Saturday, June 05, 2010
Cast: Ranbir Kapoor, Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal, Katrina Kaif, Nana Patekar, Manoj Vajpayee
Director: Prakash Jha
Runtime: 180 min.
Verdict: It is a one-to-one mapping contest, where the pleasure is derived not from the narrative, but from predicting and pointing out which part’s mapped from where. Oh yeah, it is a mess, but the latter half is a laugh-fest. Who cares if it was unintentional.
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Halfway through Raajneeti, a movie where characters regularly use that wonderfully versatile f-word, and where not one but three characters seem to be educated in the west, I really expected somebody in the movie to stand up and remark – Hey guys, don’t you think our current predicament feels an awful lot like The Mahabharata? And I don’t know if you seen The Godfather or not, but man, some of our lives are straight out of it. Awesome movie that guy Coppola made. Awesome shit, that guy Vedvyas wrote. Must be real geniuses them. You see, dear reader, our hero and mastermind Samar (Mr. Kapoor) seems to be doing some kind of research in Victorian era literature, which by definition means he must really be aware of all the pop-culture stuff. Art-stuff. Mythology stuff. The world around. I mean, you and me are.
Never mind. You can think all you want during the film, and it wouldn’t matter one wee bit. You see, there are movies that take great pains in order to be authentic, in order to be true, in order to evoke honest emotions out of you. We call them art, or we ought to. Then there are the movies, which scripted wonderfully, and edited shrewdly, take great pains to manipulate the hell out of us and create a grand illusion. And then, there are movies that just don’t care. They don’t bother if you are even feeling what the intended emotion was behind the scene when it was first written on paper. It doesn’t even bother if you thinking about the nitty-gritties of the entire exercise. Such a movie assumes, you are supposed to not challenge, or not so much as to even argue the movie’s moral or narrative choices. You have no business exercising your free will as an audience. You just need to catch up, as the movie is running on auto-pilot. Such a movie, I present to you, in Raajneeti, which by no means is a bore, but is so superfluous and over-scripted you don’t really feel the need to gain any kind of insight out of it. It is just a man’s fancy idea, about how The Godfather would play around with The Mahabharata. So he sets about, mapping character for character, and major events for major events, hammering in incidents as popular as Karna’s birth or Kunti’s realization or Karna’s death with reckless abandon. And once your movie is inspired by movies without the implicit humor of the exercise, you don’t really have much scope of success. The mapping is overtly obvious I was wondering halfway why Mr. Jha even bothered to name the characters any differently.
It is the usual mediocre stuff with Raajneeti, where you don’t feel characters, where they exhibit behavior not borne out of their nature, but because the script compels them so. Scenes don’t wait, and neither do they encourage your sincere questions about the consistency of the character’s behaviors, and why the film smugly assumes some of them are good and some are bad. I had several, like why would Samar so suddenly turn from angelheart to a conniving dragonheart. Or why would Indu (Ms. Kaif) suddenly feel her husband, Prithviraj (Mr. Rampal), is a good guy just because he sleeps on the couch. Isn’t she aware of what’s happening in the film? Why would she fall in love with him? I mean, I do get it, but a film ought to be more useful than a newsreel right? So yes, there is little in Raajneeti you would miss if someone in your office or an enthusiastic friend would enact the story incident by incident in half-hour flat.
The film, though, does open on an encouraging note. My dad would often scold me if I were to read The Mahabharata in the morning, or before sleeping, and much of it is because of the inherent immorality with every character inside of it. Rarely is anyone righteous, save Bhishma and Karna, and the kind of lowly opinion we hold for politics, it makes for an apt enough setting for the adaptation. Much like how the supposed immorality and trickery of the corporate world was in Shyam Benegal’s dull yet infinitely better Kalyug.
As Raajneeti unfolds, one feels, Mr. Jha is not taking sides and is in fact condemning everyone. Yet, halfway through, for no apparent reason, this all-grey world starts assuming shades of black-and-white, and by the end of it, we have legitimate heroes and full-blown villains. Why does Raajneeti try to assuage the guilt and evil of Samar, or Prithviraj, one doesn’t know. Why is Virendra (Mr. Vajpayee) bad, one doesn’t know? He even has a curly moustache. Maybe, Mr. Jha was acknowledging this irony from The Mahabharata by going the same route, but then I didn’t really bother, because these aren’t characters exhibiting their free will, they are merely being pulled along by the script. You have any doubts? Think of the final act and the needless exhibition of gunpowder. And the moral question posed by Samar to Brij Gopal (Mr. Patekar), about the unarmed nature of their enemies, and how ridiculously out-of-character it feels after all that has happened. This is just one example, off the top of my head.
Nothing else matters. The technical areas are strictly functional. Raajneeti might have served infinitely well if it were a television serial, in the mould of Swabhimaan, because here it just contains too much. The acting? Averaging to strictly okay. Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Patekar are good to brilliant, and so is Mr. Devgan who feels, well, at home. The big disappointment though is Mr. Kapoor, who is a lovely actor, but is so obviously miscast. Poor soul, doesn’t know how to be a conniving bastard, and instead resorts to a standard-issue grim disposition. You see, you wouldn’t want to cast Jim Carrey as Michael Corleone just as you wouldn’t want to have Daniel-Day Lewis as Ace Ventura. Mr. Abhishek Bachchan, who has had match practice, in not one but two films, would have been a mighty better bet.
And then, there are glaring contradictions in the way CBFC handles content – the opening sexual act between Prithviraj and one of the women from his party is so long and so obviously dirty, a U/A rating hardly feels justified. But then again, our kids might be smarter than we think. Sigh.
Oh, my wanders again. About the setting of a tale, and its contact with the outside world. The real world we live in. When Bhiku Mhatre challenges Satya by saying – Aye Amitabh Bachchan, maar na mereko – it is not humor but conversation borne out of real world. Such a behavior though would feel out of place in Sholay, because with its setting in a locked-from-outside-world Ramgarh, that is what is needed. Still, a Raj Malhotra lost in Europe fools around in Spanish, in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, for strictly humor purposes, by summoning Al Pacino’s name. I use this awareness for movies only as a reference for an awareness much broader in nature. So I ask you, dear reader – in a movie as Raajneeti, which speaks of election booths, which speaks of media, which speaks of economic recession, shouldn’t the characters be simply a wee bit more aware of their current predicament. I believe, an understanding of that awareness might solve most of the problems we seem to have dealing with serious cinema.
And oh, you know what? Mr. Abhishek Bachchan, in that wonderful trailer of Mani Ratnam’s Raavan does seem to be aware what he is, and seems to enjoy it immensely, wildly observing it in his imaginary ten heads. Now that is fun.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 8:38 PM