Rajneeti: A Review

Rajneeti – Dir: Prakash Jha; *ing: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal, Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai

Talk about the trappings for a cinematic master work! A narrative culled from the Mahabharata, The Godfather, the Gandhi dynasty, and the Bible, the thrillingly dramatic backdrop of scummy Indian politics, an acting ensemble that is a casting director’s wet dream, and helming it all you have the maestro of the New Indian Cinema himself, Vishal Bhardwaj – what could possibly go wron…

Oh dear, that’s not quite right is it, Rajneeti isn’t directed by the man behind Maqbool, Omkara and Kaminey at all, but by Jha, a middling filmmaker whose idea of character development seems to be to have his character either a) don a saree, or b) grow a moustache. Both happen in Rajneeti, but neither can help relieve the feeling that the film is an annoying adolescent with ADD trying to play grown-up, while the script is itself off playing a quick game of hopscotch – now landing in the square where there must be a reference to The Godfather, next a hop over to the analogy with the Karan-Kunti episode from the aforementioned great Hindu epic, then skip to the Cain-and-Abel-esque family machinations – and so forth. The convoluted familial connections at the heart of the story would be much too tiresome to try to delineate here, but suffice to say that in Rajneeti’s political world, everybody is related to everybody else (even if they don’t know it) and they all want to off each other. So we have the great Shakespearean elements of incest and murder raring to go.

The tussle for power is between two family scions: Prithvi (Rampal), a Jekyll-and-Hyde character who trades party tickets for sex with attractive worker types, but is dutifully celibate at home because his pretty wife (Kaif) doesn’t wuv him; and Veerendra (Bajpai), a no less wily operator who believes himself to be the rightful heir to the family throne, seeing as HE’S the one with the oily moustache and impressive array of raw silk safari suits. Somewhere in between is Suraj (Devgn in familiar scowl-and-glower form) and Kapoor as Michael Corleone. Sorry, make that Samar, the youngest male offspring in the family who wants to stay out of the dirty affairs of the state because he is an intellectual, which we can surmise from the fact that he wears glasses, carries a Mac Notebook, and smokes a lot while staring meaningfully into space. That is not to be however, and he is dragged kicking and screaming into the abyss. Well, not really, he doesn’t actually seem to be too broken up about the switch in careers from literature to crime/politics. In fact, so smooth does the script make his transition from cuddly, nerdy dweeb to ruthless, cold-hearted, uh, campaign manager, that one wonders whether his much-touted  PhD is in Victorian Poetry, as he claims, or Machiavellian Dastardliness. And then they all go after each other’s throats, all’s fair in love and war, yada yada yada, and Katrina Kaif turns into Sonia Gandhi.

To combine two very disparate sayings, Rajneeti is a headless chicken running around creating a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. It wants to be a gritty, gripping political thriller but is too inextricably anchored to its Bollywood roots to be anything but a glossy, filmy interpretation of one. It wants to wallow in the muck in order to expose it, but it just can’t bring itself to get its hands dirty. The actors do their best,  especially Patekar as a kind of Tom Hagen figure, Rampal in superb charming sleaze-ball mode, and even Kaif, whom you can see straining to not roll her R’s, but it’s a losing battle – the script is leaden, the screenplay trite, and character development nil.

One can only dream about what a certain Mr. B might’ve done with it…

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