Bollywood and culture in an emerging India
Raajneeti: An epic nicely retold
First things first, “Raajneeti” is not about the first family in Indian politics even though some characters might resemble familiar cardboard cutouts.
So don’t go expecting some dope on a reality which is much stranger than fiction.
This film is a costume drama with white kurtas and cotton saris replacing wooden swords and bling bling battle dresses.
It is a re-telling of the Mahabharata restating it in a not-so-modern but certainly contemporary politics — somewhat like Shashi Tharoor’s “The Great Indian Novel”.
So if you go looking for Karna you will find him within the first five minutes of the movie and Ranbir Kapoor’s character will turn out less like any politician dead or alive and more Arjuna-meets-Michael Corleone from “The Godfather”.
Once the characters have been established, the thrill of watching doesn’t lie in what is going to happen next.
For that you know already.
The pleasure is in how the story is told — the plot devices the director uses to re-state the story in a political context.
And that has been done very competently, indeed subtly — watch Ranbir arrange a bride for his elder politician brother played by Arjun Rampal.
It is only the scene where this movie’s Kunti meets Karna that jars for its throwback to language used in B.R.Chopra’s teleserial.
The film is taut, with no distracting songs or sub-plots as the scripts hurtles towards a bloody end.
And just like the epic, by the time the story ends no one is left standing morally, not even the Krishna-like character played by Nana Patekar with his usual finesse.
But expect no new insights from director Prakash Jha who himself has contested elections.
As an aside, one may observe that in more literary re-tellings the novelty is often the re-examining of motives that drive characters — say what does Draupadi think of wedding five men.
Nothing new here by way of that.
Like other adaptations be it Macbeth as “Maqbool” or Othello as “Omkara” or the Mahabharata as Shyam Benegal’s “Kalyug”, this film is well-acted, well-directed and well-written.
A must watch if you like a nice story retold.
So, thank you Prakash Jha and thank you Ved Vyas.