I saw the film recently and came out of the theatre with mixed feelings. Happy, that its doing good at the box office. Sad, that it seems like intelluctual Race. Bus jhatke pe jhatke. Dialogue pe dialogue! Its just a thrill-pill with political mask. And I still have no clue who was narrating the story to whom in the beginning of the film and then, it suddenly vanishes! Anyway, back to Fatema’s review. Read, discuss and dissect. Have underlined my favourite lines.
When the film began I was all agog with anticipation. ‘Fan-girl’, you’ll smirk. No. I like Jha’s films and I think he is a great story-teller (well, sometimes) but am not a fan. At least in the usual sense of the word. And even if I were, I generally watch all films removed from expectations, impressions or pre-conceived notions, (which is how they are supposed to be watched in the first place, it’s something else, giving yourself up to a film) well, the latter sometimes get heavily influenced by trailors/promos mostly misleading but that’s not my fault!
Secondly, I had read so many bad reviews about Rajneeti and from people whose opinion I respect and that does not include the Sens and Chopras of the world (Not the beauty queens but then they might as well be, they are no different, just brand names). So, I went expecting or wanting nothing. Just with curiosity.
And I got an extremely entertaining commercial thriller posing as a serious political drama made by a man known for everything that he has not shown in the film. Bad acting apart, bad adaptation apart, bad (terrible) writing apart, Rajneeti stood out for me as a classic example of a story well-told, the story itself be damned. I itch to rip it apart threadbare but a Manmohan Desai film cannot warrant the same analysis as a Bergman film, can it? And Rajneeti, for whatever it is, is not a Jha film, is not a serious film and it is not a film to be taken seriously either. Still, I will still rip it apart because it is so much fun to do. And this is not a review so please don’t cry.
Before I do that, time for another disclaimer. I liked the film. (I can even sit through it for a second time.) And everyone who is itching to bang the comment section with red-hot full caps words like ‘How could you like the film, blah, blah bloo blee’ should understand that the fact of a film being good is exclusive from the fact of someone liking it or not. Yes, the assumed perception is that we ‘like’ only those things that are good (Really?) and so if I liked it, it must be good. Well, thank you for giving my tastes so much benefit of doubt, but I like lasagna as much as yesterday’s stale pizza fresh from the fridge and biryani as much as road-side Bangalore chaat. (Bangalore’s got the worst road-side chaat on earth.) And I would continue to do so even if I were a food critic.
So, Rajneeti. It is an engaging film.The narrative, even though flawed in its ideology, flawed in its character graphs, in the exploration of its context and setting, trivializing serious issues to profit dramatic and even melodramatic moments etc, is punchy. It keeps the audience hooked, edge of the seat excited right till the end when it trips upon itself and becomes incredibly silly.
And till now I believed that if a film was engaging it was a good film. But Rajneeti proved me wrong on that. It is a strongly told narrative, grabbing attention by force while never looking forced (unless the performances are, case-in-point the Kunti-Karan-Kavachh-Kundal scene. The alliteration is not mine. Blame Ved Vyaas for it.) But does it come together as a satisfactory cinematic experience? To me it didn’t. Amar Akbar Anthony still does, if one is looking for an example of engaging films that are good. (We will discuss what’s a good film some day here.)
If it is engaging, a story well-told then what goes wrong for the film? We shall begin with writing, my favourite. That’s always the culprit, in most bad ones. The film is structured like a historical droning on and on, packing as much as it can, yet where crispness turns shallow under the disguise of economy. This saga is woven together for this very sake of economy by older than Mahabharata (or as old? ‘Main Samay Hoon?’) tactic of voice-overs. The charter of film-making (we should have one) should declare any film using V/Os anymore be banned unless done differently. In an attempt to pack back-stories and backgrounds, the film rushes through years in the first fifteen minutes with a tacky after-thought of an exposition and settles around the issue of winning one election. Which takes more than two hours and multiple deaths on-screen to be finally won. Surely, there was a better way to structure it?
Like a historical, the film pretends to be important, as important as its epic counterpart Mahabharata, from which it borrows heavily and gives back nothing. That pretence becomes all the more petty when Godfather steps in for good measure. All promotional brouhaha (more about that later) about Sonia Gandhi’s story aside, a film that puts together Godfather and Mahabharata, two of the most powerful stories ever told, in itself makes for interesting viewing. But, if you cannot respect the classics by leaving them alone do not insult them (and us) by cut-paste-copy jobs. Rajneeti, by far is just that. The initial referencing seems a bit too obvious but can be taken as lengthy exposition given the scope of the story. But as it winds (down) it just borrows plot points after plot points, even unnecessary ones in a hastily stitched patchwork of a film. Right down to the unnecessary deaths that subsume the bloody drama into silly melodrama.
While we are talking about bad writing we shall talk about the epitome of all bad characterizations which is Samar. All others play out crosses between their Godfather selves and Mahabharata roles in various degrees of ability and inability but it is Samar’s character, though portrayed ably by Ranbir Kapoor, is the single undoing of an otherwise strongly-held commercial film. Like Padmaja Thakore’s review on PFC so very well put it, he is the most menacing of all criminals who after orchestrating tons of bloody deaths turns around in the end and says none of it interests him anymore. But for me, it is worse when he justifies it by spewing gyaan on how dirty politics is and how ‘andar ka jaanwar bahaar aa jaata hain’ and all that jazz. In one stroke it killed the whole film, (something that even Arjun Rampal’s or Katrina Kaif’s desperate attempts at acting could not do). That take, suited Shakti of ‘Virasat’ but not our confused Arjun-cum-Michael (zyaada) Samar. It is but only a reflection of a lack of political, social or ethical strand that the film had or even pretended to have reducing itself from what could have been a significant political film to a revenge family drama.
Realism was never a thought that crossed the maker’s minds despite the genre of his repertoire and his first-hand experience of the politics and hence the drama operates in a bubble, much like My Name Is Khan did, in a never-land which has the look and feel of the UP-Bihar belt but neither has its grit, its dirt, its earthiness or even its dialect, leave alone its politics. Moreover, the use of dalit politics is almost a shame as cursorily as it has been used. Everything, the politics, the land, the people and the context are a gaudily and hastily painted backdrop, much like the ones seen put up at Filmcity for B-grade film songs. So even if you are just talking about politics as a game, don’t reduce it to mere kabaddi!
Jha and Rajabali play some more kabaddi with their unique treatment of relationships, love, familial or sexual. It is surprising, or interesting, or both to note the flippancy with which romantic and sexual relationships are treated in the film. We will leave aside the moral issue of the stand the film takes or doesn’t by its strange portrayal of sexual relationships by giving benefit of doubt to the fact that maybe the makers hadn’t heard of protection or birth control. (Considering the writing technique is so old the film may have been written decades back, much before Copper-T and its setting sun ads hit the market). It is not a cause of real concern here as the film takes no stand on it just makes a fool of itself. But on a cinematic level it is a cause of concern as visually the scenes are presented as referentially as the relationships they are born of, are treated. Why I choose to make a point of it is because this guilty exploration sexual relationships in our movies is irritating the hell out of me. Sex scenes exist in a movie (commercial films) for two reasons, titillation or to define the romance. First of all, a film like Rajneeti needed none. (Its films like ‘In Mood for love’ that can use it but wont but that sensibility is something else!) Secondly, even if you use it for titillation the go all out and give the first benchers what they came for! And if you are pretending to do it aesthetically then do it like Mani Rathnam, no one does it better than him! And he doesn’t even have to pretend!
Here I am venting to my hearts content about a film I had no expectations about, which I even enjoyed! And I know scores of people who, fooled by the publicity of the film are actually raving mad. And this publicity angle really makes me raving mad too! It is like a promising an orange and delivering an apple! The blatancy of this deception makes me wonder, is it that the makers never have the faith in what they have made to publicise it as what it is? Or is it that the opening weekend is all that has begun to matter in a world of fast-decaying cinema?
The film could have sold on its own steam and did not need false alarm PR tactics that only led to depress certain sections of the audience. With its eye on commerce its sensibilities are purely commercial too. From that standpoint, Rajneeti works beautifully. Three hours of complete pop-corn crunching time-pass which has its repeat value. So what are we really cribbing about?