I finally got around to watching Prakash Jha's Rajneeti, quite an epic tale of one family's unhealthy relations and how the politics ruin them, twist them, and ally them with each other as well as against each other. I loved it, not only because it was a well-made story juggling an impressive amount of characters, all with their own shades of grey and questionable decisions, but also because it revealed quite painfully the kind of things you might end up doing for the desire of power - the dark side of politics you never see politicians talk about, even for all that talking they get to do.
I have to again confess I don't know an awful lot about Indian politics, but I was still surprised at the blatant lack of worry that the politicians seemed to have regarding the opinion of the people they were elected to represent. Perhaps this goes for almost any democracy - the power is so high up the people cannot reach it, even though this is precisely what a democratic system tries to prevent from happening. Instead, the politicians do not live in fear of the people - but of each other. And what a messy game that can be. This film lays bare all the backstabbing, scheming and just plain reaches to any power that can be had in a way that's brutal.
And it is so very interesting to watch.
SPOILERS FROM HEREON OUT
This being a film about politicians, it's easy to start listing those who I hated while watching. Ranbir's Samar is absolutely despicable and to top it all off, he tries to blame the circumstances for his behaviour. Certainly the circumstances contributed, but his blind devotion to following the political game to its absolute sickest conclusion, and how coldly he played this game, was indicative of not just the circumstances, but the man who chose to act as he did, in those circumstances. At first I thought the way he played Indu (Katrina) was cruel, but then the rap sheet began to fill up with more terrible offenses, one after another.
Then there is his brother Prithvi, played by the ever-capable Arjun Rampal (sending us all into conflicted emotions, so charming, yet so hopelessly evil in this!), whose first scene features him, what's that, oh yes, taking sexual advantage of a girl who wants to get into politics. Now, while she seems willing initially, the whole scene has a very uncomfortable vibe, to the point that when it's later framed as rape, I found it hard to disagree. What a charmer. He also goes to great lengths to secure power, and has a fuse about the length of a baby's finger.
Manoj Bajpai plays an absolute crook in the other brother Veerendra, naturally, and Ajay Devgn is only a teaspoon more honest than the rest of them, but in comparison appears saint-like. Which of course means he gets gunned down on a dirty street.
A thing that struck me about the film, besides how awful the characters were (and let me re-iterate that this didn't take away from my enjoyment of the film - the story absolutely captivated me), was how vague the actual politics were. What was the difference between the two parties, besides the faces of their leaders? What were their policies, their promises, their stances on major political issues? None of these were discussed, debated, even stated. Nope. Just waltz into town in local attire, greet the common folk respectfully and the poor will worship you as god? Or was this just unwillingness of the film maker to actually draw connections to any real issues that might upset viewers or even worse, the censors?
I kept waiting for Naseeruddin Shah's leftist character to make a comeback but alas, he never did. Probably better for it, actually - his character got a peaceful death, at the very least.
Biggest gripe? How out of place was that item number? Oh dear.
Other than that? Recommend, recommend, recommend.