Anybody who is even remotely interested in contemporary politics - the asli, unsanitised version of this dirty business - should make 'Raajneeti' a compulsory watch. I was warned by several film buffs to stay away. One even joked, "Go and spend a couple of hours in your local municipal corporator's office - even that would be more interesting." But as you guys well know, I have my own perverse ratings system, and I never go by what others say or think.Wonder of wonders, the theatre was packed on a sunday evening - nobody staged a walk out, and there was pin drop silence through the nearly three hour long 'Mahabharata' also known as ''Raajneeti." I was riveted from the dramatic opening sequence itself which set the tone for the rest of the movie. There wasn't a detail out of place, and I said to myself if Jha can get the minutae right, chances are the rest of the movie will match up to the early promise of those wonderully choreographed scenes which established the main characters so strongly and unambiguously. For those of you looking for a love story - sorry - but this ain't the film. And that's where the audience confusion stems from. The publicity has been grossly misleading, and some people flocked to watch a sizzling romance between Katrina and Ranbir. The posters and promos led one to believe Katrina was the central figure, when in fact, she is barely there. According to me, it's the men who eat up the screen with their magnetic performances, starting with Nana Patekar ( an unlikely but apt Krishna), Manoj Bajpai ( totally outstanding - after 'Zubeida', this ranks as his best role to date), Arjun Rampal ( getting better and better with each challenging character he plays ) and Ranbir Kapoor ( the sinister strategist who steals the show from the veterans with absolute ease). It is really Jha's genius that deconstructs the epic to suit a modern day ethos, with controlled sophistication and supreme confidence - it shows in even the most minor but telling scenes. The dialogues spoken in a shudh bhasha are difficult to follow at times, but then the masterly sweep of Jha's vision is so overpowering, that missing a line here and there doesn't really matter. Katrina tries. And that's the best one can say about her. Fortunately Jha has compressed her presence into five or ten short scenes. The rest of the footage is gobbled up by the guys , all of whom are pitted against one another in well- scripted, tight encounters that get the best out of each one of them. Manoj remains my top choice - what a powerhouse of a performance. At once tragic, flawed and menacing . As for Nana and Ajay - God knows what those two are sulking about, because in terms of screen time, they hog it all. And are expectedly brilliant.
'Rajneeti' - down and dirty. Just like real life.
P.S. I want to congratulate the stylists and dress designers Whosoever came up with the look for Manoj, deserves a very special mention.
This appeared yesterday in the Deccan Chronicle and raised a lot of hackles. Sri Sri's zillion followers are really cross with me. But I know the Giggling Guru will be quick to 'forgive' me!!!
Forget Didi’s hysteria and histrionics. Mamata Bannerji is the ultimate drama queen of India. If she does make it as Chief Minister of West Bengal, all one can say is W.B. asked for it! Her ardent supporters may lynch me for saying this, but it is extremely difficult for those not under her spell to either understand or appreciate the bizarre Mamata Magic. To the rest of us, the Trinamool Congress chief and India’s railway minister ( honey, it’s time to put in those papers!) appears entirely over the top and out of control ( almost embarrassingly so), as she screeches her way through anything and everything – from train disasters to political catastrophes of various hues. Just about the time when Mamata was emerging as a serious challenge to the well entrenched, and totally archaic Commies of Kolkatta ( sipping bodka-tonics or bhiskey in the Bengal Club), nobody but the lowly ‘pada’ boys from her locality gave her the time of day. Mamata was seen as a bit of a joke by the Big Boys swishing their carefully pleated dhutis through decaying colonial bungalows with peeling yellow facades, as they’d laugh derisively whenever her name cropped up before dismissing her off as a crazy female whose ‘fearlessness’ was closer to personal eccentricity than real bravery. And each time Mamata herself took to the streets ( which was often ), her critics would wait for her to loosen her long hair and squat in the middle of the road by way of a protest. Initially, I didn’t understand the significance of the flowing wild hair, till a bhadralok explained to me that it was a woman’s ultimate weapon. If she wanted to display defiance and contempt towards those she was fighting against, there was no bigger insult than to greet her adversaries with undone hair.Frankly, I thought Mamata looked rather fetching , almost wanton, when her hair was unkempt and blowing around her face, but clearly I had missed the point entirely. Today, Mamata Rani rules.Durga! Durga!
Hair was on my mind big time last week. For one, my own was beyond unruly and in serious need of an expert’s scissors. For another, there was another person along with ‘Didi’ who was hitting the headlines and courting controversy – Sri Sri Ravi Shanker ( “Guruji” to his faithful flock ). His long tresses, kohled eyes and what looked suspiciously like a loosely draped, red bordered saree demurely covering his head, made him resemble a bearded woman. He was all over television screens as he bleated about an ‘attack’ that he claimed could have cost him his life. This went on for a few hours till our mundu-clad Chids smoothly and firmly put the Godman in his place by pointing out the difference between an ‘attack’ and an ‘incident’. Frankly, I didn’t quite get the distinction. Either a gun shot was fired or it wasn’t. Which was it? At the time of writing, we don’t know for sure, but Sri Sri is still going on and on about the ‘attack’ and demanding an enquiry. He has also boldly taken on the Home Minister (“white lie”, if you please) and is on a collision course with Chidambaram, who has dismissively ( and sensibly) moved on to more important matters. Sri Sri is the absolute darling of Mumbai socialites, and it is no wonder they were right there on news hungry tv channels, talking the usual gibberish about their beloved Guruji. By then Guruji had come up with his ‘I forgive my attacker’ line, and had offered to invite the fellow to sing and dance at his satsangs. Somehow , this one time people saw through the hoax early in the game. Though the cops in Bangalore had to pretend to take the charges seriously and rule out an actual attempt on the guy’s life, even they looked and sounded bored as they searched desperately for the elusive ‘attacker’, motives and bullets. So many silly versions emerged after the first round of shocked disbelief that as of now it looks as if it was a botched up publicity stunt rather than a murder attempt. That, or a skirmish between disciples which took an ugly turn. According to eye witnesses, dear old Sri Sri was nowhere on the scene at the time, and had left the ashram a few minutes before the supposed attack. The man whose thigh was grazed by a bullet, was more startled than injured, and one version is that the bullet may have been randomely fired into the air from a neighbouring farm!
Who knows and who cares? What is seriously annoying about this episode is how carelessly and speedily media gets fooled into running a potentially sensational story without bothering to undertake a basic fact checking mission. Sri Sri was converted into an instant martyr as a couple of dumb anchors went on and on about a ‘Man of God’ and a ‘Man of peace’ surviving an attempt on his life. His later statements were also carried without anybody bothering to find out what exactly had happened. Nearly a week later, the story is dying a slow death. And as it often happens, there are sms jokes and cartoons doing the rounds talking about the Art of Living being the Art of Lying.The more serious charges revolve around land grabbing and other activities which are decidedly ungodly. Years ago, when Sri Sri was not as rich and famous, I remember a disheartened husband of a glamourous Mumbai socialite confessing that he had lost his wife to a strange man who giggled all the time and wore saree-like robes. He said sadly, ‘ I don’t know why it is called the Art of Living when a more appropriate name is the Art of Leaving. Most of his female disciples are young, beautiful and wealthy ladies who give Sri Sri lots and lots of their husbands’ money, before dumping their spouses.” I have met a few of them myself and wondered how they did it – persuaded their richie rich hubbies to finance Sri Sri’s lifestyle,before waltzing out of the marriage and into his pampered inner circle of bored millionaires.
The day of his so-called ‘attack’ I was coming back from our home in Alibag across the Gateway of India. I saw the lower deck of a large ferry boat swiftly filling up with well heeled young people clad in kurta pajamas. Soon they’d scrambled to the upper deck and were taking in sharp ,short breaths as demonstrated by an instructor. It was murderously hot, but this bunch looked pretty cool ( metaphorically and literally). They were on a sunset cruise around the busy harbour…. or maybe they were heading out to an exclusive ‘satsang’ hosted by affluent disciples at a plush beach front getaway in Mandwa. Wherever it is they were headed, I wished them luck. They were going to need it – before their faith - or their money, ran out.