IN THE romantic comedy You’ve got Mail, Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan that, “The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? ‘Leave the gun, take the cannoli.’ What day of the week is it? ‘Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday.’” If you have lived long enough someone has probably said something similar to you about the Mahabharata. Prakash Jha unfortunately decided to double his luck by paying homage to both.
There’s much idiocy in Raajneeti. But its grown-up preoccupations — nation, class and caste — are all too rare now in Bollywood. The landscape itself seems unfamiliar since we have got used to south Mumbai as a default setting. Jha’s story of a political family which is ripped apart by jealousy and violence may have used its double scaffolding successfully if he had paid some attention to the details.
Instead Raajneeti slides into parody. This is particularly because of the dialogue slipping into BR Chopra-ese (The Kunti-esque character tells her lost son that he is her jyeshta putra!). The characters begin intriguingly enough and then go nowhere. The woman who goes against her chief minister father to join the extreme left. Her younger son (Ranbir) who is afraid of his own instinct for dirty politics but is slightly amused at the irrelevance of his own Phd in Victorian poetry. The foster uncle (Nana Patekar) content to smile and engineer backroom politics. The elegant blood-lust of the heir apparent (a surprisingly engaging Arjun Rampal). But alas, all is lost in the comic thinness of the script.
At one point you are asked to imagine that Shruti Seth’s making strange noises and expressions is having sex with Arjun Rampal. Much of the movie is similarly jointhe- dots. Why does the very attractive but diction-challenged Katrina feel love for one brother then the next? Why is the Dalit leader Ajay Devgun not allowed any interiority? Who knows but we hurtle on. Jha could be congratulated for his ambitions but it is the scale that has defeated him. As more than one person has remarked this may have made a good television mini-series.