Director: Prakash Jha
Prakash Jha has the rare ability to spin stories which are raw and grounded. ‘Raajneeti should have been all this and more,given that it is about dynastic politics,and a much-publicised representation of real-life figures.
So yes,we have Katrina being called Indu. And yes,her character takes on the mantle of power after her husband dies in a bomb blast,and she does wear starched cotton saris. Shades of Indira-Sonia-Priyanka? In his black ‘bandhgala,Ranbir does look like an elongated version of Rajiv,and his character behaves,in bits,like Sanjay. But the resemblance with Indias ruling party is fleeting. ‘Raajneeti is more Mahabharat ‘kunba than Gandhi ‘parivaar,and it is nowhere near as riveting as the doings of either. The crucial thing that goes missing here,which has been the hallmark of Jhas best films, is courage : he is simply not being as brave as he can be. ‘Raajneeti starts by trying to give us a throbbingly-alive picture of things as they are today,but ends up becoming stodgy and diluted in its attempt to accommodate A-list stars.
A political dynastyfather,uncles,sons,daughters-in-law,armed with the paraphernalia that such outfits come with these daysgets down and dirty in the only game that matters. Winning and hanging on to the ‘gaddi is the ‘mantra they live by,everyone else be damned. A doddering patriarch refuses to give up his seat,a paralysis-stricken party leader retains the power to nominate names,the older scion of the family sexually exploits an ambitious ‘pallu-dropping young woman desperate for a seat ( Seth) ,the younger brother Samar ( Kapoor) dumps his US Phd ( In Victorian Lit,no less!) to help his ‘bade bhaiya Prithvi ( Rampal) get the throne,and a beautiful young girl ( Kaif) becomes barter between the two.
Jhas best work has come from being mean and lean. And from being located in Bihar,and its specificities : nowhere else in the country can you get kidnapped for a lousy hundred bucks. Here,the director shifts out,and loses his edge. He also tries stuffing in too much,resulting in a messy,overdone storyline. An idealist-leftist figure ( Naseerudin) is brought in and dispensed with summarily once he impregnates a bright-eyed girl,prototypal Kunti. The result of that hurried union grows up to become Suraj ( Devgn,whos Karna),whos brought up in a Dalit household. The man who gets rid of the illegitimate child to save his sister from shame ( Patekar,whos Shakuni Mama) is also responsible for her entry into a family whose profession is ‘politics,and whose descendants ( Bajpai) have wet dreams consisting of votes and notes.
Bajpai has done hinterland beautifully before ( ‘Shool). In this one,his moustache is sharper than his performance. Devgn,who switches much too suddenly from being an ace kabbadi player to a leader of the backward classes,and whos done some of his best work with Jha,is dour and dull. Katrina Kaif is a game trier but out of her depth,as she goes from an impetuous young girl to a sombre sari-clad widow. Till shes romancing Ranbir,shes all right; anything over,she flounders. Too much time is used up in covering the screen with massive crowds,and in an uninteresting line-up of ‘netas stage-fighting and hectoring. Everyone is wearing their costumes and madly underlining the message: this is not a film being inhabited and felt from the inside.
Except perhaps for Nana Patekar,another Jha regular,who is wily and sympathetic and believable. But weve seen this Nana before. The real casting masterstroke is rising star Ranbir Kapoor,who fills out his complex character full of seriously grey shades,with a great deal of restraint : the only time we stop believing in him is when he organizes an ambush like a commando,saying ‘dont shoot,dont shoot! Any minute,we expect him to yell,’Go,Go,Go! Apart from the whole Corleone-like dynastic thread,theres even,shamefully,a scene lifted straight out of ‘Godfather : a man wakes up in bed,and sees his sheets sodden with blood.
‘Raajneeti could have been the film of the year. It had the potential,and the actors,but it comes together only intermittently. This is not the Prakash Jha who has made some of the most politically resonant films in Hindi cinema.