Synopsis – A rural politician marries a widow with kids and gains a respectable position and trusts his stepson more than his own in political matters; thus upsetting his son beyond limits.
My Take – When made with enough care, political thrillers can be very intriguing. For example, films like Raajneeti and Sarkar found the right balance to share enough spot light between its cast, intrigue and twisted drama, however, when the script takes a back seat in favor of stimulating, the whole set up ends in a mess, with films like Sarkar Raj and Sarkar 3 being the perfect examples of the said statement.
The film in discussion here, is in fact a remake of a 2010 Telugu film of the same name which dealt with staple issues of the genre like dirty politics, gang wars, family issues and sibling rivalry, and found acclaim mainly for its performances.
But as one could have expected after observing its previews, this Sanjay Dutt produced film lacks the necessary freshness required to intrigue the current generation of film-goers and follows a familiar style of storytelling, were each male member of the cast tries to up each other on the score board with their actions and the supposed values required to survive in murky world of Indian politics.
Nevertheless, director Deva Katta, who had also directed the original film, deserves praise for managing to keep you engaged with its predictable yet tight screenplay, intriguing yet fragile relationships and for mining out a glorious performance from Sanjay Dutt, in a character he seemed perfectly apt to play.
The story follows Baldev Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt), a local MLA, whose political career fast tracked 25 years ago after he agreed to marry Sukmini (Manisha Koirala), the widow of his dead brother. Now a political heavyweight in UP with Aayush (Ali Fazal), his stepson, at his side, the patriarch rules with an iron hand but is also known for being a gentle father and a politician with morals.
While Baldev and Sukmini have their own biological son in the form of Vivaan (Satyajeet Dubey), Sukmini still longs for her old daughter, Palak (Chahat Khanna), who remains estranged from the family, and resentful towards her mother for remarrying.
With election season comping up, Baldev begins to gear up to win his seat in the constituency for the fifth time, however, this time around Khatri (Chunky Pandey), a mining baron is proving to be a thorn to his side, adding to his troubles is the growing histrionics of Vivaan, who believes himself to be the heir apparent to Baldev. However, being his father he recognizes his offspring’s faults for being an entitled and spoilt boy who lacks the acumen to lead, and instead banks on Ayush, who is a measured and thinking man to take over the reins.
Unfortunately, when Vivaan makes a series of bad decisions in an attempt to earn his father’s trust, it results in serious reactions which impact not only his immediate family, but also the key players around them, such as Baldev’s loyal right-hand Baadshah (Jackie Shroff) and Palak’s family.
What follows is the same old formulaic routine i.e. killings and revenge and counter killings. As one after the other characters are bumped off, you try and figure out who convincingly carries forth his or her character with a fair degree of élan and persuasive skills, and does not ham or overdo.
In this world created by director Deva Katta, there are no good guys. None of the characters are black or white, each comes with their own shades of grey. Each one has a vested interest, besides a couple of the women, in particular Saroj who mutely accepts her fate as ordained by the men in her life, and receives no sympathy as she watches her family being destroyed.
Here, director Deva Katta, has a grand premise consisting of numerous characters and a lot is happening throughout the film. Taking liberal inspiration from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as the current political climate, the conflicts in the film are engaging.
The political machinations provide the structure to the mess of the family mechanics. There are plenty of references to corruption in mining contracts, corporate greed and its influence over parties, the ugly fights over elections lists and pliable police officers, all of which ring true if you follow the news headlines.
At the core is the message of merit versus dynasty. While the film aims to come across as this gripping and nail-biting story amid family turmoil and political rivalry, the execution is where it falters. The style of the film veers from domestic soap opera to dramatic crime and action stitched together by political drama.
Structured like a Shakespearean tragedy, the film is built on countless conflicts, awash with textbook characters and dated in its story-telling. The film feels like it belongs to the previous decade, with various inconsistencies and the visual tone feels dated.
Throughout we are introduced to a dozen of secondary characters, who as it turns out where never even relevant to the story. For example Aayush’s love interest, Gunjan (Amyra Dastur), never becomes a part of any important segment of the storyline. There are a few songs that are needlessly inserted in the film’s narrative, but the background score fares better. While I did not expect the ‘twist’ reveal in the climax, the scene gets unnecessarily stretched out hereby damping its effect.
Coming to the performances, Sanjay Dutt is menacing as a politician but simultaneously has a vulnerability that translates well on screen. There is no doubt Dutt is an excellent actor and here he has portrayed Baldev as no could. This one is definitely his most mature performance in recent years. Ali Fazal fronts the strongest foot acting wise and it’ll remind you of his ways in Mirzapur. Even Jackie Shroff‘s silent act as a henchman speaks volume of his caliber. Chunky Pandey continues his excellent villain spell for Begum Jaan and Saaho here.
Another big revelation in the film comes in the form of Satyajeet Dubey. Though, I had seen him only once in a film called Always Kabhi Kabhi (that also had Ali Fazal in the lead), back in 2011, here he stuns you with a harrowing performance that stays with you long after the film is over. Unfortunately, Manisha Koirala, Amyra Dastur and Chaahatt Khanna are wasted here, as they are never provided with scope to perform here. On the whole, ‘Prassthanam’ is an average political thriller which remains watchable despite its old school approach.
Directed – Deva Katta
Rated – PG15
Run Time – 141 minutes