turn is sudden and explained rather too easily as letting out the” inner devil” and one would have actually liked to have spent some more time actually seeing whether Samar was always a morally decayed person or whether the slide into this murder and mayhem was indeed driven by something other than inner demons. Kapoor is an interesting actor who is able to make his character more believable than perhaps you would otherwise imagine.
Manoj Bajpai, however, takes the film to a new level with surely one of the best performances cinema has seen in recent years. So greasily malevolent is Veerendra that you almost cheer at his naked ambition. Matching him step for step in an understated yet magnificent performance is Nana Patekar. The less said of Katrina Kaif the better and Ajay Devgan is swept away in Bajpai’s shadow.
Musically, whilst not included overtly in the film, “Mora sajan mose bolat nahin” sends a cold shiver up your spine. In a nutshell, Raajneeti works as a political thriller and cannot claim to be anything but that. It’s not a path-breaking film, neither is it one that aspires to make a difference. Jha has finally made a film which has set the box office alive without compromising on the quality of cinema. It is wasted on a small screen but is worth a visit to the cinema.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2010.
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