After spending almost three hours watching Rajneeti, I came out of the theater wondering how its screenplay was written. Maybe the director and the writer were reading the Mahabharata and The Godfather for “inspiration” when in a bizarre coincidence both the books spontaneously tore. In their haste to bind the books so that they could be “inspired” in time, they mixed up parts of both books together. This mixed up bhelpuri of Puzo and Vyasa ended up as the working script of this extremely intriguing film. To make matters even more complicated, the setting was lifted…oops, derived from the beautiful (and much superior) Omkaara. Hollywood combined Alien with Predator and Freddy with Jason. Our Bombaywallahs have gone past the phirangis by combining works of different eras and sensibilities.
On one side we have the Corleones – Vito Corleone being shown as one of the founder members of the Rashtriyata (or whatever, ain’t that important) Party marries the modern version of Kunti, daughter of the leader of another party which used to rule the state of MP (party name does not matter) and who had a child out of wedlock from a firebrand socialist leader (Naseeruddin Shah, who inexplicably disappears after sowing his wild oats) which was abandoned with a locket and bright red blanket (bright red, colour of the sun, get it?) which could be used as convenient tools to recognize the kid years later in true Manmohan Desai style. This Sicilian – Kuntian couple has two sons – Micheal Corleone (Ranbir Kapoor), a PHD student with one of the most ironic thesis names and Sonny Corleone (Arjun Rampal), a randy short tempered badass. This family is guiding in its quest for political supremacy by the consigliere Krishna (Nana Patekar) who has a habit to laugh silently in each and every goddamn scene (even the funeral ones).
On the other side, we have the Kauravas led by Dhritirashtra, brother of Vito (never thought I would write such a thing). This Dhritirashtra believes in family planning and has only one kid (Manoj Bajpai) who does compensate for the other 99 in the “get angry for no reason” department. He has an ally in Shakuni (Vinay Apte) who is not so “straight” and yes, Karna i.e. Suraj (Ajay Devgan) who is the abandoned step brother of the younger Corleones.
Then there are other characters who are nothing but just witnesses to the drama unfolding between these two families. And what a long, complicated and convoluted drama it is. Power is unsurped by Vito and Dhrits. Then Dhrits gets paralysed. Vito gets veto power. Duryodhan gets marginalized and bumps off Vito in retaliation. Now the younger Corleones get marginalized. Sonny gets accused of casting couch and Micheal gets roughed up. Micheal vows revenge. Eventually the party is split up and both sides do some real horrible shit to each other to win the state elections.
Actually giving a recap of the film is a waste as it is quite faithful to its sources. The characters end up exactly as they do in the originals. There is even a mini recitation of the Gita recitation in the end. Things are jazzed up in between like the ping pong that is played by the father of Katrina Kaif while deciding who his daughter will marry. I found it quite close to the pre marriage condition that Satyavati’s father put to Shantanu in the Mahabharat. There is the whole casting couch subplot which is quite well done. Kudos to Shruti Seth for carrying off the role of the temptress so well. There is the entire blackmailing saga of Mama Shakuni which combines some Brokeback Mountaingiri with the epic “horse’s head” scene of the Godfather. This scene is quite awesome in so many levels. However apart from such interesting subplots, Rajneeti goes straight by the book (rather books).
There are a lot of positives in Rajneeti. The pace of the film is fast. Understandable since the inspiration are two quite long pieces of literature. One does not get the chance to get bored or rather think. Which is a blessing considering some of the going ons are too ridiculous (more on that later). There is wonderful attention to detail. Prakash Jha is known for making political dramas and he shows his expertness in building up tension with the use of sharp dialogues. Technically, the film is topnotch with some good camerawork.
On to the negatives. It is quite inexplicable that when you have such heavyweights like Naseeruddin Shah and Nana Patekar, adept actors like Manoj Bajpai and Ajay Devgan and a rising star like Ranbir Kapoor, why in Vishal Bharadwaj’s name do you waste so much time and dialogues on wooden mannequins like Katrina Kaif, the phirangi babe and Kunti. Every time these ladies are talking on the screen, the film just goes down.
When your source material is so abundant with interconnected storylines, there is the problem of cramming in as much you can within the allotted time. Hence, while the film turns out fast paced, it also seems rushed. There is no time for the viewer to think about the story and what the director wants to say. It works if the director has nothing pertinent to say (case in point, David Dhawan films). However this is Prakash Jha we are talking about. The man who so beautifully put forward a counter point to the justification of encounter killing in Gangajal. One expects more from him than a fast paced mindless thriller.
Then there are the cars. Hundreds of cars. And helicopters. Every third scene is of cars getting into a rally cheered on by the unwashed masses while a helicopter hovers around flinging mud on the very people the owners of the helicopters are supposed to serve. There may be a message somewhere in there. But after the 6th such scene, one tends to forget about it. Almost all murders involve cars in some way or the other. By the end, any sane person in the film would have worked out that automobiles have a problem with the Corleones and the Kauravas.
The worst problem with the film is its climax. You may be the most hot shot and powerful politician of your area. The police may fear you and you may not give a rat’s ass to anything. However you just cannot end up in a gunbattle with an equally powerful cousin of yours without facing any sort of repercussion. Just because the Mahabharata ended with everyone but a few dying does not mean you have to bump off everyone in a present day world where, you know, you just cannot kill anyone for anything. Why couldn’t Jha have one look at Kalyug, Shyam Benegal’s take on the Mahabharat and see how well he wrapped up things. The entire climax scene alongwith the ridiculous Gita kathan totally downgraded this film in my eyes.
On to the actors. Katrina Kaif is good to watch until the time she opens up her damn mouth. So too are the other leading ladies. It is the men who carry the film on their shoulders. Ranbir Kapoor is good. He portrays the metamorphosis of Micheal from a simpleminded student into a scheming strategist really well. The man seems to be born to act. Arjun Rampal is extremely good as the hot tempered Sonny. He give an edge of vulnerability to his character which is endearing. Also he can sport a mean psycho expression. Ajay Devgan plays in a way only he can – as a brooding, permanently pissed off rebel. Actually Mr. Devgan can play such roles in his sleep. Manoj Bajpai is back with this film. He plays a mean Duryodhan and also has time to show off some vulnerable traits. Finally, as the strategist extraordinaire Krishna, Nana Patekar steals the show. He does not raise his voice once in the entire film. Yet he stands out and like his character in the film, drives the film and the other amateurs towards some respectability.
Overall, the film is definitely worth a watch. For those who have read the sources, it is fun guessing what happens next. For the rest, the film will be a very unpredictable fare. Now if only the ending can be changed.
P.S. – For those going to watch with family, please cease and desist. The film has bed scenes and kisses galore. All the women have at least one scene where they are in a state of undress. There is also the Brokeback scene. It is as if Mr. Jha took some pointers from Mr. Madhur Bhandarkar. How on earth this film got a U/A certificate is a mystery for the likes of Mr. Holmes to solve.