In what could have been a daring take on the thick and thin of the politics and media nexus, wherein the commentary could have been extended to the current state of affairs of this one largest democracy of the world, Manujit Sharma’s latest Assamese film ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ ends up being a game played safe.
Perhaps I had a different film in mind when I went in to watch the film based on the trailer but ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ was more about the Raj than the Neeti. Actually, I was hoping for some kind of a marriage between Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Rann’ and Prakash Jha’s ‘Rajneeti’, but I suppose we have yet to earn or develop that kind of bravery in filmmaking – in terms financial or otherwise.
And, of course, a film should not be judged on what it isn’t rather than what it is, which brings me to the question of whether I liked Manujit Sharma’s ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’. Yes, its attempt to take on the relationship between politics and media is admirable. Nonetheless, I will point out what didn’t work for me.
The plot of ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ is basic. The ownership of a popular news channel wants an exclusive interview with the state’s chief minister, who is recently named the most popular chief minister, and who famously does not give media interviews. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, fictional or non-fictional, is purely coincidental!
The task of this interview is entrusted to the righteous editor-in-chief of the house, who might have his own tricks up his sleeve. Again, any resemblance to any person, living or dead, fictional or non-fictional, is purely coincidental!
But it’s the parallel track of an investigation into the kidnapping of a wealthy businessman that has more meat than the actual plot of the movie. Will the editor-in-chief, played by Tapan Das, prioritise the truth over political favours, and give the audience the interview they deserve? Will the investigation yield conclusive answers for the businessman’s kidnapping and murder?
There is also a sub-plot about the opposition trying to leverage political mileage. Also add to it another sub-plot of a rebellious crime reporter, played by Zubeen Garg, and his developing romance between a dynamic and idealistic anchor of the same news channel played by Barasha Rani Bishaya, who is equally unafraid to call a spade a spade. The drama in ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ boils up and the multiple story thread intersects as we stand witness to a sinister plot that soon unfolds before everyone where politics and media, like two sides of the same coin, unleashes true mayhem.
Viewers are bound to be engaged and invested when there are so many subplots and multiple characters contributing to the voltage of the drama. There is also a constant sense of urgency that dominates the narrative and the tension is aided by a pulsating score that is always under the impression of a potentially fatal forthcoming. Then, towards the end of the film, there are a few inter-cuts between scenes that consciously reflect a contrast, but inhibit the lack of a reasonably suited tempo.
‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ benefits from an ensemble star cast and films boasting of such ensemble barely falters unless it is Rajesh Jashpal’s 2018 release ‘Underworld’. As the restrained and well composed editor-in-chief, Tapan Das is theatrical and Zubeen Garg as a rebel and a nonconformist is straight outta the sets of his 2019 blockbuster ‘Kanchanjangha’. Both Tapan Das and Zubeen Garg gets to deliver explosive dialogues. Meanwhile, Barsha Rani Bishaya’s performance as an enthusiastic and brave young anchor looking for a chance to prove herself is credible, while Geetawali Rajkumari shares some depth in her extended cameo. There are multiple characters but they don’t feel close enough and appear distant from each other. Even the characters of Barasha and Zubeen are not in love enough. This is because, ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ prioritises the urgency of the plot over its characters.
And actor Sanjib Sarma’s portrayal of the popular chief minister is insufficient. The shades of his character, which is neither evil nor good but has wronged several people in the way and is now at the mercy of a similar situation, is underwritten. His performance goes directionless as he attempts to be both good and bad, confusingly, without the restraints of a director’s bridle.
The ideas of ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ are grand. Although the story arc of Sanjib Sarma, who plays the popular chief minister, is completed in this film, the parallel track of the investigation is still on as a ‘Rajneeti: Part 2’ is on the cards. However, the vision of this part is limited because it only showed what we already know. It depicts corrupt politicians as well as the frequently discussed theme of the politician-media nexus. It depicts righteous individuals adhering to all of the tenets of an ethical media. However, it never delved into the complexities of these issues, including how media networks face tough and unhealthy competition, professional rivalry and lay helpless at the mercy of policymakers. There’s also a loose thread about the wealthy father of Zubeen Garg’s character, who disapproves of all his choices in the most traditional of ways and it goes nowhere. I only hope that everything comes together in the second part of the film.
For its CM narrative, which is the major story for Part 1, the film follows solely the point of view of the editor-in-chief as it attempts to put forward a conversation on yellow journalism and political corruption. But it barely highlights the other red flags that operate shoulder to shoulder with politics such as religion – a deciding factor of contemporary Indian politics. Yes, the film is loud but it is not vocal enough.
It also deviates from the current live TV interview format by allowing reporters to deliver monologues after reporting. One of the many unrealistic aspects of the film is the CM getting all teary-eyed and opening up about himself on live TV. There were more effective ways to deliver that confession to the audiences. In this case, ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ could have been more realistic and authentic. It also portrays the media as a tool for exposing the corrupt. It is untrue for reasons best known to all. Forecasting a sense of optimism is welcome but it also needs to be mentioned that this is where the film falls short of reality.
If we consider and compress the CM interview narrative of ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’, the film is ultimately about resolving personal grudges between two childhood friends. This is how I understood that it was never intended to be an intellectual journey through scams, exposes and the empty rhetoric of voluble politicians which I went looking for. But fact be told, even the new born knows that politicians are corrupt and news media often deviates from its aims of objectivity and factual coverage of information. So, the film should have tried to be a little more than what it is right now. The song and dance sequence, as the CM narrates his past, was an unnecessary element to establish the romantic connects between the characters of Sanjib Sarma and Geetawali Rajkumari. Perhaps a fine montage would have served for the purpose there.
Towards the end, the parallel narrative of the investigation matures and reaches a critical juncture before the film ends with the promise of returning to reveal the mystery. Again, I only hope that everything comes together in the second part of the film. But, I am surely writing for my conclusion of this part – while considering its lack of a neat execution, ‘Rajneeti: Part 1’ is still among the better Assamese films to have come out in 2022. Because we have had worse!