Thursday, October 25, 2012


Release date:
October 24, 2012
Prakash Jha
Abhay Deol, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee, Anjali Patil, Esha Gupta, Om Puri

What we have here is the premise of Namak Haraam transported from the trade unions of the 1970s to the Maoist movement of today. Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s classic starred Amitabh Bachchan as a rich man who gets his friend Somu (Rajesh Khanna) to infiltrate a labour union. Once among the workers though, Somu has a change of heart when he witnesses their hardships and ideals first hand. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh gives us two friends too: an upright senior policeman, Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), and Kabir (Abhay Deol) who offers to infiltrate a powerful group of armed Communists in Adil’s area of operation to help in the capture of their leader. Once among the rebels, Kabir is drawn into the movement when he witnesses police atrocities against poor tribals and their outlawed protectors. Will the friendship with Adil be ruined? Will the two men go their separate ways?

Until you find out for yourself, know this … The proceedings in Chakravyuh are unrelenting, the action is so fast-paced that there’s no time to think, the police-politician-industry nexus is handled with great maturity … this is gripping cinema. Yet, as I left the theatre I realised the film had not moved me with that heart-rending intensity that made Hrishida’s Namak Haraam so memorable. The primary problem is that Chakravyuh fails to firmly establish the depth of Adil and Kabir’s friendship. Since we’ve not invested in their bond and lingered over it, it’s not as emotionally wrenching as it ought to be when they start falling apart. The other weakness of the script is the Lal Salaam brigade: a bunch of one-dimensional, mostly flawless characters who needed to be better fleshed out. So Manoj Bajpayee plays Maoist kingpin Rajan, pretty newcomer Anjali Patil is a female member at the forefront of the group and Om Puri makes a brief appearance as an educated revolutionary who seems to be modelled on real-life Maoist Kobad Ghandy. We discover even less about the impoverished people they’re working to defend from the injustices of a wealthy industrialist and his political collaborators.

With the script faltering on this front, the lure of Chakravyuh’s Maoist movement lies not in its leaders’ motivations or the helplessness of the persecuted tribals (we don’t see much of either) but in the machinations of the police, politicians and big business. Herein lies the film’s strength. Writers Prakash Jha, Anjum Rajabali and Sagar Pandya are razor sharp in their treatment of the police-neta-industry alliance and while showing us the utter helplessness of a genuinely honest policeman caught between his weak-willed senior, corrupt political bosses, equally corrupt colleagues and rebels who have taken up arms against the state. Adil has crystal-clear principles: he sympathises with the tribals, he wants to win them over, but he will not tolerate anyone using violent means to fight for them; he does not support police atrocities, he resists an industrialist’s efforts to manipulate him, but he is determined to battle all these injustices within the ambit of the law. Jha’s direction is rock solid in the telling of this part of the story. The natural locations and cinematography add to the realistic feel of the film, and the editing is crisp and perfectly paced, giving us that rare Hindi film that does not feel a second too long. On the minus side, Chakravyuh could have done without the background score unnecessarily being raised several notches to create drama at places where there was high drama intrinsic to the situations being portrayed anyway. And that tuneless item song so abruptly thrust into the story should have been dispensed with altogether.

So here’s the balance sheet: The film has not stayed with me in quite the way I would have liked it to, but that’s a post-watching complaint. Because the truth is that while inside that hall, I found Chakravyuh both compelling and entertaining. After the pretentious Raajneeti and preachy Aarakshan, Jha is back in form here. Perhaps that’s why he extracts such credible performances from his cast, including Manoj Bajpayee and Anjali Patil who deserved better written characters, and Chetan Pandit as a convincingly slimy policeman. However, the film rests on the shoulders of Deol and Rampal who lend restraint and sincerity to their roles. Rampal is nicely earnest as the brooding, handsome, urbane Adil who loves his friend and believes in his job. Deol is appropriately low key even when emotions get the better of Kabir.

Like Adil, Chakravyuh has absolute clarity about the political stance it is taking and makes no awkward attempts to seem balanced just for the heck of it. Though the film’s heart clearly lies with the Maoists and exploited tribals, it takes another strong position with its choice of title: that the poor would not side with Maoists if it weren’t for state persecution, but Maoist violence has not helped them either, leading to an unending cycle of bloodshed to which a solution seems nowhere in sight. This is an important film that needed to be made now.

I also love the fact that one of the film’s heroes has such a patently Muslim name without a song and dance being made about it (Kabir could be ambiguous, not Adil Khan). Hindi films these days tend to feature Muslim characters usually when they’re making a larger point about either secularism or terrorism or a certain way of life or all of the above, as though you and I never bump into Muslims as regular folk in our daily lives. In Chakravyuh, Adil Khan just happens to be Adil Khan. For that, among other reasons, I’d like to shake Prakash Jha’s hand.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
152 minutes



1 comment:

  1. Excellent Review. After reading this I have decided to see this movie.