Friday, 26 November, 2010

Mahabharata as a ripoff of Godfather

I was watching the movie Rajneeti on YouTube and looked up its Wikipedia entry. It says: "Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times found that while it aimed 'for something trenchant about thwarted destiny and ugly ambition in modern Indian democracy', it 'mostly winds up with a convoluted and tonally awkward Godfather rehash, with nary a character worth rooting for...' Frank Lovece of Film Journal International said, 'More pulpy than political, this Godfather-ripoff Hindi electoral drama is a candidate for oblivion in U.S. theatres. ... [I]t all eventually becomes so ridiculous and over-the-top violent that there is nobody, nobody, to root for.'"

Now, the movie's director has made it quite clear that it is a modern version of the Mahabharata. This is immediately apparent to any Indian viewer. And since it'd be hard to find an Indian who doesn't know the basic story of the Mahabharata, the director doesn't have any new story to tell. Hence, the question of confusion doesn't arise, at least for the main audience of the movie, Indians and Indian diaspora.

As for not having a character to root for, the original story doesn't have any. So one can't say that's a deficiency. In fact, that's something that makes it interesting hundreds of years after it was written. Here's a story with many heroic characters but no hero.

But what made the two American reviewers search for Godfather in Rajneeti? It is about a family war, but so are many Indian movies. It must be the 'quickie' early in the film, because Godfather I had one too. It does not matter, of course, that the quickie in Godfather was used to define a character (Sonny) while the one here is central to the plot.

Well, if one similar scene makes a movie a remake of another, Godfather III is a remake of Pather Panchali. Why? Because there is a scene towards the end of former where the godfather lets out a silent scream over the body of his slain daughter, and this scene is similar to the one in Pather Panchali where the father cries uncontrollably when he comes to know of his daughter's death. In the latter scene too you don't hear his cries; instead, there is piece on the taarshenai.

What's my point? That Rajneeti is not a remake of Godfather but a retelling of Mahabharata? That's obvious. What's less obvious is why the two Western reviewers started on the wrong foot - they assumed that an Indian film must be ripoff - and ended with a completely wrong logic.

Of course, one can't blame them completely, because a great many Indian movies are ripoffs, but don't journalists have a responsibility to do a background check? Or is that unnecessary for brown people?

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