Thursday, June 24, 2010

Raajneeti vs. Raavan? Neah! Let's try something different!

Everyone and their neighbour seems to be talking about Raavan these days, and I've read more than one review that explored the parallels between Raavan (with Aishwarya Rai, Abhishek Bachchan & Vikram) and Raajneeti (with Manoj Bajpai, Ranbir Kapoor, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn, Nana Patekar, Arjun Rampal & others), as two modern day adaptations of Indian epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata respectively. Considering I spent quite a bit of time with my Tamil, non-Indian-movie-watching friend, rubbishing Raavan/Raavanan, I find it a bit hypocritical to sit here and do a review of the movie pointing out its virtues. So after acknowledging Santosh Sivan's exquisite camerawork, for which I wholeheartedly recommend a trip to the theatre to see this one (while plugging your ears to the plot issues and only using them for the songs), I decided to not honour Raavan with a review, and talk about Raajneeti instead. Dolce can take her gushing about how gorgeous Aishwarya Rai looked in Raavan and how badass Vikram was (in both the Tamil and the Hindi version) elsewhere. I will not give in.

Luckily it's fairly easy to steer Dolce's attention to Raajneeti because all we have to do is mention a certain set of shots of a brooding Ranbir Kapoor's Samar masterminding his lethal game of politics, while hungrily consuming cigarette after cigarette in the room where he had probably played on his late father's knees 20 years back.

Not that there are no issues with Raajneeti, Namak points out. Sure there are. Weak acting from Arjun Rampal, a terribly miscast Ajay Devgan who should have learned by now that at his age it's downright impossible to pass as a 20 year old anymore without being laughed at, a rather disappointing use (or should I say non-use) of the soundtrack, and last but not least, a poor adaptation of the epic that inspired it.

Dolce: Heh, as if you knew anything about the Mahabharata to begin with...
Namak: Touche, but the fact that certain aspects of the film cannot be explained within the world of the film, and require us to research the original story is proof enough to me that the adaptation did not quite hit all the right notes.
Dolce: That's the problem with over-analysing. If you kept everything simple, you wouldn't have to worry about all this research and you'd just appreciate the movie as it is. If you didn't know that it references the Godfather, if you didn't know that it mirrors the Mahabharata, and you just judged it on its own, you'd have a much better understanding of the story. You're just confusing yourself.
Namak: But when characters make decisions that are not justified by the scenario of the movie, I can't help but look for the source of that decision. I just voted Raavan down because it felt to me like a pointless story, a stunningly beautiful story with nothing to communicate and nowhere to go, a story that doesn't live past the last row of trees in the jungle. I can't close my eyes to the fact that Raajneeti encounters the same challenge, even if it cruises through it in a more engaging way that doesn't allow for as many analytical pit stops. But once the movie is over, you still wonder: why? Why are we being told this story? Who are these characters and how do we relate to them? And what justifies the actions of this power thirsty Samar Pratap who will let nothing stand between him and the victory that, as it turns out, he doesn't even want?
Dolce: You're missing the point again: beyond the fact that we went to see this movie to see Ranbir Kapoor playing this cold, dark, calculated killing machine, and to enjoy a stellar performance by Nana Patekar in the antithetical positions of coach and executor of above mentioned schemes (and we were amply rewarded on both counts), you have to look at how the movie makes sense on its own, without leaning on crutches.

Hard to do, but not impossible, as Namak is about to find out. I'll leave Dolce to coach her through the episodes that need further explanations and hope that "because Ranbir is hot" will not be used as an argument at any point in that conversation, and let's see what the story is about.

Trailer with subtitles

I had initially compared Raajneeti to Luck By Chance in the sense that it puts the spotlight on a world that most of us have only seen the moonlit contour of. But I was wrong. Raajneeti is no Luck by Chance. Raajneeti is for politics what Om Shanti Om was for the film industry (specifically Bollywood). Instead of the over the top glamour we have over the top violence with plenty of shooting and explosions, instead of the reincarnation and revenge story we have a multi faceted revenge story, instead of the possibility of Om being happy again with Sandy we get the potential for an equally unsatisfying "happy ending" for our main character in Raajneeti. And lo and behold, there is even the theme of literally handing down allegiance from the elders to the young, based not on merit but on industry connections and family roots. Much like Om Shanti Om, Raajneeti is made to entertain, and if under all the blinding explosions it carries a deeper message, it only comes to us in metaphors.

Once presented with this angle, Namak has started seeing the movie in a different light. Maybe the killing sprees are not meant as a realistic depiction of the political system in India, maybe getting away with murder and rape is not the norm (though even in North America one could argue that for the right price, a high profile enough politician could get away even with murder), and maybe the blood on everyone's hands is not really blood. Instead, let's assume the killings stand for equally important personal convictions that one gives up for the sake of power, for relationships that get sacrificed and truths that are dragged through the mud until they become so fragmented that a whole new universe of lies could float on them. Let's assume that everyone who is murdered on the eve of election day represents a virtue, or better yet, a confronting thought that will be buried on election day. Let's say that it doesn't matter who that last body is, and whether or not the same blood runs through their veins, in the end their memory will be buried under the bitter satisfaction of victory. Then Samar's last bullet fired under the experienced eyes of Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar) is simply the last bastion of conscience.

Namak: Rrey, are you sure you're not making this whole scenario up to justify your precious Ranbir's choice of movies?
Dolce (with a sheepish smirk): I guess you'll never know... But give me a bit of credit: I still maintain Bachna Ae Haseeno is a piece of trash.
Namak: Hm...True. But then your theory doesn't hold water in front of the ending.
Dolce: Sure it does: innocence may triumph, but those with blood on their hands will always be there, even if they choose to fade in the background. Metaphorically speaking, of course, to not ruin the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.
Namak: I seriously doubt that's what the director had in mind when he created this story.
Dolce: Oh, don't worry, I doubt it too.

Nonetheless, my two girls now walk out of the theatre much more pleased with the message of the movie, and move on to discussing other crucial aspects such as that great shot of Ranbir ever so slowly drinking a glass of water that becomes red after the blood in his mouth drips back into the glass, or the editing on one of the car explosions where the song Mora Piya was used brilliantly, or what could have been an excellent item number to the song Ishq Barse. And speaking of! Ishq Barse reminds me about a whole other post in the making, so even though we're closing this conversation here, fear not, Raajneeti is not done with its moment in the sun.

Raajneeti reminds me of one of my favorite cheeses: Saint Agur. It's over the top and it stinks to high heaven and you won't see much past that initially, but try putting it in your mouth and really thinking about the taste and it just might surprise you with some enjoyable bitter-sweet notes on the back of your tongue.


Beauty Tips said...

I think ravaan have very good songs but where as rajneeti is a know that its a just sonia gandhi story, but there is nothing much about her, So finally i voted for ravvan only. Because of Maniratnam.

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey Beauty Tips, I read about the Sonia Gandhi parallel, but opinions are mixed on whether or not Katrina's character was in fact modelled after her. I know there are a lot of "inspiration sources" for both movies, but I was trying to look at both movies on their own, without relying on the source of inspiration. And what I found was that I could only do it for Raajneeti. Raavan, in my opinion, doesn't really stand on its own without the backdrop of the Ramayana.

Bollywood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dolce and Namak said...

LOL, BWF, in that case I'll make sure to send Namak over to your blog more often :P
As for Raajneeti, much as I loved it, to me it did feel like it was made to entertain more than to expose, hence the OSO comparison. But to your point, and coming from a pretty corrupt political system myself, I can see how a lot of it would indeed be possible in real life.

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