In an era dominated by entertainers and remakes, with almost every film-maker eyeing the 100 cr Club, very few film-makers have taken the courageous route of tackling issues plaguing our society, narrating stories that seem to mirror the reality. Prakash Jha is a frontrunner in this category. From DAMUL to AARAKSHAN, Jha has raised pertinent questions through his movies. CHAKRAVYUH focuses on the Naxalite movement, besides focusing on the plight of tribals caught between the Naxals on one hand and police/politicians on the other and most importantly, it raises the burning issue of progress/development versus dislodgment/displacement.
But CHAKRAVYUH isn't a dry film or a docu-styled feature on how and why the Naxalite movement has spread in various parts of the country. Jha knows, and knows well by now, that a message rings loud and clear if it's conveyed with a riveting plot and interesting characters that the common man expects from popular/mainstream cinema. Sure, CHAKRAVYUH is about Naxalites, but at the centre of the conflict is the story of two friends and how the issue [Naxalite] drives a wedge between two thick friends.
Like most Jha movies, CHAKRAVYUH is for the thinking man in the audience. It's serious in temperament [but has a raunchy item song integrated in the narrative -- not needed!], remains loyal and faithful to the issue it sets to illustrate on screen and puts forth the point of view of the Naxals and the government, both in the public domain. Also, it's violent and intense, with several ferocious moments.
CHAKRAVYUH narrates the story of two friends, Adil [Arjun Rampal], a cop and Kabir [Abhay Deol], a free-spirited soul. Adil accepts his transfer to a Naxal-infested area. Kabir, who joins him subsequently, comes up with an idea of penetrating into the Naxalite movement with the sole intention of sharing the secrets with Adil, thus helping him zero on the leaders of the Naxal movement [Om Puri, Manoj Bajpayee, Anjali Patil]. But the equations change soon enough: It becomes a fight between the two friends. One who's fighting against the Naxalites [Arjun] and the other, who's fighting for Naxals [Abhay].
A few clarifications before we proceed further. CHAKRAVYUH is not even remotely similar to the talked-about Tamil film KO , nor is it an updated version of NAMAK HARAAM. Sure, the premise may sound similar to the latter, but there's more to CHAKRAVYUH than friendship gone sour. Parallels are also being drawn between Om Puri's character in the film and a real-life Maoist leader, Kobad Ghandy.
Comparisons apart, the specialty about a Jha film is that it enlightens you about an issue he turns his camera on. CHAKRAVYUH brings to the limelight a tragedy, the seriousness of the matter most convincingly. Scratch the surface of Shining India and you'd notice a reality that's hard to ignore. Jha mirrors it most effectively in the second hour of the film specifically.
One has come to expect high-voltage sequences in every Jha film and CHAKRAVYUH has that in abundance. But, like all Jha movies, CHAKRAVYUH overstays its welcome by at least 15 minutes. The first hour in particular could've been spruced up for a stronger impact. Similarly, the film could've done without the item song [filmed on Sameera Reddy] in the middle of the second hour. It looks like an unwanted guest here!
The action sequences are larger than life. They seem real, but have the heart-in-the-mouth impact as well. The film has multiple music composers attempting to create melodies that suit the genre of this film. However, the soundtrack lacks the recall value once the movie concludes. Cinematography captures the beauty of the rustic terrain skillfully.
This is, without doubt, Arjun Rampal's most accomplished act. Sure, the actor has impressed you in the past [ROCK ON!! in particular], but his act in CHAKRAVYUH is an eye-opener. Watch him confront his friend [Abhay] or the one in the finale... this is a new Arjun completely. Abhay gets the nuances of his character most accurately. In fact, the casting for this part is just right, with Abhay looking vulnerable and determined, as he decides to listen to the voice of his conscience.
Manoj Bajpayee may've portrayed diverse characters all along, but you can never accuse him of being repetitive. The depth in his performance is sure to leave you awe-struck. Anjali Patil is a complete revelation, a prized find. She's sure to catch you unaware with her furious and power-packed performance. Esha Gupta is confident, but not convincing enough for this part. A more mature actress would've added weight to this character.
Om Puri is exceptional. His look, his expressions, his dialogue delivery... everything stands out here. Murli Sharma is admirable in a brief, but vital role. Kabir Bedi is effective in a cameo. Chetan Pandit leaves a mark. S.M. Zaheer and Kiran Karmarkar are perfect.
On the whole, CHAKRAVYUH is an engaging drama. It chronicles a burning issue, but is entertaining concurrently, something that Prakash Jha balances beautifully in film after film. Watch it!