Warning: Here be spoilers
Prakash Jha’s relook at the Mahabharata through an Indian Political lens is reasonably good and I would certainly recommend you to watch it.
It has some very nice touches and several not-so-nice ones which took away a lot from the film.
Let me begin by saying that the film was very unrealistic. In the real world, with the first politically motivated assassination at the CM level, Presidents rule would have been enforced in the state not to mention indefinite postponement of the elections. Also when politically motivated murders happen, I am pretty sure, the politicians don’t do the killing themselves.
Another issue I had with the movie is that the Mahabharata inspiration comes across very strongly for some characters Manoj Bajpai (Duryodhana), Ajay Devgan (Karna), Nana Patekar (Krishna) , but for others does not come across at all. Arjun Rampal and Ranbir Kapoor seem to be Indianised versions of Sonny and Michael Corloene more than Arjun and Yudhistir. Kunti’s character is totally distorted. Her father’s role is way too large in the film.
In some cases Jha has shown some pretty impressive attention to detail in showing the Mahabharata with very un-bollywood-esque subtlety: Ajay Devgan’s character being named Suraj, Nana Patekar driving the car for Ranbir Kapoor thus keeping in line with the whole sarathi image. The end when Ranbir Kapoor’s character thinks about not killing Ajay Devgan’s character in a vulnerable position, Nana Patekar convinces him to kill him (just like Krishna convinces Arjun to kill Karna in the Mahabharata). Also Nana Patekar is dark skinned (accurate with the Mahabharata) and not like the stereotypical handsome fair Krishna we are used to on TV renditions of the Mahabharata.
However some of the other things in the movie just stick out as bad ideas. One such thing is the character of Sara mentioning that she is Irish and how her father and brother were killed when she was six. For 90% of the people who will watch Rajneeti, this reference is wasted and will come off as random, while the others will complain about how the hell a first generation Irish emigrant does not have even a remote Irish Accent.
One thing I like about the Mahabharata is that, unlike other epics, it is very realistic in that there are no black or white characters, all characters, even gods, have their dark sides and their flaws. This is one thing, I felt, came across very nicely in Rajneeti.
Another positive worth mentioning is the soundtrack which is actually very good and apt for the setting.
One major criticism of the movie would be the choice of actors. There are several scenes totally screwed up by the utter lack of acting ability in Arjun Rampal, Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif.
As for the end, I couldn’t help but feel that the it could have been so much better, memorable even. The driver of the car (father of Ajay Devgan) could have killed Ranbir Kapoor’s character, for in the end one feels sorry for the driver, who seems to be the only genuinely good guy in the movie, not to mention Ranbir Kapoor gets away scott free for all the wrong he does.
Kunal’s version of the end: Ranbir gets into the car – the car stops – the camera zooms out – and reveals the driver being Ajay Devgan’s father who then kills Ranbir Kapoor – fade to black , was in my opinion, totally awesome.
In conclusion, in the case of most Bollywood multi starrers, there are only two outcomes. One, everyone kills each other on screen (Border) or you kill yourself at the end of the movie (Hum Saath Saath Hain, which incidentally was based on the Ramayana).
Rajneeti was the former, but unlike most Bollywood multi-starers, did not suck and was all-in-all a good watch (seriously, do watch it) which could have been so much better if directed by someone like Vishal Bharadwaj.