Indian Decade

A Rajneeti Scare

If the film’s plot is more fact than fiction, then it could be a real-life horror story.

I recently mentioned Rajneeti, a movie directed by influential film director Prakash Jha and with a plot inspired by our contemporary political landscape. But more importantly, I thought this film was a good example of how, often in India, movie releases are delayed or ‘censored,’ and also of the worrying trend of filmmakers here often having to subjugate or silently carry out changes demanded to ensure that their films can see the light of day.

Well, I’ve since had the chance to see the now-released Rajneeti, only after of course the ruling Congress Party had played ‘censor board’ to ensure characters in the movie did not remind viewers of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

The film tells the story of a bitter, bloody battle for power that is fought between two sets of first cousins. Set in the Hindi heartland, the movie traces the journey of a political family that is left headless after its chief leader suffers a paralytic stroke a mere few weeks before critical state elections. The leader's son believes he is the rightful heir to the dynasty but his father endows his uncle and his cousin to take over. This slight and the desire to wrest power puts in motion a game of murder and manipulation that even sucks in the apolitical third brother who is happy to be removed from his family's mess, and is concerned only about his doctorate in Victorian Studies in the United States. And, it's in his transformation to wage a no-holds-barred game plan for his brother's political future against his first cousin, including in the end shooting him down, that strikes such a depressing chord.

The movie perpetuates every myth about politics in India: murky money deals, unholy alliances and extortionist violence. Director Jha has actually twice tried his luck in politics, contesting elections from his home state of Bihar in eastern India. Both times his candidature made little impact. He now fulfills his urge for public service through his non-profit, Anubhooti.

When somebody likes him paints such a depressing image of politics, your first instinct is to believe him. But, after watching the three hour saga, I so hope Jha took massive cinematic liberties. If his ringside view of politics formed the crux of the movie, we are in deeper trouble than we could have imagined.

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