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The Politics of Raajneeti
By Sudhirendar Sharma

Raajneeti is not an epic but a film that mirrors the political reality on one extreme and the masses disconnect with reality on the other. Behind its unexpected success lie its disturbing undercurrents.

After losing two elections, Prakash Jha has finally tasted success with Raajneeti (Hindi word for Politics) on the silver screen. Some consolation for sure, the film maker cum politician has seemingly translated some of his real life experiences into an engrossing political thriller. Jha reiterates his love for politics as he gets closer to reality in the real politik of Hindi hinterland where power is held on the barrel of a gun.

Set in an amoral world of politics, the script of the film gives its characters an uncanny freedom to kill anybody with bloody impunity. The color of Raajneeti is seemingly blood red. With too many characters to handle, the director weaves intriguing sub-plots for them to eliminate political adversaries without remorse by exploding bombs and taking close range shots. The world of deceit and gluttony shouldn't expect any mercy.

The death of a ruling patriarch sets the stage for the second generation players to grab the party nomination and rule the roost. The race for power is between Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and his US-educated brother Samar (Ranbir Kapoor) on one side and Virendra (Manoj Bajpai) and an abandoned step-brother Suraj (Ajay Devgan) on the other. Indu (Katrina Kaif), an industrialist's daughter in love with Samar, gets caught in the crossfire of a murky pre-election deal.

From affection to jealousy and from lust to deceit, Raajneeti has a slice of everything for the discerning audience. Though one gets hooked to the film from the start, the script takes a predictable turn midway through the story. Much before it ends; it leaves one wondering why a familiar political feud full of material crassness and foul energy should find favor with the multiplex audience.

Is it because the script confirms popular perception on power politics of our times? Has the audience accepted political violence to be a norm rather than an exception? On both accounts, the take home message from the film is undoubtedly disturbing as it lays gratuitous emphasis on achieving the 'goal' howsoever amoral the 'means' of achieving it. Even the highly educated Samar justifies decadence for political expediency.

Though many characters in Raajneeti bear distinct reference to persons in Mahabharata, none of them pursue the epic's path of karma for salvation. Conversely, the characters have been chiseled to fit into the caricatures of good commercial cinema. However, it works with the audience as accomplished direction and deft camerawork lift these negative characters into life-size images that are dangerously close to being true.

Unlike his earlier films, like Gangajal and Apaharan, Jha has been persuasive in extracting powerful performances from his cast in Raajneeti. Virendra delivers a haunting political statement 'raajneeti me murde zinda rakhe jaate hein, samay per bolne ke liye' (In politics, the dead are kept alive to deliver the punch at the right time). Clearly, Jha has grown from a small time film maker specializing on portraying divisive politics only.

Not losing control of the script at any stage, Prakash Jha has used a mix of multiple frames to present his understanding of the political chaos: the power frame, the relationship frame, the subaltern frame and the sexual frame.

Not losing control of the script at any stage, Prakash Jha has used a mix of multiple frames to present his understanding of the political chaos: the power frame, the relationship frame, the subaltern frame and the sexual frame. Each of the frames has been legitimized to construct the supremacy of power politics, the fusion of which translates the wide sweep of the story on the big screen. This lends authenticity to the script and its characters.

Some critics have questioned Jha's audacity to take the electorate for granted, leaving them to the pranks of their political masters. Interestingly, it has worked in favour of the film because much of what Raajneeti portrays is regularly been served in parts to the masses as breaking news on raging controversies and unsolved scams. Raajneeti only provides the complete narrative that reinforces the adage 'you get the politicians you deserve' and the audience loved it.

Hasn't democracy been reduced to an electoral ritual where the masses remain witness to brazen absurdities of their political bosses? Jha leaves the audience to judge while he remains honest to the script, providing an insider account of the political game as it is played behind four walls. It is no secret that those four walls remain insulated to the laws and regulations with which the masses are governed.

Raajneeti is about power and the means to attain power over peoples. The bottom-line is that one is not a winner until one makes it to the finishing line. In a growing economy where material possessions have become the middle-class dictum for empowerment, Jha only plays to the gallery by reinforcing greed as the driving force for attaining political high ground. All actions are justified because 'you only live once'.

Raajneeti presents the political dimension of human emotions: its blatant trade for power behind the four walls counterbalanced by its public display to make electoral gains. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that politics is all about capitalizing on the emotive vulnerability of masses. That the electorate is an 'emotional fool' has been confirmed many times over, Jha sweeps the box office to prove that indeed that has been the case.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Sudhirendar Sharma  |  sudhirendarsharma@gmail.com

Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is an environmentalist and development analyst based in New Delhi. Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sharma is an expert on water, a keen observer on climate change dynamics, and a critic of the contemporary development processes.

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 Other Articles by Sudhirendar Sharma in
Socio-Economic Development  > Indian Society > Sports and Entertainment

Not so well-intentioned welfare
Monday, April 12, 2010

In Well Done Abba, Shyam Benegal deals with the serious issue of political economy in an entertaining way and leaves the viewer thinking about the manner our welfare machinery works.

Naya Daur in New Age
Saturday, August 15, 2009

A movie like Naya Daur, first released in 1957, is still relevant to India more than four decades later for its gripping presentation of people v/s profit conflict.
 Other Articles in Socio-Economic Development
Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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