It's been a hugely hyped and much awaited opus, and thankfully, Prakash Jha's political saga, 'Raajneeti', delivers on its promise. It is a rivetting movie which moves at a frenzied pace and takes its audience along with it. Based partly on the 'Mahabharata' and partly on 'Godfather', the film is an intricately wrought drama on the maniacal nature of power and greed in the field of politics.
There is no hero in this film in the true sense of the term, only characters donning different shades of grey. On a certain level, there is nothing new that Jha is telling us with this movie, nothing that the turbulent political history of the Indian subcontinent has not witnessed. But yet, the impact of all that happens in the name of power and politics in Jha's 'Raajneeti' is compelling and hits you hard.
Till the first half, the movie is absolutely brilliant, quite flawless. But it's only later that the bloodbath gets a little too repetitive and also a little too bold. Is it possible to get away with so many murders? Also, is it possible for someone whose hands have been tainted with blood, to just walk away from it all? Maybe we could put it down to cinematic license? But this, one has to grant, is a scary scenario that Jha depicts in the film. Though it is one which is quite resonant of the politics of the Hindi heartland. Dynastic rule, assassinations, widows standing for elections, we have seen it all in real life, hence making it so much easier to relate to the movie and get drawn into the cesspool of politics.
Adding colour and depth to the fast moving narrative of 'Raajneeti' are the superb performances by the cast of players. One gives full credit to Jha and Anjum Rajabali for the manner in which they have collaborated on the screenplay and the beautifully etched characters.
Every character in this saga is dealt with in a just manner, thus making it so much easier, in turn, for the actors to do full justice to their roles. The dialogues too are punchy and strong. In all, it is a great writing effort by the duo.
The film has been shot excellently by cinematographer Sachin Krishn, who manages to impart a saga like feel to the film. Of course, the background score goes a long way in enhancing that feel as well. Music has little role to play in the course of the movie except for the Kavita Seth rendered 'mora piya mo se bolat nahin', which appears briefly and makes its presence felt.
The film begins with the charismatic Left leader, Bhaskar Sanyal (Naseeruddin Shah) falling prey to a moment of passion which makes him go into a self imposed exile, leaving Bharti behind, literally holding the baby born of their union. Her uncle, or Mamaji (Nana Patekar), takes matters in hand and abandons the infant on a boat on the ghats of Benaras. He then gets Bharti married off to a prominent political family.
The film then moves into current time where there is a tussle for power between two cousins, Prithvi Pratap Singh (Arjun Rampal) and Veerendra Pratap Singh (Manoj Bajpai).
Both stake their claim as heirs to a political legacy. Veerendra believes that he is the rightful heir as the party was set up by his father who is lying paralysed in hospital. Thus begins the game of one upmanship, during which Veerendra supports the claim of Suraj (Ajay Devgn), a young Dalit leader, whose father serves as a driver to the family.
Suraj, though, is unaware that he is the abandoned child of Bharti and Sanyal! As the state assembly elections come closer, both factions in the party redouble their efforts to get a major share of tickets.
Events take a serious turn when Prithvi's father is gunned down. His youngest son, Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) rushes to the aid of his family, as news of his father's assassination comes in. As Veerendra and Suraj play their cards right, Prithvi finds himself behind bars and Samar now moves takes charge with the help of Mamaji.
So far, the outsider, quite like the character of Michael played by Al Pacino in 'Godfather', Samar seems to take to politics like a fish takes to water. He manipulates the downfall of his opponents, bails his brother out of trouble, engineers his marriage to Indu (Katrina Kaif), the daughter of a top industrialist, and powers his election campaign.
But in the bloodbath that follows, Prithvi loses his life as does Samar's American girlfriend ( Sarah Thompson). Indu now takes the place of Prithvi, cashing in on the sympathy factor and wins the election hands down. But not before Samar ensures that he decimates the enemy totally, namely Suraj and Veerendra.
With each actor pitching his best, it is difficult to say if anyone was better than the other. But yes, three performances do stand out…those by Bajpai, Rampal and Ranbir. If Bajpai plays a great Duryodhana like character, then Rampal is pretty good as Bheem. Ranbir's character, of course, is straight out from 'Godfather'.
It's been a while since one has seen Bajpai in a role of substance and he so digs into this one with relish. He is a treat to watch. Rampal too delivers a very fine performance. Ranbir, the heartthrob of millions is a revelation as the manipulative Samar. It is a daring role and he essays it like a pro.
Of the others, Nana is good, as always, and so is Devgn, whose character seems to have been overshadowed in the latter half of the movie. Katrina Kaif provides a pleasant surprise. She seems to have worked hard on this role.
The supporting cast too is very competent and there is no weak link in the movie, where performances are concerned.
The only weak link is probably the missing emotional quotient in the scene involving Bharti and Suraj, where she reveals the truth to him. This scene is a crucial one but somehow fails to create the kind of impact it should.
Somewhere along the line, Devgn's character of Suraj just seems to lose his importance and becomes more of a "yes man". His connection with Bharti, Prithvi and Samar is so underplayed that his being there does not have any seeming relevance to the plot. That, and a few other instances that one spoke of earlier, apart, Jha seems to have done a good job of making an enthralling political saga.