Film Review: Raajneeti

Directed by: Prakash Jha

Starring: Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Arjun Rampal,  Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif and Naseeruddin Shah

Cast your mind back to 3 Idiots, sitting in the cinema whilst the adverts and trailers played. Whilst it seemed nothing would take away from the excitement of seeing 3 Idiots (and being amongst the first – I had gone to see an evening preview show two days before release) along came the trailer of Raajneeti and bowled me for six.

An amazing cast, a talented director, and a kick-ass trailer voice over who could infuse a description of brushing one’s teeth full of high drama and tension, for a moment, (and this was after the first promo of Veer which also had a wicked voiceover) the audience was distracted from the 3 Idiots excitement and mentally noting to watch out for the release of this magnum opus.

Fast forward six months or so and Raajneeti has hit the silver screen. To be honest, I was a tad confused going to see Raajneeti as I was expecting a tense political thriller but the new promos and posters suggested some sort of love story between Ranbir and Katrina. Whether it was to appeal to a wider audience or just to throw us off the scent, I was hoping my earlier assessment of the film would be correct, as quite simply, there is too much talent in this film for a run of the mill love story against a political backdrop.

Thankfully, Raajneeti does not disappoint. Jha works on a huge canvas weaving a tale of an estranged family, mind games, and high drama all against a volatile backdrop of politics. The film kicks off throwing us straight into the action and like some Jha films, if you don’t pay attention it is easy to lose the narrative thread. I was pleasantly surprised that the audience I saw the film with gave their full concentration, and as the film switched gears seamlessly, the pay off was well received.

That’s not to say there are not flaws in Raajneeti. Firstly, I thought the film was a tad too long and could have been trimmed to maintain the momentum, especially at the beginning of the second half where the film falters slightly as it looks like it is about to veer into an awful unnecessary item number and lose focus. Thankfully it doesn’t and also, using the songs as a background score works well too so as not to hinder the story. Although I didn’t mind the abruptness of the interval and the ending, again, this could have been done more smoothly and would have created a similar impact.

Jha has clearly moulded the film with a more commercial outlook in mind than his previous work and this is perhaps Raajneeti’s weakness as he is a talented director and in the many moments of the film where he crafts raw, high tension scenes, the effect is mesmerising and when the film sustains this feel, it is at its most compelling. Sadly, the commercial aspect hinders more than helping to maintain this momentum.

What I really enjoyed about the film was the successful marriage between characterisation and plot. The characters are well written and the audience loyalties are constantly challenged by the storyline as one starts rooting out for one person, only to feel differently twenty minutes later. I also like that Jha delved into the darker side of the characters, where the morality is dubious and even the characters themselves are surprised at how they react. The characterisation does make Raajneeti feel quite dense but I suspect this will make repeat viewings of the film quite interesting and gives a platform for some impressive performances.

I also quickly have to mention the styling of the film which really caught my eye. I loved the Nehru collar long kurtas, worn with waistcoats and shawls and scarves, all in an off white/champagne/beige/mushroon palette. Ranbir’s tweed Nehru blazers with suede elbow patches also caught my eye as did Katrina’s wardrobe, which progresses with her character – printed wrap tops with leggings and skinny jeans to embellished kameez tops with churidars and gladiator sandals to printed simple saris which she wears with aplomb. I also thought she looked stunning as a bride in the orange/red tone ensemble.

Now, onto performances – where to begin in such a multi talented cast? I was disappointed Naseeruddin Shah had so little to do but even in his short role, I was impressed with the fire he brought to the role. I felt Ajay Devgn was kept on ice throughout the film and didn’t get the chance to let rip as he has done before in Jha’s films. That’s not to say his performance is bad – he simmers with anger and intensity and gives a understated yet spirited performance. Nana Patekar is superb as the family mentor, sailing through the role with apparent simplicity but stepping up to the mark in each and every scene. Manoj Bajpai is very good as the bitter alcoholic, projecting menace and resentment with every pore. Ranbir Kapoor is planted bang in the middle with the big players and gives a good account of himself, with an consistent and assured turn – I also thought he did well in his English dialogue scenes with Sarah Thompson (who played the role by numbers but not in an annoying way).

There were two surprises for me (and you can guess who they are already) – Katrina and Arjun.  First off, Katrina definitely surprises with her best performance to date. Pitted against some heavyweight talent and with an impressive character graph (perhaps the most dramatic in the film), Katrina definitely has the ingredients needed for a power packed performance and does well in some scenes, managing chaste Hindi dialogues and making her character seem believable. The male dominated cast do overshadow Katrina but to her credit, she doesn’t let the side down and shows some much awaited potential – a move away from the glam doll would do her well at this stage and shake off that non-actress tag for good.

Arjun also gives a fantastic performance, showing his character in a very dark and murky light, at times calm and collected, at other times quite deranged and unstable. As well as sharing a strong chemistry with all the cast, Arjun slips between scene stealer and supporting actor with ease and really does well in this role. Ever since Moksha, I’ve always felt Arjun’s potential has never been fully tapped and this is perhaps the first role since Don that I feel we’ve seen Arjun the actor and what he is capable of. More like this please!

I liked the fact that the film has quite a dark sense of humour and though the moments of comic relief are few and far between, they make just as much impact as the emotional highpoints of the film. I really enjoyed Raajneeti as it was one of those rare films that entertain and engage, and importantly, has that repeat viewing factor. There is a lot of hype surrounding the film but even when this settles down, we still have a decent film on hand. Raajneeti proves that intelligent films can function in the mainstream and entertain and for me,  along with My Name Is Khan and Love Sex Aur Dhoka, Raajneeti is one of the best films of the year so far.

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