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‘Raajneeti’: ‘Mahabharata’ meets ‘Godfather’ - Movie Review


June 6, 2010


By JENNIFER HOPFINGER


Movie Raajneeti with Ajay Devgan, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Arjun Rampal
Raajneeti (2010)

Starring Ajay Devgan, Manoj Bajpai, Arjun Rampal, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Nana Patekar, Naseeruddin Shah, Sarah Thompson


The Hindu epic Mahabharata and the American film classic The Godfather—both gripping stories about corrupt family dynasties and the power struggles within them—are the basis for Raajneeti, a thriller about down-and-dirty regional Indian politics. The film is not about political views or agendas, but rather, behind-the-scenes jockeying for control of a political party. And oh, is it cynical. While the film succeeds at turning something as plodding as political maneuverings—even lurid ones—into a dramatic epic, the characters are largely too despicable and unsympathetic for audiences to care who wins. The actors make them riveting villains at least.

 

The story follows the Pratap family and begins with Bharti, a high-ranking mainstream politician’s daughter, who joins a leftist group led by Bhaskar Sanyal (played by Naseeruddin Shah), with whom she has an affair. After Bhaskar vanishes, she gives birth to his son, Sooraj, who is taken from her by her brother, Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar). Bharti marries into the Pratap family and has two more sons: Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and Samar (Ranbir Kapoor). Unbeknownst to anyone, Sooraj is raised by none other than the Pratap family’s chauffeur. Once he reaches adulthood, Sooraj (Ajay Devgan) challenges the Prataps for leadership while their party is in disarray, going up against Prithvi and taking sides with Prithvi’s wronged cousin, Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai).

 

If anyone thought Rampal’s impressive performance in Rock On!! (2008), which earned the model-turned-actor a prestigious National Film Award, was a fluke, his turn here as the ruthless Prithvi puts any doubts to rest. Prithvi is the dashing and explosive foil to his younger brother Samar, a Michael Corleone-type character who has just finished his dissertation on Victorian poetry at an American university. Samar’s sweet, innocent girlfriend Sarah (played by American actress Sarah Thompson) follows him to India, where he turns into a lethal political operative for Prithvi following the murder of their father. But we don’t get a rehash of Pacino’s cold, calculating performance—Kapoor’s character maintains the façade of his former self—a gentle, bespectacled student—while he murders opponents and lies to two women he doesn’t love—Sarah and his childhood friend, Indu (Katrina Kaif). We only see the real Samar when he’s alone, dragging on crackling cigarettes with the smoke swirling in his evil eyes.

 

Indu is the most challenging character Kaif has tackled to date, and she convincingly pulls off Indu’s compelling development from silly girl to scorned lover, reluctant bride to devoted wife, and finally into a noble widow who finds her life’s purpose. (Although the director Prakash Jha has denied that Kaif’s character was inspired by Sonia Gandhi, Indu is strikingly similar to the Congress party president nonetheless.) Indu is the only character who remains uncompromised, and in fact, her climb to power makes her more righteous, not less. While she’s ultimately the redeemer of the fallen Pratap family, and thus the hero of the story, she’s relegated to the background for too much of it.

 

Raajneeti is rated Worth Watching.




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