Welcome to the cinema of the painfully obvious. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh is a dramatisation (one might say melodramatisation) of assorted tussles between Naxal forces and the State. Names and locations may have been changed, but it would be surprising if audiences are unable to figure out that Mahanta’s a stand-in for Vedanta, Nandighat for Nandigram. Some may even realise that the character Om Puri is playing is based on real-life activist Kobad Ghandy, or that Jha is doffing his hat to the left-leaning Jana Natya Manch by calling a group of singers Jana Natya Mandali.
All these details are supposed to make Chakravyuh look like it’s an accurate portrayal of real events. Yet this is a film whose grip on reality is consistently tenuous. Kabir (Abhay Deol) is a police academy dropout with a short fuse – just the kind of person you’d trust to infiltrate a gang of Naxals and act as an informant. He’s given the task anyway, by Nandighat’s chief of police Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), an old friend. It stands to reason that the Naxals will trust him, never frisk him for a cell phone, and provide him with ample opportunities to sneak off and chat with his pal. It also makes perfect sense that Kabir will eventually have a change of heart and decide to become an actual Naxal fighter.
This is the kind of film where people find it necessary to yell “Police aa rahi hai, bhaago” when there’s a helicopter in the background and a man standing on the edge with a gun. The kind of film where a dozen armed policemen are ordered to stand back and let their commander take on a deadly militant in hand-to-hand combat. To make matters worse, the script, by Jha, Anjum Rajabali and Sagar Pandya, is riddled with clichés. Rampal brings this into sharp relief by intoning all his lines as he usually does – slowly and seriously. Deol, an actor whose comfort zone is moral ambiguity, seems confused by the conscientious character he’s playing. Only Manoj Bajpayee, as the leader of the Naxal outfit, and Anjali Patil, his second-in command, escape with their dignity unscraped.
Prakash Jha is a rare Bollywood filmmaker who’s consistently drawn to unfashionable, socially-conscious subjects. This film, however well-meaning, must count as one of his lesser efforts. As the audience snickered its way through an increasingly ludicrous last hour, it seemed clear that somewhere between intent and execution, Jha had gotten caught in a chakravyuh of his own.
This review appeared in Time Out Delhi.