Friday Classics: Raajneeti, I Cared Too Much About Some Characters and Too Little About Others

An experiment!  We all watched the same movie, and now I have to review it.  Which is A LOT of pressure on me, since for once you have all seen the movie as recently as me and probably understood it better.  Oh well, you can think of this as a starting point for a discussion, not the end.

Going in, I knew 2 things about this movie: massive cast, and based on a cross between The Godfather and The Mahabharata.  And both of those facts are true, and somewhat related to each other.  In order for him to have the cast he wanted and make them be the characters he wanted, Prakash Jha had to blend the two stories together.  What really surprised me was the other stories that ended up sifting to the surface, specifically related to the women characters.  Part of that was the hidden 3rd source for the film, the Nehru-Gandhi family and real life Indian politics in which women often play a prominent role.  But part of it was Jha just going where the writing took him and landing in some unexpected places.

Image result for raajneeti poster

And Jha also going where his actors took him.  That is the main reason many of you have been asking me to watch this movie, because the cast is so interesting to see all together.  And for most of them, this is a performance unlike any other in their career.

Prakash Jha is known for Big movies with Big casts.  And also for unusual subject matter.  He started out in documentary film, specializing in stories of corruption and social rot.  And then he translated that sensibility to his films.  He’s not satisfied with the simple story or the simple answer, with making it just about two people in love, or one bad man who has to be defeated.

He also tends to see something a little different in his actors.  He made Madhuri Dixit, at the height of her fame as a gorgeous glamorous woman, into a voice for abused wives in villages.  He saw Kajol as a tragic single unmarried mother back when everyone else saw her as the cheerful tomboy.  And in this film (and in Chakravyuh a few years later) he saw former male model Arjun Rampal as a potential powerful actor.

The thing is, the actual directing part of the movie, the way shots are framed and the way they are put together and flow one from the other, is pretty bland.  Jha is great at assembling this cast and this story, but not so good at actually telling it in the most effective way possible.

There are two problems, one far larger than the other.  The first is the overall blandness of it, the resistance of spectacular images, or exciting kinetic editing.  Even the dialogue deliver is just a little slow, conversations feeling less like a back and forth and more like, well, reciting dialogue!  This isn’t a major issue, many directors and films are just a little bit slow but the story carries your attention anyway.

It becomes an issue in combination with the second problem.  There are many stories in this film and some of them are far more compelling than others.  As we are wrenched from the interesting to less interesting stories, suddenly the slowness of the pace, the beige-ness of the visuals forces itself onto our attention more and more.

(Even the trailer kind of sucks the energy away)

This is the only Jha film I have seen, but from what I have heard about and seen of his other films, this first problem is consistent but the second is not.  His directing is always just a little bit bland.  But when he really comes to grips with his stories, it doesn’t matter, the narrative will carry the audience off no matter how it is presented, as it does in his great movies like Gaangajal.  But when he doesn’t, when it becomes amorphous and confused, suddenly the whole film falls apart, as it does in his disaster movies like Satyagraha.  This film is kind of betwixt and between, some stories and actors are too good to consider this a disaster, and others are just not quite interesting enough.

Now, I know some of you just watched (or rewatched) this film in preparation for this post.  And I am prepared for you to disagree with me on who the boring character/actors are and who the interesting ones are.  It is probably also partly situational, I will relate immediately to the white woman in a way not all viewers will, for instance.  But I think we can all agree that at least SOME of the characters/actors are far far less interesting than others?  And the main flaw of the film is the feeling of marking time while you wait for the story you care about to come back?  Which is a problem of the director, that he didn’t work harder to make sure we cared about everybody.

 

 

 

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

 

 

 

This is 2 and a half stories that already existed, combined to make something new.  First there is The Godfather.  In the original, there are 3 brothers and a sister and another foster brother, plus a powerful wise father.  The oldest brother was raised to lead, angry and violent and deep into the dark world of his father.  The middle brother was raised to be “clean”, sent to good schools and kept out of the dangerous world, he is meant for politics and a bright future (kind of funny that in the original politics was the safe clean escape from American crime, and in this one politics is the evil while America is the safe clean escape).  The middle brother takes his first step into darkness to avenge his father after an assassination, leaves behind his strong outsider love interest and moves on to a beautiful kind accepting woman.  She dies in a car bomb meant for him at the same time that his brother is assassinated.  He returns to America, takes charge of the family, and returns to the strong outsider love interest and convinces her to marry him.  Only for her to regret it as she eventually realizes his soft peaceful exterior hides a dark soul.

Image result for the godfather poster

(Look at all the men!  That’s how you can tell a “great picture” from Hollywood, all male cast.  Well, almost all male)

Next there is the Mahabharata.  A young woman has a relationship with a powerful man (the Sun God) when she is a teenager.  She gives birth to a child she must abandon, then moves on to a respectable marriage to a powerful man.  Her husband dies and her children end up trapped in a complicated inheritance dispute against their uncle and cousins.  On their side, they have a wise tricky adviser, Krishna.  And the strong wife shared by them all, Draupadi.  By the side of their cousin is a lowborn but brilliant warrior, one who the heroes dismissed and insulted at their first meeting while their cousin praised him, Karna. Karna is told just before the final battle that his mother is the mother of his enemies, she goes to him and explains that she had to give him up but now wants him to return home, to accept her love and take his place as the oldest son and leader of the brothers.  He agonizes, but refuses, because he has a loyalty to the one man who befriended him when he was nothing.  He promises his mother not to kill any of his brothers, but remains on the other side.  His brothers kill him and are told after his death by their mother what his true identity was.  In death, he receives his missing honors.

And finally there is the real story of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which receives just a faint subconscious reference here.  Nehru died, and his daughter carried on his work.  She had two sons, the oldest was the expected heir, strong and involved in politics, the youngest was almost forgotten, married to a foreigner, living a regular life.  The oldest died, and the youngest stepped up and joined politics.  His mother died, and he became prime minister.  He died, and unexpectedly his foreign born wife became the leader of the party.

What do we get when we combine all these stories in a big blender?  This movie!!!!  Nikhila Trikha is the daughter of a powerful politician.  She has an affair with a leftist leader (Naseeruddin Shah in little more than a cameo), and her son is taken away by her father’s adviser, Nana Pataker, and left on the river.  He is adopted by the family’s driver (in the Mahabharat it is a chariot driver who adopts Karna.  That’s why so many lost-and-found films have the son being adopted by a driver) and grows up to be Ajay Devgan, a leader of the Dalit community.  Nikhila soon marries the younger brother of a powerful political family.  Her husband and brother-in-law both live and breathe politics.  She has two sons, the oldest Arjun Rampal works closely with his father and uncle in their political party, along with his cousin Manoj Bajpai.  The youngest is sent overseas to study literature in America, away from all this.  And then while her son is home on vacation, his uncle has a heart attack leading to a succession dispute within the party.  Manoj Bajpai assumes he will lead, but his father instead gives control to his nephew Arjun.  Arjun starts making plans for the party and meanwhile Ajay is rising through the ranks thanks to his popularity with the Dalit community.  Manoj gives him respect and power while Arjun dismisses him.  And then Arjun and Ranbir’s father is shot and killed.  Ranbir stays back and decides it is up to him to ensure that his brother wins the upcoming elections.  Ranbir and Nana Pataker increasingly take care of the dirty work of politics (blackmail, murder, assassination, illegal dealings) while Arjun focuses on the speeches and being the public face.  Ajay does the same for Manoj, arranging the violent realities of their policies while Manoj does the high level planning.  It’s worth watching the movie just to get a sense of the insanity and craziness of state level elections in India.

There is also a personal plot line that intersects with the political, he is torn between his white girlfriend from America and Katrina, the wealthy daughter of a family friend who is in love with him.  At first he rejects her, then accepts her when it seems that they need her money for the election fight.  But her father rejects him, instead insisting on her marrying Arjun as he is the oldest son.  Katrina is furious, but agrees.  Arjun does not push himself on her, instead giving her space and sleeping on the couch of their shared quarters.  He also angrily defends her when during the election he is accused of merely marrying for money.  She slowly softens towards him as she sees his defense, his respect, and so on.  At the same time, Ranbir’s girlfriend has arrived from America and their love is rekindled.  But she is disturbed as she sees increasing evidence of his violence and amorality.  She tells him she is pregnant and gives him an ultimatum, he agrees to forget all of this and return to America and be with her once the election is won.  And then she dies in a car bomb as Arjun is running towards the car to stop her.  Ranbir, in revenge, kills Ajay without ever learning they are brothers, and also his cousin Manoj.  Ranbir is offered control of the party and rejects it, instead choosing to return to America and hand control to Katrina, his brother’s widow.  She wins in a landslide.

(One of Katrina’s best performances, to me.  She successfully convinces me that she is an innocent young woman hopelessly infatuated with this worthless man, so infatuated she cannot see his flaws)

There is a way this story is meant to go.  It had to end with Katrina, the widow, on a podium calling for the people to avenge her.  Because that’s how it ended in real life, with Sonia Gandhi leading the party.  But the rest of it was intended to follow the story of the Mahabharata and The Godfather, and there are certain characters in those stories we are meant to care about more than others.

The hero of the Mahabharata is Karna.  At least, in many versions.  He is the most intriguing, complicated, interesting role.  Arjun and Yudhishtira are perfection embodied, which is always kind of dull.  Plus, they were literally born to rule.  Karna came up the hard way, had to fight for everything he got.  He is the first example of the “twice as hard and half as far” rule suffered by talented members of the underclass everywhere.  Jha had worked with Ajay Devgan often previously, and Karna is a perfect role for Ajay.  He himself came up the hardway, son of a stuntman born into poverty.  And his darker skin has been used many times to signify a lower class character onscreen.  Ajay’s journey, from angry young son of a driver and kabaddi champion, to right hand man of Manoj Bajpai, overseeing assassinations and attacks, to finally dying nobly, should be riveting.  And yet, it wasn’t.  Perhaps because Ajay was so isolated by the plot, by half way through the film he and Manoj were really only interacting with each other while Arjun and Ranbir lived in a rich world of allies and enemies and family.  Ajay’s story sprang back into focus only when he was brought into that world, when Nana discovered his true parentage and was shaken by it, then brought the news to Nikhila who hunted him down and asked him to come home.  Ajay turns her away, telling her that he is a Dalit and his parents are a driver and his wife.  That is the strongest moment of his character, to reject the wealth and power being given to him and choose to keep walking his own path.

But that’s like 20 minutes before the end of the film.  The movie starts with Nikhila donating clothing to the poor on Ajay’s birthday, remembering her lost child, and then flashes back to the story of his birth and abandonment.  It should close with his rejecting of his heritage.  Or at the very least with the recognition of it after death (as the Mahabharata closes his story, with his brothers lighting his funeral pyre).  Instead, we open with Ajay, and end with Ranbir.  A very confusing unbalanced kind of structure.  And in the middle we have a whole lot of Ranbir and the people around him and very little of Ajay.

It could be this way because of the combination of sources.  Ranbir is the hero of The Godfather.  The overlooked quiet “smart” son, who turns out to be more vicious and wise and free thinking in battle than all the others.  And again, it’s perfect casting.  Ranbir was the son and heir of the Kapoor family, had studied in America, and now was returning to take up the reigns of the family power.  He was riding high at this moment, after 4 successful films in a row.  He had all the privileges Ajay lacked in his youth, and was (at this moment) showing an equal talent.  Ranbir’s story is meant to go a certain way, we are meant to identify with him and have him as our guide to this world, be pleased when he earns respect and position in the family, and then slowly be horrified as we see his slide into evil.  But Jha changed the ending, just a little bit.  Ranbir goes “bad”, yes, but in a very Mahabharata way, not completely evil and irredeemable the way the hero does in the original film.  And then he redeems himself, rejects violence and power and leaves, a last minute reversal to “I only did this for my brother not for myself”.

(This song is way better edited than the film itself, and notice how there is more Arjun and Katrina than Ranbir?  It sells a conflict between Arjun and Ajay with Katrina in the corner and Ranbir just flashing by off and on)

It’s an illogical character arch.  Especially considering what was kept from the original, the slow shift of our point of view through the perspective of the women closest to him.  In the original, it is only Diane Keaton who slowly comes to see that he is darker and more dangerous than anyone else in his family.  In this, both Katrina and Sarah Thompson Kane go on that same journey.  They love him, they cling to him, they forgive him.  And then they realize he is more dangerous and more vicious than they could possibly imagine and retreat in horror.  And then, they are wrong?  Katrina and Sarah both forgive him and reverse their opinion after clearly stating it and their evidence for it in a way that the audience can see they are right?  Not to mention that Katrina and Sarah move into the position of moral authority as the film goes on and we see the sins of all the others.

Ultimately Ranbir does everything for his brother, the film argues.  He wants no power for himself.  But the film doesn’t really sell us on that.  We like Arjun and can see why Ranbir would be loyal to him.  But the viciousness of his actions go beyond that, and there are not enough moments were he seems hesitant, unsure of himself, human.  And so Katrina’s conclusion, that he is cold and incapable of love, makes sense to the audience.  After all she is basing this on clear evidence, she is a childhood friend of Ranbir and he seemed to care for her.  He did the decent thing and told her that he did not love her that way, was in love with someone else.  Then reversed that and claimed to have fallen in love with her.  And when their engagement was not confirmed, claimed to nobly he willing to give her up to his brother.  But when his American girlfriend appears, the way they embrace and greet each other tells Katrina that he loved her all along, as much as he could love anyone.  Meaning he was willing to break the heart of the woman he loved, and trick a woman he cared about, use Katrina’s sincere love in order to get a dowry.  And that he then increased the sin by letting Katrina and Arjun both believe that his heart was broken by their marriage, driving them apart in guilt.  Arjun, the one person he claimed to be doing this all for.  Katrina is the character whose purity and trust was so great, that until now it never occurred to her to doubt Ranbir’s honesty until just now.  An innocent who confidently confessed her love, accepted his rejection and appreciated his honesty, tried to save what she saw as their “true love” in marriage, and broken-heartedly accepted and honored his sacrifice.  Katrina tells him she had a lucky escape and is glad she is married to Arjun instead, and the audience cheers for her, agrees with her, and is impressed with her inner strength.

And then there’s Sarah, Ranbir’s American girlfriend.  She is first introduced as an outsider who doesn’t understand what is happening, is left behind and forgotten by Ranbir (as Katrina was when playing the same character in another version of The Godfather, Sarkar).  But then there is a twist, she refuses to be forgotten.  She tracks him down in India and her determination is proved right when he greets her and reveals his true love for her.  And she is ready to sacrifice everything for him, even her own identity, to learn Hindi, to wear saris.  She is far from the stereotypical difficult demanding un-understanding and disloyal white girlfriend.  She is as loyal and devoted and pure as Katrina was in her love for Ranbir.  But she is not betrayed like Katrina was, a discovery of Ranbir’s private sins and selfishness, but rather his public sins.  She starts to see hints of the power and violence he controls.  And finally reaches the breaking point when she witnesses and tries to prevent the kidnapping of a woman, an enemy of the family.  Which is when we learn her real motivation.  She doesn’t mind moving to India, she doesn’t mind Ranbir changing his whole life to match is political views, she doesn’t even care about if he forgot her for a while and considered marrying someone else.  But she will not live in the midst of violence, because she witnessed that as a young girl in Ireland when her father was killed and will not put her children through the same thing.  Suddenly Sarah also reaches a point of moral high ground, earned moral high ground, a representative of the innocent bystander of all their actions, one who fully understands the price of political violence.  And she, like Katrina, rejects Ranbir as someone who does not consider those he hurts as he pursues his objective.  And, like with Katrina, the audience applauds her.  With her fresh eyes, we see what Ranbir has done and we are disgusted by it and glad she is escaping.

(This song tries to sell it as a love triangle, but in fact it is a story of two women both rejecting him.  Also, once again, the promotional song video is better edited than the film)

And yet, Ranbir is redeemed?  Ranbir is given a hero’s ending, a flight back to America to nobly take care of Sarah’s mother.  And complete forgiveness and friendliness from Katrina.  No visible signs of guilt, and no anger from others.

Part of the problem with his character is the performance.  Ranbir seems to rely on his glasses to do most of the acting.  He is smart and quiet, see?  Glasses!  But I never get a sense of him being torn by inner turmoil.  It’s supposed to be Pacino, but the thing with Pacino was, he showed us that “Michael” was trying to appear confident and calm, but in moments alone, he was just a scared little boy trying to live up to his family.  What was terrifying about the performance was watching him slowly grow into the confidence and calm he pretended to have earlier, to see the last scraps of humanity stripped away.  Ranbir never quite manages that, I don’t have a sense of him pretending calm and confidence, I have a sense of him pretending humanity.  The ending I would expect and enjoy is Katrina punishing him by arranging his death as coolly as he caused the death of so many others.

But the major problem is not Ranbir, it is that, as sometimes happens with adaptations, a hidden truth from the original became obvious in the remake.  The hidden truth of The Godfather is that James Caan, “Sonny”, is the truly heroic person.  The story is a tragedy of what happens after he falls.  Sonny is the only one who tries to protect his sister from her abusive husband, who is determined to protect Michael from the darkness of the gang, who brought in Robert Duvall when he was an orphan on the streets just because he cared.  Sonny has a temper, but that is because he feels things too much.  Michael doesn’t feel things at all.  The Godfather trilogy was supposed to be about the triumph of Sonny’s decency over Michael’s evil.  In the final film, after Michael had become all powerful and strong, Robert Duvall (the one person still in Michael’s life who was closest to Sonny) was supposed to challenge him and bring him down.  The ghost of Sonny would do him in.  But then there were casting issues and the third film ended up a bit of a mess instead.

Image result for robert duvall godfather 3

That same truth is what comes out clearly, despite intentions, in this movie.  Arjun only gets half the screentime Ranbir does and nowhere near the backstory given to Ajay’s character.  And yet, he is the one that slowly becomes the character you root for.  The one truly deserving of Katrina’s love, and of leading his party.  As the film continues and we are supposed to see Ranbir’s growing darkness and brilliance and control through how he runs the dirty tricks campaign, what we also see is that Arjun is not there, not a part of what Ranbir is doing.  Yes, Arjun has a temper, yes he is passionate.  But he isn’t sitting around plotting and planning and lying to those he cares about.

Jha’s goal was to make Arjun flawed but not evil, and he managed that, but missed that in comparison and relationship to the other characters, Arjun goes beyond “flawed but not evil” and straight into “good”.  One of Arjun’s first scenes is also probably the worst filmed scene of the movie.  Arjun finishes a political meeting, and then goes into another room (or a hallway?  Or a different corner of the same room?  Really, terribly filmed) and meets a woman and immediately starts, well, standing behind her while she has an orgasm, essentially. I think they are supposed to be having a hot sexual encounter, but thanks to Jha’s awkwardness in filming the scene and (possibly) Arjun’s discomfort as an actor, the end result is two actors clearly standing at least a foot apart from each other fully clothed.

But the point is for us to see that the sexual encounter is not just consensual, it is ecstatically consensual.  At the end of it, she asks Arjun to put her up for an election and he refuses somewhat cruelly.  But it is clearly the first time she brought this up, and it is also clear that their sexual interaction was separate from this request, at least in Arjun’s mind.  So, yes, he is a man who will have sex with an available willing party worker.  And he will be cruel and dismissive of her when she asks for a favor afterwards.  But he is not a rapist, not by force or mental coercion, she comes to him of her own free will and makes the request after the sex, not before.

Later Arjun will track down a police officer and personally beat him to death.  But this is a corrupt police officer who helped set up the death of his father and beat Ranbir, Arjun is killing him in anger for how he hurt those he loved.  He also kills that same young woman, because she filed a false rape case against him claiming that he kept her captive for 2 years, having sex against her will, with a promise of putting her up for election.  It was bad to kill her, but then the film established her as amoral and uncaring in every way.  All of these actions, on their own, are in that “bad but not evil” level.

And then you compare it with Ranbir who calmly orders the death of a man who was begging at his feet just a day earlier, who does terrible things but is too cowardly to get his hands dirty, to feel any passion about it.  Who doesn’t even feel passion for the women around him.  And suddenly Arjun, who turns his back on sexual encounters and lives a life of celibacy in order to be faithful to his young wife, who carries out his own punishments instead of forcing someone else to do it, who dies saving Ranbir’s girlfriend when Ranbir isn’t quite smart or caring enough to realize what is happening, Arjun becomes the hero.

Image result for the suite life of karan and kabir

(Shruti Seth, the woman who plays the rape accuser, went on to star in the Disney India series The Suite Life of Karan and Kabir.  Presumably not as a sexual plaything of a powerful man)

That’s what makes this film memorable, to me.  The way the characters overwhelm the story, the plan for where it is supposed to go.  I just wish the film had followed their lead a little more.  I wanted more scenes between Katrina and Arjun, more about their odd mutual sacrifice and slow growing secret love marriage.  I wanted more about Sarah, Ranbir’s girlfriend with her own history of political violence.  The cast was too large, the story too diverse, and I cared too much about the people I wasn’t supposed to care about.

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53 thoughts on “Friday Classics: Raajneeti, I Cared Too Much About Some Characters and Too Little About Others

  1. `
    You’re counting it as a “Friday Classic” but did it really reach the classic level? I wonder if it will be forgotten in a few more years.

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  2. Shruthi Seth is actually pretty well known among my generation because she played the Indian equivalent of Sabrina the Teenage Witch essentially in Shararat in which Farida Halal starred as her grandmom..So she evokes a sense of nostalgia whenever we see her in ads or movies

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    • How odd that she went from a family friendly kid’s TV show, to a role as a sexual plaything in a dark movie, to another family friendly kid’s TV show!

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 8:53 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Couldnt make it thru Rajneeti the first time, REALLY tried the second. But no go. All fast-forward until the closing credits both times. I love Ajay, Katrina, and Arjun. You can’t go wrong with Patekar and altho I’m not a fan of Ranbir, sometimes he’ll step up to the plate. The film should have been a winner. I agree with your analyses if its various parts, particularly Shruti’s sort of sex in the beginning. Way awkward and unsatisfying, like the rest of the movie. My favorite “based on” film remains Omkara; Ajay again, Saif, and wonderful, underused Vivek Oberoi.
    BTW, Race Three started streaming the other day. Whatta bomb. Salman looks like a fireplug.

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    • I kept comparing this with Sarkar, the other Katrina Kaif Godfather remake. That one had it’s own flaws, but I found it far more riveting. Mostly because Abhishek and Amitabh at the center of it were just electric. And also because RGV stripped the plot down to its bare bones.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 11:27 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I watched it when it released, didn’t like it at all. So didn’t bother re-watching. They supporting cast was good except may be Manoj’s slightly OTT acting from what I remember, but I absolutely hated Ranbir in this. That brought down the movie for me since we are supposed to be rooting for him. If the movie had spread out among the other cast, Ranbir would have been a minor nuisance that I could have ignored.
    It is understandable and dramatic for a protagonist to give in to darker impulses as they see it for some greater good – protecting your family, belief in a sympathetic but flawed principle – that sort of stuff. But Ranbir in this seemed like a jerk to his own family, the women he is supposed to care for the most for no apparent reason. It was more like “Look, how cool is it that Ranbir is playing an anti hero” and less of making his motivations actually interesting and relatable.
    I didn’t care for Katrina’s character either. It is one of her better performances, but her character is too wishy washy for me. I might not remember this correctly, but do we ever get a shot or a mention of her actually sitting any of political meetings before Arjun’s death? Heck, even her decision to take Arjun’s place isn’t her own. I know that’s what usually happens in India’s politics, where women who stay or kept utterly ignorant of politics are handed over key positions just because nepotism. But am I really supposed to root for her potentially leading a government?

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    • Oh good, it’s not just me that found Ranbir unbearable in this! I had people tell me it’s one of his great performances and I kept looking for it, and I just didn’t see it. We wasted so much time on his character, and the more time we had, the less likable he was. And the less logical, because Ranbir just wasn’t able to sell that move from scared youngest son to secret mastermind in a way that made any sense at all.

      What was extra frustrating was that we wasted all that time on Ranbir when we could have easily had more about the other characters. Katrina, for instance, from what we saw I could believe she was secretly politically intelligent. Like, she grew up running in and out of the household, her father was clearly savvy with the ways of politics, and she understood how meaningful it was that Arjun got visibly emotional at a press conference in her defense (how that is unacceptable for a candidate, how he should have just let the question slide, that he should have known their marriage would raise questions, and so on). All we needed was one scene of her talking with her mother-in-law about the events of the election, showing that the woman have their eyes and ears open and can understand what is happening. Or one moment of Nana Patekar and Ranbir talking over dinner while she serves them. But that would have taken time away from precious Ranbir, so we didn’t get it.

      Same with her and Arjun, they have one scene where they exchange “I love you”s, and I believe it because the actors sell it to me. But there was no hint of anything like that before, because we had to have all those Ranbir blackmailing people scenes and Manoj Bajpai giving speeches, there wasn’t time to give 5 minutes to a conversation between Arjun and Katrina. Or even just Arjun, have him look at her photo or something to indicate he is thinking about her during the day.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 11:43 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Kat tried her best.But a better actress could have sold the character.Indumati is supposed to be young,rich,spoiled and naive.Her father only saw her as an asset and made no attempts to educate her.Her only mention of any political ambition is when she half-jokingly tells Ranbir that she’d enter politics and have a car with a red-light.In fact it’s only after Ranbir’s rejection and her marriage that she starts to grow up.And in the process be able to view Ranbir’s actions from a different perspective.

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        • that makes sense, I just wish we had more scenes of her post-marriage to show her growth. And also more exploration of what Ranbir was thinking when he accepted her and then broke her heart. Her actions come off as less “spoiled” to me than as “reasonable”, and I think that is partly because we didn’t get enough clarity on the need for her money and why her father was so aware of what this marriage was actually about. It was as much a shock to me as it was to her when Ranbir calmly switched grooms.

          On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 12:22 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. Ranbir’s character sees everyone as a pawn -including the people he love- like his brother and Sarah. He’s initially dispassionate.But he has more in common with his violent brother Arjun Rampal.At a certain point he starts enjoying what he does.It’s an addiction -the need to win over Ajay.They are the real contendors. Arjun Rampal and Manoj are the puppets.Ranbir does get punished at the end.He loses Sarah and his child, exiles himself from politics -his addiction.And his beloved uncle -Manoj’s father-rejects him.I got more insight into his character after reading the book Raajneeti: The Film & Beyond

    https://www.amazon.in/Raajneeti-Film-Beyond-Prakash-Jha/dp/B00E9PZY9Y

    Jha explains in the book why he chose to take Arjun’s POV rather than Karna’s.Arjun takes some questionable actions in the Mahabharata War despite initial misgivings.Jha and the scriptwriter chose to ask the question :What if he initially justified his actions as necessary.But later on went to revel in it?

    Arjun Rampal’s character is based on Bhim from Mahabharata.He’s borderline psychopathic in the violence he unleashes.Like how he sings the Madhuri Dixit song “Akhiyan milao” while gleefully beating a man to death. But he’s fiercely loyal to the people he loves like Ranbir and Katrina.At the same time he’s incapable of sucking up to people he hates -like the DGP.

    According to Jha, Shruti Seth’s character had a secret ambition of marrying into one of the most powerful families of the State.That’s why she switched loyalties.She reached too high.Sarah is Subhadra.She had no idea that Ranbir was planning on marrying Katrina at one point.There’s an interesting deleted scene where Kat tries to establish her claim on Ranbir.Sarah is very mature as she deals with Kat.

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    • I find it fascinating that Bhim/Arjun in the Mahabharata match so neatly with Michael/Sonny in The Godfather. Seems like both stories got at some essential question of the human psyche, the idea of the character who feels too much versus the one who doesn’t feel enough. Too human or not human enough.

      Am I remembering right that there are points when Draupadi asks Bhim to do things because she knows the other brothers will not, but Bhim is so passionate he will not say “no”? Katrina in this would be another interesting variation on that, asking “what if Draupadi preferred the brother who always put her first?”

      I missed any interaction with Ranbir and his uncle, or Arjun and the uncle for that matter. I kind of lost track of what happened with him.

      Sarah as Subhadra makes sense, because that would be the other punishment, or at least result of his actions, for Arjun-losing Abhimanyu in the war=losing the pregnant Sarah. (I’ve been thinking about Abhimanyu a lot lately because there is a baby at my church named Abhimanyu and I always think “why would you name your child that? Doesn’t it make you anxious????”)

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 12:15 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Yes,Draupadi knows that Bhim adores her and puts her on a pedestal.She usually takes his help when she wants him to ‘take care’ of someone who tried to abduct/rape her.Nevermind that she’s in love with Arjun. It’s so nice to see Bhim getting his due as Draupadi/Kat sets aside her love for Arjun/Ranbir.And Abhimanyu is a terrible terrible name for a kid.Just a couple of months back a young student with that name was murdered in a campus fracas in Kerala.What’s ironic is that his best friend who was also injured was named -Arjun.

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        • Yes! Thank you! I really want to ask his mother (she’s the desi one, I’m assuming his father had no idea where the name came from) why they chose that name. But that’s such an awkward conversation to have with a person. But there is this adorable fat little baby and I just have such a feeling of “doom DOOM” every time they call his name. I also think it was a terrible idea for Heath Ledger’s parents to name their children “Heathcliff” and “Katherine”.

          On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 12:47 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  6. The high points for me were Arjun Rampal and Nana Patekar. Nana especially gives a wonderful performance, even when he is just standing in the background listening to a conversation. Ajay was excellent, but underused.Ranbir just leaves me meh. I found the movie more enjoyable than I expected, based on the comments to your original post. Margaret, this was the first time I have been grateful not to have your photographic recall of films! I saw The Godfather (only the first one) when it came out and have not seen it since. I have read the Mahabharata once, and it still confuses me. So I could focus on the plot in this film, without tracking the comparisons. I rather liked that there was hardly anyone you could trust; I think that was the director’s point.

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    • The Mahabharata (as I understand it) is supposed to be a story of shades of grey. The Ramayana is about a perfect ideal hero, but the Mahabharata is about a bunch of people who are slightly better than the other people but still make their fair share of mistakes. The idea of moving this massive ware with dozens of allies on each side fighting their own battles into the realm of politics was brilliant. Because it allows for that same sense of shifting loyalties and many moving parts each of which matter.

      Interesting to think about the point being to trust no one. Katrina seems like the pure character. Naive and childish, yes, but never actually wrong. And then aging into being the ideal wife and then the ideal widow. Until there is the flip and we see her giving a political speech with Nana nodding in the background and realize she is under the spell of politics now, no longer apart from it.

      Also, you should really re-watch The Godfather! For the clothes if nothing else. What I always find fascinating is that it manages to make the period costumes look imperfect. The bridesmaids dresses in the opening are 1940s bridesmaids dresses, but they ride up or ride down and don’t always fit perfectly, just the way a real bridesmaids dress would, instead of the perfect fit you usually see in period costuming. They also give the Mother of the Bride a dress that is more 1930s/20s than 1940s, as you would expect for a Mother of the Bride, to be about 10-20 years behind the time. The whole movie covers 10 years I think, and they age the costumes up from 40s to 50s, and then II takes it through to the 1960s and everything starts to be a bit “mod”.

      Dragging it back to this movie, I am thinking now about how Katrina’s character is defined by her clothes, and so is Ranbir and Arjun. Arjun is almost always in “political” garb, white traditional clothing. Ranbir only wears white once, at the meeting when they announce Arjun is taking over, and he wears a Western version, not the usual political plain Indian clothing style. And Katrina goes from fun pretty frocks and sparkly clothes, to always traditional and slightly more restrained after marriage, to full plain sari in her speech scene. Not the white of a widow (implying she is moving out of society), but the brown of a mature restrained woman who is still part of the world. Shruti Seth’s character is the more dramatic one, that modern chiffon pink sari when she is Arjun’s plaything, and then the restrained political uniform when she is running for office.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 12:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Ranbir wears white almost throughout.Because his character is based on Arjun.And white is Arjun’s favorite color.In fact one of Arjun’s alternate names is Svethavahana -presumably for the snow white divine horses which draw his chariot.But he never wears the traditional kurta-pajama-jacket uniform of a politician even when addressing political rallies.Because he never sees himself as a politician.Again quoting from the book.

        If you find Mahabharata confusing, may I suggest Ramesh Menon’s The Mahabharata :A modern rendering. It’s the best version that I’ve read so far.They’ve cut out a lot of unnecessary stuff and dramatized the rest.It’s on kindle.

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        • Ramesh Menon is the one who wrote the super sexy Shiva book I read, right? He is a good writer, and hopefully when not writing about Shiva, he is a little less sex focused (because so far as I could tell, he was just telling the stories of Shiva as they exist, and that’s what they are).

          I honestly cannot picture a single scene in which Ranbir wears white, beyond that one speech. I am sure I am forgetting things, but I am also positive that he doesn’t wear white in multiple scenes. Which doesn’t change your point, it’s just interesting how films can change from conception to end result. If Jha intended for Ranbir to be identified with white, it didn’t work because they edited the film in such a way that there was a whole bunch of blacks and greys that ended up in his scenes.

          On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:16 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          • I can remember several scenes of Ranbir wearing white.The most poignant would be the climax when he goes hunting for Manoj and Ajay.Then there’s the funeral.Where he visits his uncle for the last time,when he says goodbye to Kat at the end.Even during Arjun and Kat’s wedding he’s wearing a white shirt with his dark suit.

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  7. Random thoughts –

    WTH happened to Ranbir in this? Was he reading from cue cards the whole time? Did Katrina’s usual blank-face-stare emoting technique rub off on him? Maybe his worst performance ever. He really let down this film.

    Arjun was on fire. What charisma. Didn’t Sanjay Gandhi have a similar swashbuckling charisma?, Though his was slightly more if the spoiled breast variety?

    But I think the film might have worked better if Arjun and Ranbir had swapped roles. Arjun has real range and can play a layered internal character, whereas Ranbir had a more limited range but excels at characters that play their emotions on their faces.

    Really liked Nana in this, plus Naseerudin, and the actress playing the Kunti character. I sat up whenever they were on-screen. Such lived-in performances.

    Also WTH happened to Manoj Bajpayee in this? He was so incredibly hamny that I was just waiting for him to proclaim “Cursed, Foiled Again!”

    I don’t agree with Ajay or the directors interpretation of Karna. What for me makes Karna so heartbreaking is his empathy toward Kunti, while still holding to his convictions. I believe they even cry together upon the reveal in Amar Chitra Katha’s “The Children’s Mahabharata” lol. Here he just plays indignant the whole way through the film, and offers to spare her sons out of moral duty alone.

    You are saying that the Indhira, Sanjay, Rajiv, Sonia Gandhi story is the hidden Easter egg. But my recall is that, at the time, the Gandhi saga was the selling point, especially the curiosity to see Katrina as Sonia, (and of course Ranbir in anything), as well as the first powerhouse cast since Omkara, and Mahabharata and Godfather were the Easter eggs.

    I’m wondering if, on a metaphorical level, white gf represents Sonia 1.0 and later Katrina represents Sonia 2.0? The transition from 1.0 to 2.0 could be rajiv assassination, rajiv becoming prime minister, marrying rajiv, or moving to India with rajiv.

    At first I thought Katrina acted reasonably well, but now after watching the whole film I take that back. Katrina was starting her love affair with Ranbir around this time IRL. The energy and honesty we were getting from her in the first half was merely her playing herself, in live with ranbir the actor. Contrast with the second half – calling out Ranbir as cold hearted, being with Arjun, becoming the new scion of the party – we get the dead faced katrina “widow” of JTHJ, her go to face when she doesn’t know how else to act. When she tells the white gf “I’ve found my happiness” re arjun, it sounds nothing but sad or blank, not an ounce if happiness conveyed. Same as when she favorably compares arjun to ranbir, she’s going for layered but lands on reading-from-cue-cards.

    This would have worked better as a film if Ranbir became the party leader instead of handing it off to Katrina. Then it would have been the story of his descent. Then in fact Ranbir’s underacting might have been ok, since the other characters and situations mostly give him reasons for his descent. But neither ranbir not the story made the final about-face believable, of returning to usa to “look after white gf’s mom” (wth? Would you want the man who is the reason that your only living offspring and future grandchild are dead to look after you now?), nor of handing the party reins to Katrina. I think Prakash Jha got confused on how to end this thing, but knew he wanted Sonia Gandhi to ascend to power, so he just tidied up loose ends sloppily.

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      • I love that this comment is by itself. Kind of a perfect precise commentary on all cahracters and the whole film.

        On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Completing the thought on Sonia 1.0 to 2.0, Sonia 1.0 (European Sonia, the one who didn’t want rajiv to go into politics) had to die off in order for Sonia 2.0 ) the party leader) to actualize and ascend.

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    • -I have never been super impressed with Ranbir, he seems like he has a tiny tiny range to me and even within that, it gets repetitive. I love him in Wake Up Sid and YJHJ and ADHM, but those are all essentially variations of the exact same character, and came with enormous co-star and director support. Like your feeling about Katrina, I feel like he did well in the parts where he was playing “himself”, in the beginning when he was young and confused and just returned from America. But once the film started asking him to play the smartest man in the room and the hidden power and so on, he just lost his way.

      I think present day Ranbir would be great in the Arjun role, but back then I don’t know if he could really let loose that much onscreen. Present day Arjun would be great in the Nana Patekar role. I agree that I want Arjun to have Ranbir’s part, but that is also partly because it would make it so much less confusing if “Arjun” was playing “Arjun”. Really not fair to cast him in this movie and then give him Bhim’s part! Oh! Or how about this, remake the film with Arjun in the same role and Arjun K. playing the Arjun/Ranbir part?

      I was so impressed by the Kunti actress! And then I looked her up and she doesn’t have a wikipedia page or anything. I’m going to assume she is a stage actress and that’s why she was so good but without much fame. Nana was wonderful too, he managed all of that “smart enough to enjoy the battle without wanting the winnings” feeling that Ranbir missed.

      Was it just me, or did Manoj also look like he was wearing a terrible wig the whole time? I kept waiting for the moment when he dramatically removed it.

      I also don’t remember Karna being so devious? He was a great warrior and general and so on, but was he the one coordinating all the underhanded attacks? Wasn’t that someone else? I felt like there was a missing character on Manoj’s side of the story, I wanted Karna as the one with the obvious royal demeanor and virtue and so on, and then the evil cousin, and then a third wise adviser type who came up with the plans that Karna carried out. In my feeling of Karna, he was always sort of the innocent of the story, the one who never got his due until after death.

      I agree that they had to split Sonia into two. You know why? If they had made the white girlfriend the one who survived and ran for office, no one would believe it was possible.

      I noticed half of what you saw with Katrina, I noticed how good she was int he early scenes but there was so little of her later that I didn’t notice the fall in quality as much. I found her early scenes so infectious in a similar way to her love scenes with Salman. Made me wonder if she can only be sincere with a co-star if she has a close personal relationship with them. Although she was also very good in her early scenes with Sidharth in Baar Baar Dekho. So maybe she is just really good at playing young and in love and not so much anything else?

      What bothered me about the ending is Kat being all chipper and “you must come back for the baby’s birth”. Way too fast of a turn around from the miserable widow. This whole thing takes place over one election cycle, right? So like 6 months? Meaning Katrina went from in love with Ranbir, to heart broken, to engaged to the wrong brother, to married to the wrong brother, to in love with him, to widowed, to “it’s all fine, I’m happy and pregnant” in the space of 6 months.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:37 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  8. Just a couple of clarifications.
    1.Manoj’s father hands over the power to his younger brother-ie Arjun and Ranbir’s dad by making him the interim party president.At the same time Manoj’s father declares that Manoj and Arjun serve as Secretaries beneath him.
    2.Karna promised Kunti that he would not kill any of Kunti’s sons except Arjun.
    3.Reasons behind Katrina’s marriage to Arjun Rampal. The latter had to leave the party empty handed. The smaller businessmen refuse to donate the necessary amount to Arjun because they consider Manoj as a sure-win candidate.At this point Arjun and Ranbir have only themselves to sell. Katrina’s father wants to get his money’s worth – ie his son-in-law should be the Chief Minister. He didn’t choose Arjun Rampal because he was the eldest.It is intimated that he’d have chosen Manoj as the groom if Arjun R didn’t agree to the bargain.

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    • Thanks for all of your insights, datablue! Especially the thing about power and winning being Ranbir’s addictions, and so his punishment is separating himself from those addictions. The Rajneeti book sounds really interesting–possibly more interesting than the film itself.

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      • I agree with your analysis of Ranbir’s character as a sociopath.He’s not a good man led astray by his ambitions/necessity like say Michael in Godfather.Samar Pratap has always been a little cool,aloof and distant- and Ranbir plays the character accordingly.Arjun is the charismatic people person while Ranbir is more than happy to fade into the background.He’s sort of like Nana Patekar.But different in the way he’s addicted to power and winning.You’ll enjoy the book.Only a section is about the script and characters.The rest of it is about the costumes,music,managing the crowd, the sets etc.

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    • If I am remembering correctly, Arjun and Manoj then leave the hospital room and Arjun is surrounded by happy loyal supporters and Manoj is alone. Is that right? I thought it was becauuse Arjun had been selected as the leader (because the subtitles flashed by too quick), but from what you are saying, that was a sign that Arjun was a natural leader who was naturally beloved, while Manoj was alone and bitter.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 1:59 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  9. First of all–good review, and I hope the thing of announcing movies ahead of time doesn’t change your process too much. It shouldn’t add pressure–hopefully just better discussion in the comments, especially for those of us who haven’t been watching Indian movies long enough to have a grasp on the canon, as it were.

    Well, I enjoyed this movie much more than I did any of the Godfather movies. I’ve never liked gangster movies because I’m just so disgusted by the whole system. Organized crime basically undermines democracy and is antithetical to the idea of human rights; and I’d be thrilled if the whole concept of family honor would disappear from human consciousness. I’m not sure it’s possible to be good at all within a truly evil system like the mafia. Even the supposedly “innocent” (adult) family members–if they’re not actually cutting ties with their family or actively working with law enforcement to undermine their activities, then they aren’t good.

    Raees was my one exception because, well, Shah Rukh, and because it wasn’t very realistic about the real violence involved in bootlegging.

    At least motives are a little more understandable to me when the aim is political power. Because people can truly believe that, despite their corruption, nepotism, and violent or underhanded tactics, its all worth it because in the end, they are doing it all to serve their community. Doesn’t make it ok, but at least it’s a more noble motive than greed and wanting to skim money off of other people’s honest labor (through theft or extortion). (Of course politicians are often greedy, and organized criminals often get involved in politics.)

    As I started to say in the Wednesday watching thread, Arjun and Nana were my favorite parts of this movie. I was really bored after the nice but brief love story between the mother and the radical, when all the different political factions and personalities were getting established. I felt like I needed a chart to keep track. And both Ranbir and Ajay feel like blank slates at that point in the movie. This is the most I’ve liked Naseeruddin Shah in a movie and I was sad when he left so early. The only time I connected with Ajay during the film was when he was with his parents or trying to save his mentor in the shootout scene. I get why his community wanted him to be their leader, and why that scared his adoptive parents so much, but what was driving him? Don’t know if the issue is Ajay’s acting, the writing, or what. Maybe the character type and the themes are so well known to the audience from the Mahabarata that people felt no need to make his motivations more clear?

    I’m SO glad the women started to play more of a role after the initial set up. Katrina was Katrina–pretty to look at, just barely competent to embody a character. I’m glad they got someone who can marginally act to play Sarah. And, since I’m too old and fat to be an extra in a Hindi film song, my new goal is to get a tiny part like the woman who played Sarah’s mother. Can you imagine how much fun that lady had, and just had to act a bit sad in a couple short scenes. 🙂 Margaret, I agree with you that the movie would have been more powerful had Sarah and Katrina NOT forgiven Ranbir once they saw what he became (or always was?) I’m very glad that the old man who had the stroke pulls his hand away from Ranbir at the end.

    I want Nana to be my older brother. Oh my. I just love him in that role. What else has the actress who plays the mother been in? (forgive me if that’s a dumb newbie question)

    And Arjun. Oh my goodness, I could not take my eyes off of him. He is so pretty, and so charismatic, yet he can tone it down in an ensemble and play against other people. The initial “sex scene” was so awkward. I had terrible second hand embarrassment. I did interpret Arjun and Shruti’s relationship a little differently than you–I think they’d been having sex for a bit, in part because he had promised to help her stand for election. The scene we saw is just when she decided to push a bit harder, since the nominations were getting close, and he finally got tired of playing along with her. So yes, he’s a jerk to get sex (as many of us, male or female, can be), but not a rapist. He certainly is the most honest of his family–whether he’s being nice or naughty. The scene where he is sleeping on the couch and Katrina leans over him reminded me powerfully of the myth of Eros and Psyche. Arjun is that darn beautiful.

    One disagreement I have, Margaret, is that once you have clubbed a couple of people to death, I think you have passed over from “shades of gray” to actual evil. No matter how awful your victims were. 🙂 But he was compelling even in those scenes. And I was really torn when he and Katrina tell each other they love each other, and when he saves Sarah (and maybe Ranbir and their mother) and dies. Like, I think he was evil at that point, but not irredeemable.

    I was ok with the ending. Having seen Katrina’s character read people and situations and adapt throughout the film, I think she’d be ok at politics, especially with the support of the party/family elders. And as others have said, people have in the past projected what they want to see on political widows. I see Ranbir’s character as one of those sociopaths who will do very well at whatever field he is in. If he goes back to academics he’ll be Dean one day. 🙂
    I’ll be recommending this flick to my aunt, who adores the Godfather films, because it is neat to see this cast together. But maybe I’ll suggest Sarkar first, since she’s also an Amitabh fan.

    Finally–wow, there’s a Hindi version of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody? Cool!

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    • First, it doesn’t change my process super much. I picked a film that a lot of people had talked about and I knew they had seen, so I already would have felt pressure. The random Telugu film next week, that’s gonna be no pressure at all because I know it’s a movie people won’t care about that much whether I announced in advance or not.

      One thing I noticed was missing in this film was an idea of the purpose of all that power, what they would do with it once they had it. Which I think is accurate to a political campaign, especially like this where it was factions of basically the same party, no big idealistic differences. I liked that, that the film didn’t even bother pretending to care about the issues. Especially in a Parliamentary system, where you are looking at gaining an overall majority in the state, not at the individual races and who is running them.

      I love Karna, but even so I felt like Ajay’s character just didn’t connect. There wasn’t that noble loyalty feeling with him, I didn’t always feel sure that his loyalty was primarily towards Manoj and not himself. If you want a good version of Karna (ooo, maybe another rerun film for another week?), Thalapathi gets it so well.

      I just don’t even understand why they forgave him??? Sarah was so firm that she was out, and then he just said “don’t worry, it will be fine, I’ll come to you” and she was all in again. Kat described his character perfectly, and then seemed to forgive him after that. Maybe Kat at least would have made sense if it was clear that she was changing her opinion after Ranbir gave up the power, showing he really didn’t want it for himself. But I would have liked if Sarah died not believing his promises instead of reunited. If Ranbir was able to play the role, what would have been interesting there is for him to cling to the fantasy that if Sarah had lived, he would have gone back to her and lived a peaceful life, while the audience knows it was just a fantasy and he never would have been able to do it.

      Not a dumb newbie question! I looked up the mother actress as well (that’s the one we are calling “Kunti” in other comments) and I can’t find any information on her. I am assuming a stage actress or something similar. Nana was wonderful, the one moment that rang false for me was when he encouraged Ranbir to shoot Ajay, after having just had that breakdown over discovering Ajay’s true parentage. I wanted him to hesitate in that moment, to show some hint of regret, or pain. But everything else in his performance straddled perfectly the idea that he loved the power and the fight and being behind the scenes, and he also loved this particular family almost as much.

      Arjun was so great in this role, and I also think it was the best character. The “Bhim” role he is playing is one that is less explored from the Mahabharat, the brother who is all strength and emotion, and I think he benefited from that. Karna is old hat, they were a little lazy and uninspired there, but the idea of the brother who is too angry and also too loving at the same time, that’s something new. And it really makes you think about yourself and whether you find cold distant violence more or less forgiveable than passionate up close violence.

      Agree about Ranbir, his character just read as “sociopath” to me, which it sounds like wasn’t the intention at all, so a combined failure of actor and director.

      I love Sarkar. Have you seen it? It is a totally different take on the story, and creates a Michael I can actually care about.

      On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 3:01 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Good point about cold vs passionate, detached and sneaky vs honest and up front violence. Hmmm. I’d like to think I don’t like either, but definitely found Arjun more sympathetic. Yuk.

        I haven’t seen Sarkar. I need to get organized about which Netflix movies I should watch and which ones folks here suggest avoiding. I can’t remember when I’m scrolling through them of an evening.

        I’m about to travel for work. I’m going to see if the Mahabharata and sexy Shiva books have audio versions. 🙂

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        • The sexy Shiva book is so sexy! Very uncomfortable to read in public.

          Sarkar is good, but it glorifies the central family even more than The Godfather. So if that makes you uncomfortable, may not be worth it. Qarib Qarib Singlle is also recently on Netflix I noticed, a delightful little romance with Irrfan Khan and Parvathy in a terrible sari, if you are in the mood for that.

          On Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 4:45 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Your point about the power is exactly what was bothering me about this movie. I honestly felt that none of the characters actually cared about the people, they only cared about the power. I thought Ajay would be the person that actually cared about the people but I felt like even his character was in it for the power.

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        • Yes, exactly. Ajay starts out being an authentic voice who wants to represent the struggles of the people and then he just starts murdering and strongarming people however Manoj needs him to, when Manoj is the son of the party leader he had such a violent resistance to at the beginning.

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          • Yeah, I didn’t really get why Ajay was so loyal to Manoj either. He did help Ajay get into the party but I thought it was quite obvious that Manoj only did it to go against Arjun.

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  10. No Godfather in my mind, no Mahabharata, only the thought that by watching a movie about politics, I would watch people doing things they otherwise wouldn’t do. Politics doesn’t leave anybody unaffected, it is a dirty play because it is a power-play. I knew that I would encounter corruption, manipulation, conspiracy, because politics needs money and votes to get to power or to stay in power and when one needs money one will do unethical things to get the needed money and votes.

    I warn you…it will be long…

    What I didn’t know beforehand was the characters I would encounter, the bonds, interactions, dependencies…and it was exactly that I was looking forward to. And I wasn’t disappointed. Nana Patekar became the central figure for me, the puppet player, the one who acted and reacted never loosing his focus on his goal that one of his family should be the state’s CM.
    First it was his father and when his sister took another route he got her back on track by taking away her son and convincing her to marry the younger brother of an allied party leader.
    Fate helped him. His father had become too weak to still play a prominent role and the allied party leader got out of the way because of a stroke. Interestingly it is Nana who kind of brings back to life the almost dead leader by telling him that the party needs him because the young people (the leader’s son and Nana’s nephew) would destroy everything the leader had built. The only choice the leader has(coming back from coma but unable to work himself), is to nominate his younger brother (and Nana’s brother-in-law) to be the interim Party leader because there have to be elections for a new CM.
    The son Nana had taken away from his sister was raised in an rural environment as the son of a Dalit and has become a kind of hero of his village. His father (the man who had found him) is the driver of his half-brothers’ family but nobody has a clue about the existing relationship (until after Ajay has killed his half-brother). Ajay mostly was a disappointment for me playing the brooding and angry young man with almost always the same expression. In addition, his role was confusing as he clearly was enlisted by Manoj to take advantage of his favorable reputation among the young people of the lower classes but was then used to do the dirty work Manoj didn’t want to do himself and not as an equal (although Ajay made himself think that he was treated as an equal…was he really that dumb??).
    The other disappointment for me was Manoj, not because of the role but of his little elaborated play. He is the one who can’t get his father’s recognition, who is delusional about his own abilities and who simply insists on his assumed rights as the ill leader’s son. In addition he envies and loathes his uncle and his cousins, He is also the one who starts the row of murders.

    While Nana ist the Grey Eminence, Arjun as the elder son of the interim leader is the most charismatic person and it is clear (except for Manoj) that he could lead the party to success after his father got murdered (on Manoj’s behalf, by Ajay). Arjun is also the one with the most intense play, clearly the public figure he is meant to be. He is viril, self-assured, a skilled speaker and a good strategist, but he is also kind of arrogant, a bit too sure of his effect on people. And he hasn’t the money needed for the election campaign. He has also to bear the aftermath of Manoj’s conspiracy to discredit him as a responsible man. It’s that conspiracy which will later result in two murders (a man and a woman), Arjun will commit which then results in karma hitting back by Arjun getting killed and also a woman he wanted to rescue from being killed.
    I really liked the way bad deeds got back to the wrong-doers.
    Arjun has a younger brother, Ranbir, who has zilch interest in politics…and little interest in his family – his world is in the USA. That only changes because his father gives him time and love just before he gets murdered. Ranbir becomes a fierce supporter of his brother’s campaign, willing to do everything that is needed to get Manoj and Ajay out of the run (he accurately suspects Manoj being responsible for his father’s assassination).He, too, becomes a murderer and will be punished by loosing his pregnant girlfriend almost the same way he killed a man he used as a pawn in a conspiracy against Manoj (who gets now discredited in turn).
    Ranbir seems to enjoy the success he has with his shemings and manipulations after having done the first step by giving up his plan to marry his childhood friend to secure the financial support of her father. Latter wants to have the most prospective leader as husband of his daughter and is equally willing to give her to Arjun or to Manoj.

    Katrina is the daughter and as her future mother-in-law once said to her, it’s always the woman who has to compromise. So Katrina compromises and lets Ranbir push her into a marriage with Arjun. It’s a rather filmi plot that just before Arjun gets killed they admit their love to each other (similar to Ranbir’s father admitting his love for his son just before his death)…and it is even more filmi that Katrina and Ranbir are the remaining people (apart from Nana Patekar) and part in friendship, Ranbir assuring that he would come back to take care of Katrina and his future nephew.

    Although Ajay’s, Ranbir’s and Arjun’s mother initially was shown as a dynamic and politically interested woman, she’s only a shadow of herself the rest of the movie. Basically, I did not see any strong woman in the film, but at the end no man of the family is left (Ranbir returns to his no-interest-in-politics) to take the leadership, so it has to be the widow (of course with Nana in the background)…and as she is the widow of the charismatic quasi-martyr Arjun, she is welcome.

    I liked the movie, but half an hour less would have been welcome by me.

    Like

    • A half an hour less, of the characters I didn’t care about, and a half an hour more of the ones I did.

      One thing, if I am understanding correctly, I think Nana is not the mother’s brother but rather her “brother”. He was her father’s young adviser and assistant, close to the family, and stayed close to assist her after marriage. A sort of unofficial bond, he was there to be the support to whatever member of the family was currently on the political rise.

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      • He has another name so you can be right.
        With another plot I may agree but still I felt that – for a considerable part – the actor’s (actresses’) acting abilities weren’t explored.

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  11. I know that Karna is a popular character. But he’s not without his faults. In the Mahabharata he hated the Pandavas every bit as much as they hated him back. He always supported Duryodhana in his schemes to ruin the Pandavas -the dice game, the plan to insult Pandavas by visiting them in the jungle and showing-off all the riches and jewellery. He always had a grudge against Draupadi for rejecting him. In the fateful dice game, he insulted Draupadi by calling her a ‘whore’. Karna hated the elders Bhishma and Drona because they loved the Pandavas.He was also not above boasting that he’d get Duryodhana his heart’s desire and not to depend on the useless elders.To be fair, the elders held him in contempt as well.Seeing him as a bragging lower-class up-start. Karna had a hand in killing Arjun’s valient son Abhimanyu.IIRC 6 Kaurava warriors attacked the latter at the same time which was strictly against the rules of the War.As retaliation Arjun killed Karna’s son the next day of the battle.

    Now for Ajay’s version of Karna. There’s a deleted scene from the movie where the Dalit elders visit Ajay and tell him to contest independently.Why ally yourself to “The Family”, they tell him when he can be the Chief Minister by forming a dalit party of his own? Ajay refuses them and tells that Manoj has his loyalty to his dying day because of the fact that he stood up for Ajay when he was being insulted. Jha says in the book that Ajay’s political aspirations and ambition could arguably be traced back to the fact that he’s the biological son of two politicians.The itch to rule is in his blood which fuels him.

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    • One thing I thought the movie did well was show without saying that Ajay truly was the best talented politician, the born to rule oldest son. He had more drive and intelligence and charisma than both his brothers and his cousin. If he had been given his proper birthright, he would have easily ruled. And that was part of his anger, that he knew he was better than everyone else and they weren’t giving him a chance.

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      • Initially I thought the same but after he had murdered his mentor’s uncle I only saw his flaws… basically I think he would have been too hot-headed, stubborn and ruthless as a (good) politician.

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  12. Oh man, I was looking for this post and still somehow missed it!

    One line I’m hung up on that I need to get out of my system: did Sarah say she was from Ireland, or Iowa? I heard Iowa, and she has a completely American accent. I found that hilarious, that she would understand this level of political bloodshed because she grew up in Iowa. If it’s Ireland, it’s a bit more believable!

    Like

    • Ireland! I noticed it as well and went back and watched again to make sure I understood correctly. Ireland, with an American accent. And an aged mother we never heard speak. But she said her father died when she was 6 (I think. young anyway), so I guess they could have moved to America then and she lost her accent. But I think more likely I am putting more thought into this than the director/writer did. Also, how as Ranbir surprised by this information? They were seriously dating and he never said “hey, what happened to your father, why’s he not around?”

      On the other hand, I really want it to be Iowa. Those Iowa caucuses can get heated…..

      On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 12:21 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • Right? Primary caucus season but with family political dynasties and vengeance mixed in with the cornfields and life-sized butter sculptures.

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  13. I wasn’t a fan of this movie, for reasons you and others have mostly already expressed. I think I’m closest to Reflects on Life. Also what Niki said, there was a complete lack of purpose or even noble political rhetoric behind the violent power struggle, that was a big hole for me.

    Mostly I think my problems are with the script and direction, though agreed with everyone who said that very few of the actors were able to take their performance beyond what they were given, with Nana being the clear standout. I like Arjun the actor but this character was too inconsistent and nasty for me. These ruthless older sibling roles work when there’s a sense that the older sibling had to take on the burden of being the “bad” one in order to protect the younger sibling and give him the opportunity for a pure and decent life the older sibling will never have. But with Arjun we are introduced to his badness first through the yucky sexual encounter and then through the reckless power grab within the party, neither of which has anything to do with protecting his brother or giving him a better life. He does react with rage when the policeman slugs Ranbir, but in that moment it was Ranbir trying to protect Arjun, and when Arjun beats the man to death later it feels like it’s more vengeance for throwing him in jail, i.e. not kowtowing to his superior status, rather than concern for Ranbir. He comes across as a skilled politician who will say and do anything to win, because he believes he’s entitled to power. His loyalty to his family is his only redeeming feature. I didn’t buy the love story with Kat at all – he went from heartless womanizer to marrying for money. His leaving her alone after the marriage could be as much lack of interest and fear of losing her father’s funding as anything noble and chaste. The transition to affection was given the briefest of moments and seemed, as Claudia said, a convenient plot device.

    Ranbir’s character…gosh. Let’s start with the fact that he’s been studying in the US long enough to get his doctorate, so pretty much his adult life up to this point spent in quiet academic pursuits, but he somehow knows how to run polling and political messaging and online campaigning better than all of the people who do this as their profession, and that’s before we get to the killing people part. For a while there, his motivation seems to be to bring down Manoj and destroy his political career forever as revenge for the murder of his father. I’m with him up to this point, it’s using his magical genius political skills to strike at the enemy of his family in exactly the way that would most hurt him, while maintaining higher moral ground by not getting his own hands bloody. The elevation of his brother seems almost incidental to this plot, Arjun has to succeed in order for Manoj to be destroyed. Ranbir doesn’t need to be blind to his brother’s flaws, just see him as the one to play the useful role of political figurehead. Even the sacrifice of innocent Katrina’s illusions is kind of justifiable to this end of political revenge. Except then Ranbir starts blowing people up, a prelude to actually just shooting them in the heart. What was the point of all the rest of it, if you were just going to shoot them all? It didn’t feel like a slide out of control as in the Godfather, the way the election scene was set up Ranbir laid a deliberate trap in order to murder Manoj, as if that was the plan all along. And then, as you pointed out, the ending is even more confused – he’s leaving but he’s coming back but he can’t come back…

    (As an aside, for some reason I kept thinking Shahid could play this character better. Maybe it was the glasses.)

    The whole thing felt strung together to me and lacking that overarching sense of purpose, especially in the second half, it was like when my kids are telling me a story – and then, and then, and then. I came in with no background. I could feel them reaching for the Godfather but I surely missed any Mahabarata resonances, so maybe that would change the experience.

    Still, I liked the experiment :). Broke me out of my viewing rut, and it’s fun to be in a conversation at (almost) the same time as everyone else instead of months or years late.

    Like

    • Shahid would have been SO GOOD in this role! Oh wow, you are right. It’s almost what he was playing in Dil Bole Hadippa, and he was wonderful there, calm on the surface with seething bitterness underneath. He could have given all those little micro-expressions that would bring the character to life and let us know what he was thinking. Instead of Ranbir, who just played it as a blank slate.

      I also really liked your “and then and then and then” feeling of the plot. That’s what the Mahabharat feels like too. I mean, it’s supposed to, it’s a religious text and they have the small lesson stories mixed in with the grand themes and everything has a purpose. But usually when the Mahabharat is turned into a film, they put one of the smaller stories to focus on instead of keeping that kind of mushy massive feeling. Maybe they thought the audience would be able to follow it, would still care, because they recognized the narrative, but even so it was less impactful than if they had kept it simple and just focused on a few characters and a few themes. The most popular Mahabharat adaptations are the film series, and I think they work because each episode is one stand alone incident, an then it moves on to the next, instead of just throwing everything in together like in this movie.

      On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 1:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  14. Finally I was able to watch this, although I’m late to the party. I appreciate the explanation of the Mahabharata. I got the parallels to the Gandhi family and not much else. This is just about my least favorite performance by Manoj Bajpayee; the other is probably Aarakshan. I wish Prakash could find something to do with him besides make him a cartoonish heel. I actually like Ranbir in this because I think he has a shallow charm that fits the character. Both Arjun and Kat were uneven. In Arjun’s case when I read your review I thought it might be entirely the fault of the ewkward sex scene. Later in the movie he’s fine. I don’t think Kat quite hits the mark in places. Although I like this movie for the complex plot and characters, on rewatching it had what annoys me about his other films: a plot that gets out of hand the further into the film you get. This one is not as static as Satyagraha nor as chaotic as Aarakshan, though.

    Like

    • Now I am playing the movie in my head with the ewkward sex scene removed, and the whole thing works better. Cut the follow up false rape accusation too. And then Arjun is an angry passionate guy who loves his brother and wants power, his big feud is with the cop who stopped him from seeing his dying brother and hit Ranbir, and we can believe he was surprised by love after marriage to Kat. The Shruti Seth plot just adds mess to the film for no real purpose, it could have been accomplished in a different way.

      On Sun, Sep 9, 2018 at 5:08 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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