Saturday, 13 June 2009

Writers Notepad - The Grand Finale - Anjum Rajabali on Rajneeti

Exclusive by Devansh Patel

Does history repeat itself? Even centuries later, do people carry within them the DNA of age-old fratricidal wars, like some devilishly complex proteins? As Kurukshetra, Haryana was where thousands of years ago the bloody Mahabharat wars were fought over land and till today, they say, that if you dig hard and long, your chances are that you will find the red soil which was synonymous to the worlds bloodiest battle ever fought on land. It seems to be once again becoming the source of many abominable tales of corruption, of violent revenge killings, murky land deals and dirty politics. So, the conclusion is that the present begins from the past and present depicts the future. So it is essential for everyone to know the history of our past because every present emerges from the past and despite modifications, the base of all the things remains same. Come to think of it, Mahabharata is a glorious welter of incident and digression, evoking not just a central story of ruinous war but an array of myths and human archetypes and an animal world a quiver with magic drawn to its transcending themes: man's joyous awakening to nature and love and duty, the menacing lures of vanity and ambition and war with political degradation. .At least hindsight is a must for those who have no foresight. For the sightless Dhritharashtra of the epic Mahabharata and the progenies in terms of vision less political parties of today, someone like Sanjaya has to interpret characters, situations and their meanings, for all times to come. In our grand finale of the Writers Notepad, Bollywood Hungama's London correspondent and UK's Harrow Observer columnist present to you a writer par excellence, Anjum Rajabali and his take on his most ambitious project this year – Prakash Jha's Rajneeti which is highly influenced from the epic Mahabharata. Come, join us in this final battle of the pen versus the sword.

Rajneeti - An ambitious film
A couple of reasons for that, actually. One is that while I’ve dealt with political subjects in a couple of earlier screenplays, this is the first time that I’m tackling a plot that deals squarely with the electoral politics of the Hindi heartland. When Prakash (Jha) invited me to write ‘Rajneeti’ with him in 2004, my first reaction was to decline politely as I didn’t have any useful understanding or even familiarity with that political culture. I mean barring what one gleans from the news media. However, Prakash knows that territory like the back of his hand – having observed it for decades and now being an active participant in elections there. He assured me that he’d educate me about the ground reality and since he was to co-write it too, he was responsible for ensuring that the script and the film would have a credible political flavour. That made me comfortable taking it on. Two, apart from the backdrop, the scale of the human drama too is immense. Not just does it deal with the shenanigans, skulduggery and manipulation that goes on during the run-up to an election, but the dramatic canvas includes sub-plots of relationships that get rocked and buffeted by electoral imperatives, often with tragic personal consequences. The challenge therefore was to weave in the stories of these interesting characters into the political manoeuvres and keep it credible.

Politics - Old wine packed in a new bottle
This question expects me to be defensive! Anyway.. Not only is the story contemporary, but even its treatment – the characterization, the relationships, the politics – all these reflect today’s values and experience. Moreover, I haven’t come across a plot like this in earlier films that dealt with political subjects. Both of us have tried to make sure that the script has a fresh flavour and has a resonance of today’s ground reality. So no, I wouldn’t agree that it is old wine in a new bottle.

Politically correct or incorrect you can get while writing a film like this
That cannot be a consideration while writing a film like this. You see, the aim is discover a story of interesting people and their relationships amidst all this political jostling and tell that in an impactful way. If you aren’t judgemental in telling a story, then being politically correct or incorrect is hardly an issue. All you have to do is to create fictional characters in this milieu and then merely observe how they respond to their situation, and capture that in as engaging a way as you can.

We had a single source of information and research: Prakash Jha. Not only did he draw upon his observations and insights, but so did I.

The challenges faced
Well, apart from what I mentioned in answer to your first question, let me mention two constructive challenges. Challenges which needed effort but offered big creative rewards. Firstly, both Prakash and I are fascinated with the Mahabharata. (Who isn’t!) It was his suggestion that we look at some core aspects of the Mahabharata story and some key characters and see if they were relevant to our story, and if so, we adapt those. This may sound simple but it takes some doing, I assure you, since the milieu of our story is contemporary. Reinterpreting the characters and their dilemmas and making them relevant to today’s situation was an interestingly difficult task. Secondly, working with a director who is also your co-writer presents some rather unique challenges. You see, even though I wrote the first draft of the screenplay and Prakash was to rewrite it, as I was constructing it, it was imperative to keep in mind Prakash’s requirements as a director. Which meant synchronizing your sensibilities and story-telling style not only with Prakash as writing partner but also with the same person as director. Never easy. If the partnership is not democratic, it can become a rather serious problem for both. Fortunately, Prakash and I have known each other since 2002 when he asked me to be script consultant on ‘Gangaajal’. That arrangement worked out quite well, and so I was consultant on ‘Apaharan’ too. We became friends and while working together developed a healthy respect for each other. Given this, the co-writing arrangement turned out to be a rather satisfying collaboration, I must say.

Mahabharata in Rajneeti - It's concept and it's significance
The Mahabharata lends itself very appropriately to a premise like ours. After all, Mahabharata was about politics and the struggle for the right to rule. To power. And that is also what, in a way, electoral politics is all about.

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