Cast: Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Ranbir Kapoor, Nana Patekar, Katrina Kaif
Director: Prakash Jha
"Raajneeti", directed by Prakash Jha, is a compelling drama about a family in politics. It's about the extent people will go to, driven by a greed for power and a thirst for revenge.
Deliciously dramatic, and packed with sinister twists and turns, the film's plot and characters are rooted in "The Mahabharata", although parallels with "The Godfather" are hard to ignore. Jha's film relies on the solid performances of its ensemble cast to distract your attention from its many lapses.
The drama unfolds as the prototypical Pandavs-versus-Kauravs conflict, with cousins Prithvi Pratap Singh (played by Arjun Rampal) and Virendra Pratap Singh (played by Manoj Bajpai) drawing battle-lines in blood when the patriarch of their powerful political family suffers a paralytic stroke. Both seeking the reins of this political legacy, they resort to blackmail, murder, backstabbing, and marriages of alliance to achieve their ends.
Ajay Devgan stars as Suraj, the Karn-figure from the mythological epic, who sides with the rivals of his step-siblings. Ranbir Kapoor, meanwhile, is Samar, younger brother of Rampal's Prithvi Pratap Singh, who's content with his life in the US, disconnected from politics, until the murder of his father prompts him to slip into his family's dirty business.
"Raajneeti" has a sprawling canvas, and it takes some time to figure out the characters and their motivations. Arjun Rampal is the impulsive, hot-headed Bhim. Manoj Bajpai is the scheming Duryodhan. Ranbir Kapoor the focused Arjun. Nana Patekar stars as the wise counsel Brij who represents Krishna; and Katrina Kaif plays Indu who stands for Draupadi, a pawn in this clash for ultimate power.
The film's first half is immensely engaging, the various machinations making for thrilling entertainment. It's in the second half that "Raajneeti" stumbles. The Kunti character's confrontation with her abandoned son, played by Ajay Devgan, lacks the required dramatic punch. Also rather unconvincing is the sudden transformation in Ranbir Kapoor's character Samar, a subplot whose antecedents may be drawn to Michael Corleone's initiation into his family business in "The Godfather".
A bloody shootout in the film's climax between top politicians in broad daylight appears ridiculous to say the least; and equally disturbing is the film's logic, which allows a central character to walk away from the messy political marshland in the end, his blood-soiled hands notwithstanding.
At 2 hours and roughly 50 minutes in running time, "Raajneeti" is way too long and demands much patience on your part. But it's held up by a string of credible performances. Nana Patekar is terrific as Brij Mama, the smiling, politicking, guiding light who allows his expressions to do more talking than his words. Katrina Kaif looks uncomfortable in the film's early portions, but comes into her own when she slips into the politico's garb and unselfconsciously delivers impassioned speeches at election rallies. Ajay Devgan gets a great introduction scene and uses his eyes effectively to convey hurt and anger, but you can't help feeling the actor was shortchanged in a half-baked role. The usually reliable Manoj Bajpai makes Virendra Pratap Singh a bellowing caricature, while Arjun Rampal offers a confident, assured turn as the brash Prithvi Pratap Singh. The most mature, performance, however, comes from the youngest cast-member, Ranbir Kapoor. The actor plots silently and inconspicuously and is the face of calm even in the most tense moments. It's that rare performance that is calculated, and yet so spare.
In the end "Raajneeti" is thrilling and gripping for the most part, even though it does lose steam in its final act. And as far as politics goes, it doesn't tell you very much more than you didn't already know. Still I'm going with three-and-a-half out of five for director Prakash Jha's "Raajneeti". For the superb acting, and for the exciting dramatic highs, it's a film I recommend you do not miss.
Rating: 3.5 / 5