Raajneeti – Movie Review

Raajneeti was one of the most awaited movies of the year for many reasons. Very few Indian movies have an ensemble cast; Prakash Jha has made some very good social-political movies like Mrityudand and Gangaajal and as the title suggests, this movie was expected to be an out and out political drama unlike his earlier movies where Politics was not the main theme but just one of many backdrops.  Prakash Jha had been active in politics and even contested two Lok Sabha elections from his home state Bihar; once as an independent (2004) and once from Lok Janashakti Party (2009). All this had raised my expectations from the movie.

The story is inspired from Mahabharat. All main characters are from one single joint family and fight each other for the political legacy after the family patriarch is paralyzed. Surprisingly for a political movie, not much attention is paid to other parties but the story revolves around different members of one family trying to take over the party. We have seen this happening in many political parties (in Congress after the death of Sanjay Gandhi when a feeble attempt was made by Menaka Gandhi to inherit the poilitical legacy of Sanjay only to be rebuked by Indira Gandhi and more recently in DMK). Of course the real life clashes were not as bloody as it is in the movie. Most Indian political parties are controlled by families where head of the party treats the party as his/her fiefdom to be passed on to some family member. Jha has successfully portrayed this aspect of Indian politics.

Mostly the movie is good. Surprisingly even Arjun Rampal has pulled off his character of a politician from the Hindi heartland really well and as expected Katrina Kaif is unconvincing because of her accented Hindi. They should definitely have used voice over dubbing for her. Or maybe Prakash Jha subtly wanted us to think of Sonia Gandhi when we see Katrina. In fact the scene where Katrina tries to evoke sympathy in her voters by reminding them of sacrifices made by her family, reminds us of Sonia Gandhi. No wonder Congress forced Prakash Jha to change the dialogue Vidhwa vote le jaayegi (The widow will take away the votes) to Bitiya Vote le jaayegi (The daughter will take away the votes). All characters are well etched and believable. Full marks to Prakash Jha for this. Many Hindi movies have tried to show state of Indian Politics in recent times. As far as closeness to reality is concerned Raajneeti is the best so far though it is not perfect. The story though inspired from Mahabharat is indeed hatke.

Of course the movie has some flaws. And the biggest being the failure to use Mahabharat as a backdrop convincingly. Some sequences inspired by Karan’s birth & Arjun’s hesitation to kill Karan in the climax just did not click. Thankfully, Jha restrained himself in showing Katrina as modern day Draupadi. He had clarified in his many publicity interviews that the movie is not inspired from Mahabharat but the characters are. By this he implied that there is no hero or villain, as we generally have in Hindi movies, but the characters have Grey shades. This sounded good as it is indeed difficult to adapt the epic in a 3 hour movie (the movie is a little less than 3 hours) but Jha has tried to do so and this is the movie’s biggest undoing. In fact one may wonder whether the movie is on Indian Pilitics and Mahabharat is used as backdrop or Jha intended to make a modern day Mahabharat and Indian Politics is used as a backdrop.

Despite its flaws it is one of the better movies in recent times and the best in its genre so far. It definitely deserves a watch.

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Where is Sajjanpur ?

Welcome to Sajjanpur is like a breath of fresh air. The movie is not a cinematic masterpiece. In fact, it may not be even in the Top 5 Hindi movies of 2008 for many cinegoers. But after a long time we have a commercial Hindi movie which is set in a village. The movie has several sub plots dealing with  love, superstitions, politics, widow remarriage, casteism but doesn’t get preachy.The hero is a letter-writer and the heroine makes earthern pots for a living. The movie is indeed hatke

It is really surprising that after a long gap, we have a movie about lives of ordinary villagers. But why blame only Bollywood for this ? Our main stream media (mostly electronic) conviniently ignores rural India as if it doesn’t exist !! And to think of it, around 70% of India’s population is rural. Let us have a look at the media coverage of some key events in the last few years.

In November 2006, Anant Gupta, son of Adobe India’s CEO Naresh Gupta was kidnapped from Noida. The news was immediately on all the major news channels. Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN IBN, wanted all his viewers to light candles so that Anant could be rescued. Naresh Gupta had to beg to all the news channels to stop covering the incident as he feared that extensive media coverage may put his son’s life in danger. Contrast this with the “missing” of around 30 children around the same period (2005-2006) from Nithari village. Nithari is not very far from Naresh Gupta’s house. The village is in Noida, at the outskirts of city. However for all the major news channels the village was indeed on a different planet till dead bodies of the missing children were found from a drain.

Something similar happened after the murder of Arushi Talwar, again in Noida. The murder got a lot of coverage initially when it was suspected that it is an honour killing. Now, thousands have been killed in several North Indian villages in the name of honour but none of them recieved as much coverage as the murder of Arushi.

This disinterest of media is not limited in covering routine crime cases such as murders or kidnaps. Even when it comes to national secirity, rural India recieves this callous treatment. For example between 2003 and July 2008 around 575 people were killed due to Islamic terrorism in major towns, however around 571 people were killed in Naxal attacks just in the first ten months of last year. Infact since 2002 more than 4000 people have been killed because of Naxal violence wheras around 700 people lost their lives due to Islamic terrorism. Our PM believes and rightly so that Naxals are a bigger threat to India. But still Naxal violence recieves less coverage as most Naxal attacks take place in villages or small towns.

It is not hard to guess the reason for this callous attitude of electronic media towards rural India. Most of Cable & Satelite homes in India are in metros. TRP ratings decide the extent of coverage for any subject. But India cannot shine for long if Bharat continues to whine. Print media, especially vernacular dalies are doing a far better job in covering rural India. This is again because of commercial reasons. Vernacular dailies have a big market in rural India. English dailies are no different from our electronic media as they don’t have a market in villages. Infact, a reviewer in a major English daily wondered whether a village can still have letter writer as shown in Welcome to Sajjanpur ,in the age of mobile phones. The fact is that most of villages are out of any wireless or cable coverage. It seems we will have to wait for the day till cable TV reach our villages, for them to get any recognition.

Now there is nothing wrong in extensive coverage of terrorist acts or crimes in cities as this puts pressure on our law and order machinery and results in early cracking of case as is evident with the recent arrests of terrorists from Indian Mujaheedin and cracking of other cases which recieved wide publicity. So their is no doubt that media scrutiny and pressure has a positive effect. However, it would be great if media also pays some attention at our villages and non-metro towns which are facing Naxal violence. Maybe more scrutiny and coverage by media would force the Government to take some effective steps just as it did to crack the recent terror attacks. Infact there are a lot more stories of courage and hope in rural India which deserve to be seen and heard by us. Lets hope that Sajjanpurs are welcomed by our media and all of us.