High Five for Rajneeti

I feel so good doing a movie review after a long time, even  Slumdog for all its Rehman-Resul Oscar bandbaja is not worth reviewing. I restrained the movie buff in me to watch a Housefull of Kites and Badmaash Company for the heck of it. 

Rajneeti lived up to its hype. Katrina’s sunscreen ad interspersed with her Sonia Gandhi-like scenes and dialogues kept the hype going. After their Ajab-Ghazab on-screen chemistry, the PR people did their homework well in working on the Ranbir-Katrina USP. 

Rajneeti has that perfect story, a taut narrative, amazing cinematic vision, cast and ingredients right from its promos with Manoj Bajpai (who?) complaining of missing his share of limelight. Rajneeti is not dynastic politics. It is a tweaked version of the epic Mahabharata with a little bit of zing from Mario Puzo’s Godfather, femme fatales, assassinations and murders. And yes, not to forget the names- shadowing their epic counterparts.

That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, I never saw it come alive on screen so vividly in sleepy Madhya Pradesh. Even country cousin amchi Sarkar and its sequel Sarkar Raj pale into ordinariness. The starry cast wowed me beyond their chocolate looks and art house heavy weighted-ness.

Prakash Jha's movies have always been grim, stark and real, set in the heartland; there is a socio-political veneer in the narrative. The canvas of this movie is bigger, and a little larger than life and hard to believe at times. A regular Prakash Jha fan may possibly be disappointed at the 'kitsch' that one may think, it is.

The title prepares you for a lot of things, pleasant and ugly. Politics is deeply and downright Machiavellian. Only the most practical people survive. There is no right or wrong, no fair or unfair. 

Darshan Zariwala as an aging high command reminded me of late Congress head, Sitaram Kesri. Naseruddin Shah’s disappearing act more than the guest appearance as a crusading comrade reminded me of a Leftist bachelor academician who suddenly discovers his sexuality with  his young student-follower(Bharati). Ajay Devgn(Suraj Kumar) is the result of that tense night of passion. A modern day Kunti forsakes her Karna. Suraj Kumar grows up with his aggression misplaced beyond the kabaddi field in his biological mother‘s driver‘s house- he becomes the Dalit voice. He is the valorized sub-altern.

Kunti (Bharati), aided by her brother Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) retires into domesticity as a political pawn. Time flies. Two sons - politics natural, youth mass leader Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) is our hot-headed but strategic modern day Yudhisthira and research scholar yum Americano-Indian Samar (Ranbir) springs a surprise as a suave and strategizing Arjuna. Manoj Bajpai (Virender) is their jealous but wronged elder cousin and the parallel Duryodhana. Tayaji in ICU is the perfect conniving Dhritarashtra. Nana’s mamaji act veered between Shakuni without the “nice and negative” elements and more of Lord Krishna. Boy, all these guys look so good in khadi. The dialogues are not historical but the message, yes. In democratic India, a lot of things happen in politics.

There is dignity in Manoj-Ajay’s friendship that evolved from a mutually satisfying power struggle. The bonhomie of Arjun-Ranbir is touching, one brother out to protect the other. There are some tender moments too, when Prithvi tells his wife that he also loves her a lot but does not know how to express it or the airport scene when Pratap wants his son to hug him, ominous it may be. The Kunti-Karna showdown was tepid. But Karna doing his elder brother bit of not taking Arjuna’s life was a tough moment. But for an Arjuna to go down the annals of history as a great warrior, there is deceit when he shoots an unarmed Karna who dies in dignified duty. Nana towered in the background.

Katrina Gandhi is what a few young 18-year olds in the theater thought she was. Of course, India remembers Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. By far, her best performance after New York. Her wild hair and that bindi are distractions. 

The Irish girlfriend with a painful memory and the assassinations are markers. Kiran Karmarkar’s nasty SP act was bludgeoned to perfection. Shruti Seth as Sitapur ki ticket hungry political wannabe in cotton saris also is a murky truth of so many women who want easy access to power. Babulal’s gay act was an unnecessary distraction, I thought. Ram Charit Kumar (his name says it all) as the family driver kept the maryada of values intact - Continue doing one’s duty. The Censor Board, given their track record have displayed some matured conduct. Don’t get titillated.

Sense of closure is required for every action. The farewell confession of Ranbir is deeply moving. Time and circumstance make you do funny things. In politics, there is no Devil and God. There are no winners and losers, only survivors. There is no room for grief.

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