3.5 Very Good

A couple of years back, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quoted that Naxalism is the biggest threat to India, even bigger than the terrorist activities from across the border, the whole nation and even the world sat up and took notice of the grave issue. Till date, very few Bollywood films have thrown light on this situation (Lal Salaam, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi and Red Alert are the only films that can be recalled). Add Chakravyuh to the list. Director Prakash Jha makes a sincere attempt in presenting the grave problems that exist in our country and although messes up a bit, the film does leave a mark.

The story of the movie: The situation is bad in Nandighat, a remote area inhabited mainly by tribals. Rajan (Manoj Bajpayee) heads a group of Naxals and has wrecked havoc among the police force and government. A young brave officer tries to eliminate Rajan and his gang but he is killed along with almost 80 other cops. Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal) is then given charge of Nandighat and he soon realizes that Rajan enjoys the confidence of the locals and it’ll be difficult to nab him. At this point, Adil’s close friend Kabir (Abhay Deol) comes to his rescues. He becomes Adil’s informer and joins Rajan’s gang. In no time, he wins the trust of Rajan, Juhi (Anjali Patil) and everyone else. However, he soon realizes that Naxals aren’t as villainous as projected and undergoes a change in mindset. Will Kabir change sides?

Naxalism has made it to front page news and hence it gets easy for the makers to establish the setting at the very onset. Also, the writers have been inspired from real life events (arrest of Kobad Ghandy [a wealthy-Parsi-guy-turned-respected-Maoist-ideologue], the terrifying encounter of almost 75 CRPF officials at Dantewada in April 2010, etc). Almost 60-70% of the film’s plot was already revealed in the promos. Hence, the film is predictable for most parts but it’s a fairly entertaining ride and keeps one engaged. The makers have tried to be as neutral as possible and in a way succeeded. The cause of Naxals is justified but not their ways. Similarly, the cops feel it’s their duty to safeguard the interests of the common man but are unable to do so because of bad working conditions and lack of political will. In the end, both the parties get into conflict, both suffer and so does the interests of the aam junta! In other words, there’s no way to get out of this Chakravyuh, is what the makers have thrown light on.

The first half is breezy and races ahead swiftly. Few scenes make a deep impact, especially Arjun addressing the villagers and Manoj terrorizing them. Action scenes are too good and the intermission comes at a dramatic point. Post-interval, sadly, things go downhill. The item number (featuring the sizzling Sameera Reddy) was totally out of place. Also, the Abhay-Esha bond wasn’t well established and hence Esha’s actions towards the end don’t seem justified. Climax could have been better and somehow fails to make the desired impact. But the purpose gets served and one comes out of the hall, with loads of questions about the present state of governance in our country.

2 years back, Arjun Rampal gave a mind-blowing performance in Raajneeti. Prakash Jha once again extracts a fine performance from the actor in Chakravyuh. The actor looks dashing with the moustache and impresses from start to finish. A performance to watch out for! Abhay Deol as always does a stupendous job. The best part is that he underplays the character and that works big time. Manoj Bajpayee too delivers a fine performance and looked every inch an outlaw who’s not to be messed with. Sadly, due to demands of the script, he doesn’t have much to do in the later part of the film. Anjali Patil is the biggest strength of the film! She understands the character very well and comes up with an award-worthy performance. Om Puri (Govind Suryavanshi) gets to play an interesting character and ensures he does full justice to it. Esha Gupta (Rhea Menon) is hardly there and doesn’t get to do much. Chetan Pandit (Madhavrao) is menacing as the bad cop. Kabir Bedi (Mahanta), Kiran Karmarkar (Home Minister), Dayashankar Pandey, Vinay Apte and the actor who plays Aditya Mahanta are good in their small roles.

Music wasn’t needed and only Mehengai works. Salim-Sulaiman’s background score is exciting. Sachin Krishn’s cinematography is exhilarating. Abbas Ali Moghul’s action is kind of larger than life but makes an impact. Anjum Rajabali’s story is well-researched and made for an exciting fare. Screenplay too is watertight. Prakash Jha’s direction though not the best manages to engross the audience. His quest for shooting in Bhopal and surrounding areas is praiseworthy. The locales are beautiful and real-India like and comes as a breath of fresh air. Hats off to him for editing out Arjun-Abhay’s song and Arjun-Esha’s intimate scene as it would have added to the length. However, he should have similarly done away with Sameera’s item number as well or at least halved the length. He messes quite a bit towards the end. But the film overall works and raises some uncomfortable questions. Hope to see Prakash Jha in full, flawless form in his next – Satyagraha!

On the whole, Chakravyuh is an engaging piece of cinema that attempts to throw light on the issues that plague rural and tribal India, particularly Naxalism. It tries to best to be neutral and to an extent, succeeds. Performances are exemplary but Sameera Reddy’s item number and not-that-impactful climax makes Chakravyuh fall short of other Prakash Jha films. Yet, surely a one-time watch!