One of India’s most powerful and apt political parables is undoubtedly Mahabharat, where brothers fight over ultimate power. Prakash Jha employs the same power politics in his contemporary adaptation of Mahabharat, deriving the main plot and central characters from the epic.
Between constant character introductions, political/technical expirations and various subplots, it takes a while to grasp the scheme of things in the first few reels. Here’s an attempt to summarize the multi-layered story in the most basic way possible. Cousins Veerendra Pratap Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) and Prithvi Pratap Singh (Arjun Rampal) are heirs to a powerful political party. When Prithvi takes over the leadership, Veerendra conspires with the backward class leader Sooraj (Ajay Devgan) to conspire against Prithvi and oust him from the party.
Prithvi’s younger brother Samar (Ranbir Kapoor), who is studying abroad and has no political ambitions, is drawn into the political rivalry between the families. Under the guidance of Brij Gopal (Nana Patekar), a party veteran and family member, Samar takes state affairs into his own hands to form his own political party, raise funds and get Prithvi to run against Veerendra.
Those familiar with Mahabharat will surely understand the analogy of the character. Veerendra (Bajpayee) is derived from Duryodhan and Sooraj (Devgan) from Karan. Samar (Ranbir) corresponds to Arjun, who fought the battle under Krishna, synonymous with Brij Gopal (Nana), the passive participant in the war. The characters have been effectively recreated and the central concept and conflicts have been skillfully transferred to the modern setting.
The script by Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali is crisp and has a dynamic flow where the drama builds through the political clashes between the antagonists in each act. Based on the premise that politics corrupts all souls, almost all the central characters in the film are drawn in shades of gray. So much so that up to a certain point you don’t know who is the protagonist and who is the antagonist.
But in the second half, the two are clearly delineated and Ranbir’s character comes to the fore. Apart from Mahabharat, there is also a hint of The Godfather in the script when Ranbir returns to India to retrieve his father’s lost empire. And at this point, the film switches from a political saga to a run-of-the-mill revenge drama. The formulaic climax adds to the revenge plot while complementing the original essence of Mahabharat.