In Prakash Jha's sweeping, damning and definitive look at Indian politics and its power-hungry players, Sarah Thompson is Ranbir Kapoor's Irish-American girlfriend who suddenly finds herself thrown into the vortex of murky Indian politics.
Jha, known earlier for his deft Devgn-helmed Bihar-centric political thrillers "Apaharan" and "Gangaajal", this time explores the Mahabharata for a look at the way politics in our country governs almost every aspect of existence.
Thompson's shocked realization of the immoralities of Indian politics cuts across the audiences' perception of the world bathed in blood and corruption.
"Raajneeti" has more characters lunging for the ballot box than the popcorn-nibbling audience can keep track of. A taut, clenched drama of devastating nemesis, "Raajneeti" moves across its epic-inspired canvas with a vigour and velocity that sweep audiences off their feet.
The way Jha captures the parched, dusty, bustling energy of political rallies is impressive. This is no amateurish attempt to yoke the Mahabharata with Indian politics. The truth-defining moments in "Raajneeti" are truly shattering. The lies that co-writers Anjum Rajabali and Jha's characters live have ricocheting ramifications.
Jha delves deep into the characters' conscience to emerge with penetrating insight into the corroded heart of the Indian body-politic.
But his storytelling never touches those nerve-ends in his narration where his characters would have actually expressed what they feel. A sequence like the one where the mother-figure (Nikhila Tirkha) meets her illegitimate son (Ajay Devgn) for the first time is more interesting for its dramatic possibilities than their actual realisation.
The criss-cross of relationships is an intricate tapestry of trust, betrayal, murder and atonement. But no character is allowed ample space to express his or her innermost desires and ambitions.
Katrina's character, for example, is so underdeveloped that we never know what she really wants to get out of her space in life. The brutality with which she is shoved by the male characters - from rebuffed love to a marriage of political convenience to a widowed political career - is a plot of immense dramatic potential, alas sketchily realized.
We see Jha's gallery of dynastic politicians in all their ruthless glory. But we never get close enough to them to connect with their lust, greed, pain, anger and hunger.
The squalor and ugliness of Indian politics is put on screen with cutting immediacy. There are interesting side characters, like the ambitious female politician from Sitapur (Shruti Seth) who uses sex for barter, and women newscasters, rallyists and petty politicians played by actors who seem to know the world they are meant to occupy from the fringes.
The trouble with the over-laden plot is that all the major characters clamour to be individualistic. They are unique in their portrayal of political clichés.
What really elevates "Raajneeti" to the level of a powerful political parable of our times are the performances. Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Arjun Rampal and Ajay Devgn get a firm grip over their characters and carry their tumultuous karma to a logical culmination.
Katrina comes into her own in the last 15 minutes. She looks vulnerable and resplendent as a girl forced to put power over her heart. As for Ranbir, he is actually the backbone of "Raajneeti". He brings a reined-in, steel-edged ruthlessness to his character. For sure there is no other actor from his generation who could have played this character.
The pair's goodbye sequence at the end is so deftly handled, you wish there were more moments between the two.
"Raajneeti" is not just a film that opens up the tattered edges of Indian politics. It dares to walk right into the muck with restraint, vigour and some sensitivity. The film has some outstanding cinematography by Sachin Kumar Krishnan. The camera seems to be looking into places in the characters' psyche that perhaps even the screenplay isn't aware of.
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