Revisiting Namak Haraam in a Naxalite setting

In India, the Naxalite movement started as a revolt against the system-generated injustices heaped on the tribals in Naxalbari (West Bengal) four and a half decades back and then spread in various parts of our country. Still known by the same name and carrying the same slogan – Laal Salaam, this movement which is violent to the hilt, has inspired a few Bollywood movies. One such movie that came in recent years was Red Alert (2010) directed by Anant Mahadevan whose story dealt with this problem in Andhra Pradesh. Since this problem is in a dangerous state in Chhatisgarh also, director Prakash Jha dealt with it in Chakravyuh (2012) by setting the story in Chhatisgarh though the name of the place (Nandighat) is similar to the real life place – Nandigram (West Bengal) where violence had broken out in opposition to a development project a few years back, taking many lives. And unfortunately, despite all the rhetoric voiced by its propagators and defenders, this movement is still a rebellion against the prevailing system and not taken the shape of a genuine revolution to replace it with a just and desirable system.Chakravyuh (a difficult to break lethal trap) is a military term being in use since Mahabhaarat when Dronacharya had set a complicated trap for Abhimanyu which was difficult to break and ultimately led to Abhimanyu’s death. Director Prakash Jha has used this term for the intricate Naxalite problem of India which is now a vicious cycle of violence-revenge and misunderstandings-more violence which is difficult to break and very few sane people are visible who take genuine interest in actually breaking it.

Putting it straight, the story of Chakravyuh is not original. It’s a lift from the classic movie of Hrishikesh Mukherjee – Namak Haraam (1973) starring two biggest superstars of Hindi cinema – Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in lead roles. In Namak Haraam, one friend (Rajesh Khanna) infiltrates the workers by posing as one of them for the purpose of helping his industrialist friend (Amitabh Bachchan) and in due course of time, starts sympathizing with them. Here the same story has been given the backdrop of the Naxalite movement with Arjun Raampaal being the cop and a part of the system (akin to Amitabh Bachchan in Namak Haraam) and Abhay Deol being his helping friend infiltrating the Naxalites and ultimately switching over to their side (akin to Rajesh Khanna in Namak Haraam). The outcome turns out to be what it had to be – one of these two friends has to die and naturally, it is the one who joins the outlaws.Since the story is not original, I won’t give any credit to the script-writers. However Prakash Jha has directed it very well. After a long long time (since Apaharan in 2005), he is seen  in full form, presenting an utterly realistic account of the things but in a gripping way without allowing even a second of boredom to the spectator. The complete movie is an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Right from the very beginning to the very end, it keeps the audience engrossed. Just like the stories once written by Salim-Javed during the seventies and the early eighties, the story has been presented in such a way that the viewer does not get any chance to think (while the movie is in progress) and keeps on looking at the screen holding his breath. He can think, analyze and assess only during the interval and after the ending.

Prakash Jha has portrayed everything in a highly realistic manner with taking minimum number of cinematic liberties. Except the basic story idea, the movie appears nowhere as an imaginary story. The human aspect of the various people involved(on both the sides) and the different facets of the issue have been dealt with finesse and most of the scenes leave their mark on the heart of the viewer. Quite contrary to Red Alert, he has not come out with any solution to the problem but tried to see the things from a much closer point and succeeded. Nobody is correct at every point of time and from every angle of this multi-faceted and complex phenomena. From one angle, one is correct and from some other angle, the other one is correct. The need of the hour is to have a holistic view of the phenomena and then a proper strategy is to be formulated to break this vicious trap (Chakravyuh). And Prakash Jha has established this fact with the level of proficiency we always expect from him. While referring to the real life incidents, he has adapted the story of Namak Haraam skillfully for this movie and presented a taut thriller. A couple of scenes involving Kabir Bedi and his son are the only ones which appeared as somewhat over the top to me, nothing else.

Prakash Jha has underscored emphatically that the businessmen are interested in their huge profits only and they encourage various unlawful activities to suit their vested interest (to get the land of the poor for their ambitious projects) and the politicians, as natural, are interested in getting their pound of flesh (money) from them only in return for the favour extended to them. And none of these two gives a damn for the suffering of the dislodged who are already poor.

The movie scores very high on the technical front. All the action and thrill sequences are damn impressive. The art director and the cinematographer have worked in harmony and enlivened the milieu of the story on the screen. The editor has also done his job well. Background score is perfect. Music is in line with the mood of the movie. It’s not memorable but fits the bill.

Prakash Jha has extracted outstanding performances from his lead as well as supporting characters. Since Arjun Raampaal and Abhay Deol are the two holding pillars of the story (in fact the two opposite poles of a continuum), they were expected to come out with exemplary performances and they have done it. Both deserve a big hand from the audience. All others including Manoj Bajpayee, Anjali Patil, Om Puri, Chetan Pandit, Murali Sharma, Vinay Apte, Kabir Bedi etc. have also done pretty well. Esha Gupta has not got much scope but she does not disappoint.

I consider this movie as a brilliant effort from one of the most realistic and respected directors of India, Prakash Jha who has though not suggested any viable solution from his side and left it to the audience to think of a practically feasible solution to this ticklish problem continuing for decades in our country, nevertheless presented the complete status of the things in a highly impressive and thought-provoking manner. I hope, the governments of various affected states will watch this movie carefully and pick up some points to deal with the issue in an effective as well as humanistic way. This CHAKRAVYUH is to be broken and Abhimanyu (who is none else but the innocent ones suffering and perishing), is to be saved. As Prakash Jha has shown that the real problem is the vested interests which are ever ready to swallow everything that is nice, just and desirable; the people who are desirous of curing this canker have to sideline them from the decision-making processes. Then only this problem can be eliminated from the root.

And hats off to Prakash Jha with the whole Chakravyuh team.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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2 Responses to Revisiting Namak Haraam in a Naxalite setting

  1. rationalraj2000 says:

    “Putting it straight, the story of Chakravyuh is not original. It’s a lift from the classic movie of Hrishikesh Mukherjee – Namak Haraam (1973) starring two biggest superstars of Hindi cinema – Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in lead role”- and Namakhaeam was itself adopted from the 1964 English movie ” Becket” starring Richard Burton and Pertet o’ toole.Anyway from your account, Chakravyuh is a well made film by Prakash Jha.

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