Chakravyuh, at the very beginning, sets the record straight, claiming that every event and every character in the film is inspired from real life. “Nothing is coincidental,” claims the opening disclaimer. A little later, however, a song titled Mehngai where everyone from Tata to Bata, Ambani to Birla is painted as a rogue out to rob the common man is dismissed as being “coincidental”.
And that’s where Chakravyuh’s problem lies, for this is a film that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Director Prakash Jha ventures bravely into the dark and under-exposed world of Naxalism, but Chakravyuh is a victim of Bollywood excess, reeking of jingoism, larger-than-life characters and the inevitable song-and-dance, all of which tend to drown out the message that the film strives to put across.
Jha, who has always derived his movie matter from the socio-political, delves deep into the growing Maoist menace that our country finds itself in, a danger cited by the Prime Minister recently as the biggest internal threat to the nation’s security.
Chakravyuh sets itself in the Maoist stronghold of Nandighat — yes, too close for comfort — where Naxals are on the rampage. Taking refuge in the forests, Jha portrays them as rebels warring against an unsympathetic government, corrupt cops, land-grabbing industrialists and frequent betrayals from within.
When 84 cops are brutally gunned down, top cop Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal) volunteers to tackle the menace head-on. But Nandighat is fraught with danger at every step and overridden with men with murder on their minds. It’s a death trap, where as someone mirthlessly points out early on in the film, malaria will kill you even if a Maoist doesn’t.
Adil ventures deep into the Red corridor, but when all his efforts to nail them draw a blank, he plants his childhood friend Kabir (Abhay Deol) as an informer, hoping to penetrate the Maoist rank and file and bring it down. Kabir initially acts as a mole gaining the trust of his comrades and enabling Adil to cause some serious damage to the Maoist camp.
But as Kabir witnesses whole villages being razed to the ground in the name of economic development and the plight of the displaced local who is compelled to take up arms in the face of the police-politician nexus, he increasingly embraces the Maoist ideology, becoming one of them. As he starts questioning his own beliefs, ideology, loyalty and friendship are increasingly put to the test.
Though films like Lal Salaam and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi explored a similar theme, Jha plunges headlong into his subject, flipping the coin to present the other side: What makes a Maoist? Why does he take up arms? Are we the people to blame for the rise of insurgent outcasts in a nation where all the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few and millions subsist on less than Rs 20 a day?
The theme of two friends separated by ideology explored very early on in the French classic Becket and brought to Bollywood by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in Namak Haraam forms the backbone of Chakravyuh. However, if the Amitabh Bachchan-Rajesh Khanna friendship resonated with the audience, Jha glosses over that in his film. You don’t feel as much for Adil and Kabir as you did for Vicky and Somu.
However, despite its flaws, Chakravyuh needs to be lauded for attempting to bring a burning issue to the fore and tackling a subject as complex and sensitive as Naxalism. Working from Anjum Rajabali’s script, Jha’s painstaking research is evident as he condenses his material into 152 minutes of fairly gripping cinema.
If Chakravyuh has more hits than misses, then credit should go to its cast. The expressions may not come that easily, but Arjun Rampal brings depth and maturity to Adil Khan. The more layered character belongs to Abhay, who sinks his teeth into his role, transitioning from a hot-headed rebel to a man with a cause.
Anjali Patil, making her debut in the role of a Naxalite devoted to the ideology, is the find of the film, but Raaz 3 girl Esha Gupta is woefully miscast as a tough cop. Manoj Bajpai, despite the Kishenji overtones to his Rajan, is, surprisingly saddled with a uni-dimensional role as is Om Puri whose educator with a radical ideology is a clear nod to Kobad Ghandy.
Prakash Jha treads dangerous ground, tottering on the fine line of sympathising with the Maoists or condemning them. Though it is more than evident that his heart lies with the rebels, the film’s final message — that violence and radicalism is not the answer to curb the unending bloodbath — is what balances Chakravyuh.