Directed by: Rakash Jha
Oh, Raajneeti. When I saw a preview for you before 3 Idiots I thought to myself, "Bas. I will never see you". Then I met Ranbir Kapoor a little bit down the line from that, and when I saw your preview in Bombay, and I saw Ranbir's face I thought to myself "Acha, there is nothing that can stop me from seeing this film."
Then I looked at my boss, who was in the theater with me, and promptly informed him that I only had a crush on Ranbir because I was madly in love with his mother, and either way, I would take Neetu OR Ranbir if given the chance. This was my first day on the job.
I was bahaut depressed when I found out I would be back in the states before Ranbirneeti (as I call it) came out; but I was saved by the loving Owner Uncle of my local Desi theater (who loves me) who ordered the film for me and called me personally to give me movie times.
So, this eve I merrily went along and watched. I was the only woman in the audience, the rest, about 50 or so Indian males were between the ages of 25 and 60, and they were ridiculous. Any hope I had of taking this movie seriously (as I assume it had been intended) was gone when they laughed uproariously through the entire thing. Well, I should say the entire second half, but I'll get to that and more later...
I'm going to have to re-do all of this when I can finally get screen-caps, because that's just going to enhance the process, and perhaps watching it seriously would help too... Anyway, onwards and upwards!
I cannot promise that this will be spoiler-free. So, if you are afraid of leaning plot point turn back now!
The first half of Raa(nbir)jneeti is a complex, twisting maze of the inner-workings of a political family. I am not going to lie here and say that I understood the first 15 minutes or so, because I didn't... not, at least, until I nailed down all of the names and faces and relationships, then it got a lot easier and I was able to piece together what I had missed.
Also, I might be missing a big chunk of information about the workings of Indian politics. I knew my minor in policy should have focused more on International! Yet I digress...
The stuff you should focus on: Sooraj Kumar (Ajay Devgan) was the illegitimate son of the daughter of a political leader and his opponent, he was given up a-la Moses (a.k.a. floated in a boat down a river) mere seconds after he was born. He was taken in by a man and a woman from the "lower-caste". The real mother was quickly married off to another political family wherein she had two sons, Prithviraj (Arjun Rampal) and Samar (Ranbir Kapoor). Samar is getting a PhD in...literature(?) (it seems, given by the title of his thesis, which I loved: The Violent Emotional Subtext of 19th-Century Victorian Poetry) in the United States when he visits home for his uncle, Veerndra's (Manoj Bajpai) birthday. It is aparantly the custom for the party leader to give a speach during fiestas held at his house, so when Samar's father goes out to give a speach declaring that they will once again take political power, it is all very awe-inspireing, until he goes down with a heart-attack/stroke combo.
In the most dismal hospital scene ever (Defib paddles that don't even rock the body, let alone make it leap off the table, are used.) it is established that Dad can no longer be in charge of the political party, so he delves out responsibilities, passing completely over Veerndra who takes it personally that he is not trusted in the (and I use this word with full sub-textual implications) Family.
Meanwhile Samar heads back to the United States, or tries to since before he even gets through customs or close to the ticket counter (watch the scenery! He stays only in the lobby!) his father (who is not the same man already in the hospital, even though that's what it sounds like I said... that man is his uncle) is assassinated in a drive-by. Samar is collected from the airport and rushed to the hospital where Prithviraj is already there, causing a scene and fighting with cops and getting arrested. Samar gets slapped, but apologizes because he is the only person in the entire hospital with B- blood and must go donate so that his father might survive. While he is hooked up to the M*A*S*H-esque blood donation machine he watches his father in surgery. His efforts are futile as his father dies on the table.
After a funeral and proper yet attractive brooding and mourning by Ranbir, Interval comes and we have this much: A coup stewing and brewing as Veerndra vies to take over the political party he was all but ousted from, Prithviraj dreaming of becoming leader of the state and appearing (notice: apearing!) as the will-resort-to-anything to achieve his goals, Sooraj joining the party in hopes to become the minority leader and Samar seeming (notice: seeming!) innocent and very "I'd-rather-not-get-involved".
Onto the second half, where we get VERY Mario Puzo and start craving Lasagna and saying things like "Sleeping with the Fishes" and "To the mattresses" and "This is Erin's all time favorite movie, now in a strange, twisted, Indian version".
Ok, maybe no one said any of that, (on screen at least) but we're talking some SERIOUS Godfather went on, including sleeping with dead... things. They took the horse head to the next level people.
For the rest of the film, be content in knowing that Sooraj and Veerndra are on one team, and Samar and Prithviraj are on another, and they are all trying to win for themselves, and the movie turns into a "what would you do for success" analysis on the nature of the characters ambitions/ethics.
In a bid for money to finance their campaign, Prithviraj is married to Indu (Katrina Kaif) who is really in love with Samar but is not allowed to marry him (even though there was a scene where she asked him in the first half* but he doesn't love her) because her father wants her to marry the head of the party. Prithviraj plays the role of Surrinder and sleeps on the couch and stays out of her hair because he knows she doesn't really love him. Just to make matters more awkward, Sarah (Sarah Thompson), Samar's (or, as she would say it, Summer) girlfirend from the States arrives and imposes herself upon him. Indu then confronts Samar and informs him that she's glad she didn't end up Shaadi-ed up to him, since she can see the darkness in him which contrasts with Prthviraj's good heart. Indu and Prithviraj somehow have fallen in love and declare such to each other. It's kind of weird, I am not going to lie...
More politiking goes on...
Sarah confronts Samar and tells him that she's leaving because she doesn't like who he has become, or has always been, just hidden. She thows down the ultimate trump card: she's pregnant and doesen't want her child around such a father since she, "Grew up in Ireland". Samar literally turns into the sweetest thing you've ever seen** and promises her that as soon as the elections are over and his father is avenged they'll move away and never look back.
As Sarah leaves the next morning to get out of town she and Prithviraj are Godfather-ed and die.
Indu becomes the new political leader for the party and sweeps the election because the other party basically murdered her whole family and that's what she exploits to get votes.
Meanwhile it gets super Masala when Sooraj is discovered to be Maa's son. The blanket he was wrapped in is displayed as conformation and Maa aproaches him to come home, be her son, take over the political dynasty...etc. BUT in a move of logic and non-filmi-ness he says "No" and basically tells her that she might be his birth mother, but she didn't raise him, so thank-you-very-much, but shoo.
Politiking. Plot making. A climax is coming!
Samar lures Sooraj and Veerndra into a factory and they have a shoot-out. Granted, Veerndra is all liquered up so he doesen't really stand a chance and after a car chase and about 7 bullet wounds he dies in the arms of Sooraj, who also get's what shouldn't have come to him by Samar. All in the name of democracy, or some nonsense reason like that.
We end with Indu being elected, sworn in, and announcing her pregnancy. We also see Samar asking forgiveness for his cold-blooded actions, and I don't think he recieves any from his invalid of an uncle (the one who had a stroke at the very beginning).
Samar should NOT (and none of the other characters should either, but they are all dead) be forgiven for their heinous crimes. I simply abhor violence (we've been over my Quaker roots before) and cannot understand how something as inconsequential as a seat in parliament (a.k.a. power) is justified as a reason to start shooting and or blowing up any and everyone. There are more important things in life, and Samar seemed focused on them until his father died.
Now, I haven't read Bollywood Fangirl's review yet, but I've seen her title and know that she makes some link to Shakespeare. I was thinking the same thing, everything goes so Shakespearean about the same time that it got Godfather-y and Masala. I can understand that traumatic events have altering affects on people, but it's just so unfathomable to me that revenge is the chosen option. I'm just not a vengeful person, I suck at holding grudges so I'm fascinated by those who are/do, and then act upon their wrong-doers in the worst possible way. I'd love to know, or maybe I wouldn't, how true-to-life this story is for the political groups in India...
Now that is out of the way I have two things to say, for the most part.
1. The score, was fantastic.
2. This was really two movies in one.
The sound director for this film did an amazing job, the music was very, very effective and worked well with the film/plot/emotion/movement...etc. The only totally out of place moment was the scene in the Nightclub that was like a very short, ill-placed item number.
As to the disjointed feel of the film I can only say that the first and second haves of this film felt like they had two different directors. The first half was so solid, so fluid, so mature and effective. The second half was just way over the top; what with the weddings, the lost siblings, the hanky panky (I'm getting there) the shoot-outs, use of the word "goons", kidnappings, and everything else it just felt like Mr. Jha was afraid that the artistic vision for his film wasn't going to support his story or interest the audience and so he had to make it a little filmi. (My vote is on the latter). Filmi is all and well, but when the first half of your movie is progressive and different you should probably have enough confidence in your story to stick with it. At least if you fail it won't be because viewers thought the obscure and random elements in the second half were contrived or out of place.
-Samar had a white girlfriend, fine. It's the dream of all gori-Bolly addicts to find our Brown Lover, but I am telling you, white or not, she would have known how to pronounce his name correctly. She sounded absolutely idiotic pronouncing it wrong... especially when she got to India and kept hearing it pronounced correctly. Any self respecting person would have corrected themselves toot sweet.
-There were two very tame "sex scenes" in this film which were met with uproarious laughter, giggling and all around awkwardness. NOW I know why they aren't included in Indian Films; it just makes the audience weird. I felt like I was in a theatre of prepubescents instead of mature adults. I mean, I'm a prude, but the reactions to what was going on on the screen made ME feel embarrassed for them. Awkward silence would have been preferable to the anxious giggling from middle-aged men.
-Except for Ranbir, Arjun and Manoj I was disappointed by all the other performances. Everyone seemed to just mumble and monotone through their lines. With a plot that depends on so many people it got terribly frustrating and off-putting. If the actors didn't want to be there, why should I? Katrina didn't impress me (in fact, I was desperate for even Deepika!) until her character took on the role of political leader, but even then her "inspiring" speech was as boring as Ajay's comatose inflection.
...I was mildly horrified that every time I looked at Katrina I could only visualize this. which when aired in India had a Raajneeti promotion hooked onto it and some claim that it kept her looking good on set/screen or something:
Would I recommend Raajneeti? Yes, I would... it is different and fresh, something new for the palate and while not the most breathtaking thing, it has character and a certain aspect to it that keeps you intrigued... go to see Ranbir, if nothing else.