Literature, more often than most, is known to be obsessed with the binaries of good and evil. But literature is at its best, when it goes beyond the standard wars of the pure-dark dichotomy, to showcase the moral battles that characters fight within themselves. While the legendary tale of Mahabharata pits the mighty, righteous Pandyas against their ill-willed, conniving cousins, the Kauravas, the story is not as black and white, as it may seem.
Mahabharata is a magnum opus in story-telling with intricate character arcs and well-developed plot points. George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire may very well hold a candle to a tale as classic as Mahabharata with its convoluted twists, and numerous life lessons.
Being part of Gen-Z, we never got the opportunity to witness B.R. Chopra’s adaptation of The Mahabharata on Doordarshan, until the pandemic kicked in. A modern-day rendition of Mahabharata on the silver screen within the scope of a single film always seemed to be a Herculean task. The scale and the production value alone, are something that would render production houses high and dry. Above all else, the mountain of expectations would by no means be easy to conquer.
Prakash Jha’s political thriller drama, Raajneeti (modelled on the Mahabharata) is a perfect storm of violence, conflicting relationships, the lust for power, sibling rivalry, and politics. To my heart’s delight, they went on to add a cherry-picked from The Godfather‘s farm at the very top.
The cast features an all-star team from the young guns: Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, and Arjun Rampal to the veterans of the game: Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, and Manoj Bajpayee. Given the star power they all individually possess, one would expect the film to not do justice to most of them. But the brilliance of Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali create a tale where no actor is overshadowed, achieving the perfect balance. The screenplay does a tremendous job to provide the supporting cast members with enough motivation and backstory to further the plot.
Ranbir Kapoor shines in this film, as he masterfully switches his hats from a loyal brother to an endearing son to a ruthless strategist. Nana Patekar, as the kingmaker, holding all the cards, brings a sense of calmness and intrigue to the plot like no other. Manoj Bajpayee is sensational, as he portrays a character that is burdened by the glory he has promised to his own self. One would know from Omkara that Ajay Devgn shines in such roles where the characters require more depth.
Politics, as a subject, has been the central theme of several Hindi films, but rarely do films do justice with the concept. The film remains grounded to the reality it creates and does not go overboard with any form of unnecessary item numbers, and physics-defying action sequences. Raajneeti stands firm on the power of excellent performance and detailed story-telling.
Jha’s unique ability to weave stories that are raw and intense, coupled with the dramatic masala moments, keeps the film entertaining throughout its 150-minute runtime. The director does not miss a single beat creating a long-lasting impact for the intellectual audiences. There are no heroes, no villains, just human beings, driven and corrupted by power, playing the game of one-upmanship.
There are three scenes in the film that are just chef’s kiss: Samar’s interaction with Babulal, Brij Gopal outsmarting Sooraj Kumar for the party nomination in Azad Nagar, and Veerendra Pratap’s thunderous speech after the death of Babulal. These scenes alone make the entire film worth watching, which is available for streaming on Netflix.
A stacked ensemble fueled by nuanced storytelling is what makes Raajneeti gripping.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.