What: Premier of Bollywood Film, Raajneeti
Where: PVR Plaza Cinema, Connaught Place, Delhi
Recommendation: See it.
It’s a sweltering summer here in India and thus a perfect time to go to the movies. Two words: Air Conditioning. Add to that one more word, Raajneeti–and you’ve got yourself packed movie houses across India. I’m in Delhi, at Connaught Place, PVR Plaza Cinema, it’s the premier of Raajneeti and the scene is thick with young and old flocking to see the new epic.
After the flick we poured out of the grand auditorium into the sweltering light. News crews are camera ready, microphone in my face, television journalist’s are asking a few of us their core questions: The people of Delhi want to know, what did you think about the new epic, Raajneeti? Is there a link between this film and the real life story of Sonia Gandhi? This was Katrina Kaif’s first attempt at such a serious role, how did she do?
I talked to a few news crews and stepped across the street over to the Jain Book Depot, one of my favorite book stores on earth. Raajneeti still fresh on the brain, I’m drawn to the politics section, on tiptoe I pull a book called, “My Life As a Thug.” In it I read that the word “thug” derives from the Hindi word, “thugnee,” which means: one who deceives. A hustla. And what is politics but the hustle of nations. Some thugs move illegal product, other thugs move people, move labor, move societies in the direction of their own power and profit. This, what we’ve come to understand as politics.
To contextualize Raajneeti, I’m going to first dip briefly into another recent Bollywood release, Housefull. Housefull, indicative of a rash of contemporary Bollywood releases, is a film that flies high the British flag, literally and figuratively. It includes a number of scenes where the British flag provides garish backdrop, and glorifies London, even featuring the royal family. There was almost nothing desi about the desi film, Housefull. Not desi khana, not one scene in India, see our western wedding, check out our European tour, notice our all white background dancers, only the Hindi language made this light skinned release a desi film.
So egregious was the tip of the top hat towards the UK that I was reminded of the quota agreements between America and the UK back in the day. These agreements “let” Hollywood rise so long as her films regularly gave nod to the Crown and the British Empire. The powerful scope of Bollywood is no secret to most of the world. Friends of mine from Afghanistan to Malaysia to Trinidad thrill to share how they too were raised on Bollywood. So is a quota between UK and India in operation now? Or is the post-colonial psyche such that no such codified agreement is necessary?
In this context, seeing Raajneeti–a sweeping, political Indian epic, featuring a balance of contemporary flash and ageless plot twists–was a relief. That is, seeing India in a major Bollywood release is a relief. The mise-en-scene here is lush. Establishing shots soar grand all over India, including rolling countryside, castle-like compounds for the wealthy, thousands strong political rallies, civically engaged slums and villages. The film was not egregiously violence, not for the most part, though in proper epic fashion, most everyone was dead by the end.
Raajneeti key points of interest:
· One thing about seeing movies in India is that there is definitely more audience participation. From which one can learn a lot. The homeboy crew that packed into the theater I was in hollered at the screen during three types of scenes: When the empowerment of scheduled castes was at issue; during scenes wherein the police were actively resisted; and during an interracial love scene. Which says to me that some things are universal, like hating on the po-po’s, like struggling for equality, and, well, feeling a lot around love.
· Given the relatively graceful care given to the mise-en-scene of the film, a few key plot twists should have been better explored and resolved. Sometimes, a little more goes a long way. For example, the discovery of Suraj as the long-lost-love-child abandoned to the Ganga. The interesting set up of this twist, with his Communist leaning mom as a bold young woman, was far more interesting and gratifying than its one resolution scene. Similarly, Samar’s transition from introverted, poetry PhD to a cigarette-smoking, ruthless politico could have been eased by even a few slices of narrative.
· In a number of scenes, key characters in powerful political roles, like Katrina Kaif, traveled through large crowds, hands pressed in prayer, greeting gracefully the people who’s votes they sought. This type of darshan played well on screen. As did Kaif, whose transition from a frolicking would-be lover to the widow leader of a important political party was believable. Kaif’s ability to sober up and meet the challenge of this role was admirable. Certainly set design and costume experts supplemented her transition.
· There is a trumped up rape charge which plays a pivotal role in the movie, in my eyes an unfortunate crutch upon which to rest a plot twist. An overwhelming majority of rapes go unreported, ignored. Now, when the specter of random gang rapes is plaguing Delhi, such narratives seem especially irresponsible.
· Music editor Wayne Shorter does a good job of keeping the movie’s momentum well paced. Too bad the one dance number/club scene was cut so short.
To sum up: Go see it. Not because everyone is. But because you want to make up your own mind about anything meant for mass appeal.
Stay tuned for more from India.