She in a he world

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By One young man, a couple of solid performances and a few sub-texts make Raajneeti an intriguing watch Pratim D. Gupta Did you like/not like Raajneeti? Tell
  • Published 5.06.10

In Raajneeti, Prakash Jha’s power-pagal parivaar starts off with Mahabharata, picks up pace with The Godfather and then nears the finishing line with the all-too-familiar fate of the Gandhi family. In its near three-hour running time, the multistarrer draws from the three epic sagas — one mythological, one fictional, one real — and yet, quite incredibly, manages to emerge with its own identity. Only just, though. And only for one young man.

For starters, Raajneeti takes off after almost an hour. The expository first act has a dozen characters to introduce and, pickled with the political premise, it takes long enough to throw you off. Remember how BR Chopra needed so many Sundays just to set up the 18-chapter Mahabharata? Shyam Benegal was smart enough to start Kalyug with just a family tree graphic and get going right away. The prologue here is painful, definitely not our idea of an appetiser.

After that frustrating first hour, all you want to ask is “Come on, just tell us: Who is what?” Well, since we recommend the next hour, we will tell you. So here’s the quick Raajneeti glossary....

Bharti (Nikhila Tirkha) is Kunti who has a one-night stand with a leftist leader Bhaskar Sanyal (Naseeruddin Shah) and delivers Suraj (Ajay Devgn), who in time becomes Karna. Bharti’s brother Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) is Krishna, who turns out to be the political mentor for her two sons from wedlock — Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and Samar (Ranbir Kapoor).

Prithvi has the straightforwardness of Yudhisthir and the hot blood of Bheem. Samar, of course, is Arjun and has two women to contend with — Sarah (Sarah Thompson), his foreign love, and Indu (Katrina Kaif) the desi suitor. Duryodhan here is Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai), Prithvi and Samar’s first cousin, who would go on to find support from Suraj.

Now, on the wings of Prithvi and Samar, Jha and co-writer Anjum Rajabali switch from Ved Vyas to Coppola and Puzo. After their father is shot dead by a man posing as security — first hint of the bloodsoaked Gandhi family history — Samar becomes Michael Corleone. His thesis on the subtext of 19th century Victorian poetry is never submitted as he starts getting his hands dirty.

If the parivaar was always wrecked, the political party is formally divided at interval. While the mind games and bloodbath continue in the second half right till the unnecessary climactic shootout, the masterstroke comes in the form of Indu’s Draupadi-esque disposition.

Her industrialist father has the money to fund the election campaign but to get their hands on that, she must be married to the chief minister-in-waiting and not the younger brother. It doesn’t matter who she loves. It’s a man’s world, Raajneeti is — till the last few minutes at least — and the women, well, as a female character says: “Saare samjhautein bas humein hi karne padhte hain.”

What Godfather did brilliantly — and every film of that genre has been trying to match up to for four decades — was to take a subject not known to many and turn it into a relationship story for everyone to identify with. Despite the family drama at its core, Raajneeti is never quite able to free itself from the political jargon and vote game.

The word ‘mafia’ wasn’t used a single time in the Coppola classic, while in every one of those 19 reels of the Jha film, we hear different definitions of the title — from “Raajneeti ka faisla sahi galat nahin hota” to “Raajneeti mein murde kabhi gaarey nahin jaate.” Also, the other major game-changer in the plot, the legendary machinations of the Karna Kunti Sambad, is very weakly executed.

But one man makes all the wrongs right. Who? Bingo! Ranbir Kapoor’s the correct answer again. In a character which asks him to don every hat — a son, a brother, a lover, a fixer, a schemer, a warrior et al — at the drop of a hat, the man’s simply sensational. Ranbir just keeps getting better with every outing. Take the scene where Samar watches his father die in the OT and asks the nurse for a glass of water. Ranbir makes an otherwise ordinary sequence jump out of the screen, just like he makes an otherwise okay Raajneeti so very watchable.

If Ranbir is the resplendence, Arjun Rampal is the revelation. He is unbelievably good as the elder brother who goes hysterical every now and then, a la Sonny Corleone. The rakt se lathpath scene where he goes and kills the inspector just shows how confidence can inspire excellence.

Does hurricane Katrina blow over? Well, honestly, it’s just a clever bit of casting. There are actresses who could have done this role better but none of them could have raised the storm like Kats has. Not just the look and the speech, her accession to the throne has Sonia Gandhi written all over it.

The rest of the ensemble cast is, like much of the film, okay. Ajay Devgn is sidelined after a spirited entry and you don’t really miss him because you have seen him play the rebel once too often. In what is one of his better performances in a long time, Manoj Bajpai’s drunken rants hit the right notes.

Nana Patekar brings all his experience to make his silent-spectator-with-a-chuckle work wonders in the ‘scheme’ of things. Naseeruddin Shah has one scene and Sarah Thompson a couple, including a lovemaking one in front of a news-blaring television. That surely is a first in Bollywood!

Given the canvas — thousands of extras fill many a wide frame — the cinematography (Sachin Krishn) is a tad flat. The godfather’s room, replete with that famous door-closing final shot, is very unimaginatively lit. But it is Santosh Mandal’s editing which is a joke. Scenes are chopped like a documentary and all the songs are used in an unmusical start-stop mode.

Raajneeti is easily the best of the big films we have seen in the recent past even though it doesn’t necessarily make it a very good piece of cinema. But from the time a young man in stubble and specs whizzes in in a black Merc, you know who to vote for: RK.

Raajneeti Faq

Q. Is Raajneeti based on the Nehru-Gandhi family?

A. Not entirely. But here the father and the son of a family are killed. The father by a man posing as a policeman, like in the case of Indira Gandhi, and the son by a bomb blast, just like Rajiv Gandhi.

Q. How much of Sonia Gandhi is Katrina Kaif’s Indu Pratap?

A. The background of the character is completely different but when her husband is killed, Indu takes up the reigns of the political party her husband was heading. Sounds familiar?

Q. Does Katrina behave like Sonia Gandhi?

A. Her wardrobe is changed overnight and in those cotton saris and that hairstyle, she does look very much like a young Sonia. And sounds like her, thanks to the broken Hindi.

Q. Is Ranbir like Rajiv?

A.Samar falls in love with a foreigner during his student years abroad. If Rajiv was forced into politics after brother Sanjay’s death, Ranbir’s Samar is propelled by the death of his father.

Q.How much of it is Mahabharata?

A. Many relationships in the film are on the lines of the epic. Some characters are omitted, others are rolled into one. Arjun Rampal’s Prithvi is a mix of Yudhisthir and Bheem.