Raajneeti, writer-director Prakash Jha?s sprawling portrait of a political family, is a mixed bag. The film has moments of ferocious power and just as many flaws.
The narrative has a propulsive movement in the first half but becomes dramatically inert in the second. Jha, who has fought elections in Bihar himself, creates a real sense of the machinations and sordid deals that fuel politics but then hobbles it with outlandish twists and some decidedly ?filmy? moments ? like a ridiculous love-making scene that is triggered because the characters get wet in the rain.
Apparently getting soaked in Bollywood still equals sex. And, as almost all the female characters in this film find out, having sex even one time, still equals babies.
The performances are strong?especially Ranbir Kapoor, Arjun Rampal and Nana Patekar?but the characters are largely one-note.
There has been much hype about Katrina Kaif learning lengthy Hindi dialogue for the film. She?s clearly worked hard but her luminous looks rather than acting are still her trump card.
Raajneeti is a film with ambition and scale but it works in fits and spurts. Jha?s political epic is too busy and bumpy and never quite fulfils the potential inherent in the story.
Raajneeti sources as much from The Godfather as it does from the Mahabharata. So we have sets of cousins whose rivalry spills into the open as soon as the head of the family suffers a stroke.
The film begins with a back-story of Sooraj Kumar, the Karna-like figure played by Ajay Devgn. Abandoned at birth, Sooraj is adopted by a Dalit family.
In quick succession, so many characters are introduced that Jha uses a voice-over to explain who is connected to whom and what the political affiliations are. It takes a good 15 minutes to take in the details and place the characters but the story-telling is engaging and soon you?re caught up with this Machiavellian family in which the plotting begins even as the father is still being treated by doctors. As the stakes get higher, the moves get bloodier.
Eventually, Samar Pratap, the Michael Corleone figure played by Ranbir Kapoor, the young brother who is working on a PhD on Victorian poetry, gets sucked into the murderous struggle for power.
Until here, Jha and his co-writer Anjum Rajabali tell the story with assurance and flair. But then the momentum dips and the intrigues become less and less interesting. Critically, Samar?s conversion to a ruthless murderer isn?t convincing. One minute he?s the student and the next, he, like everyone else is trigger-happy with bombs and guns.
Jha even borrows The Godfather?s famous severed horse-head scene.
Only here, a politician wakes up to find his male lover?s throat slit. Sadly, the gut-wrenching twist, when Kunti reveals to Karna that he is her son and therefore warring with his own brothers, is not done very effectively.
For the true power and emotion of that moment, watch Shyam Benegal?s Kalyug, in which the Mahabharata is transported to a business milieu. Shashi Kapoor who plays the Karna figure crumples slowly as he becomes aware of his own tragedy.
In its second hour, Raajneeti lets go of logic. We know that politics is an amoral, brutal cesspool but even so, leading politicians themselves murdering their rivals on a street in broad daylight is a bit of a stretch.
In a climactic shoot-out, we even have a perverted version of the Gita sermon in which the Krishna figure, played by Nana Patekar, insists on cold-blooded murder. Come on, finish them, he says.
Of course there is no one to root for in this gallery of rogues but more troublesome is the specious morality of the film. After a few feeble apologies, Samar Pratap finds a semblance of redemption.
Eventually then, Raajneeti is as exhausting as it is compelling.