Prassthanam Movie Review: A predictable political drama that could've been much better
Melodramatic, highly stylised, and poorly executed, this film would have been a total disaster if not for an impressive Ali Fazal
Deva Katta’s Prassthanam (remade from the 2010 Telugu original) presents the director’s version of an epic set to more modern sensibilities. It’s no wonder that the film’s very idea borrows from Hindu mythology’s famous texts and Shakespearean tragedy alike.
Prassthanam opens with a child asking his father about killing (and its ethical impact, presumably). He says, “Papa, kisi ko maarna bura hai?” (Father, is killing someone wrong?) The older man’s voice responds calmly, “Haan bete. Bura hai.” (Yes, son. It is wrong). But the child does not relent easily. He presses him further. “Phir Ram ne Raavan ko kyun maara?” (Then why did Ram kill Raavan?). “Kyunki woh bura tha,” (Because he was bad) comes the reply. The man we’re hearing is Baldev Pratap Singh (Sanjay Dutt) and the kid he’s conversing with is his stepson, Ayush. It is clear, right from the very beginning, that Baldev rationalises his actions by this value system.
Director: Deva Katta
Cast: Sanjay Dutt, Jackie Shroff, Manisha Koirala, Chunky Pandey, Ali Fazal
Prassthanam is a political drama involving loads of violence, corruption, and the lust for control. The ends justify the means for Baldev (a popular MLA from UP), those close to him, and his rivals. Much abounds in this almost two-and-half-hour story. But is it worth the trouble? A powerful politician looking for a successor; a loyal stepson being groomed to enter the fray by the man he looks up to like his own father; a bad apple of a younger son who singes with jealousy at the lack of adequate attention; an estranged daughter who has never forgiven her mother for marrying her uncle; a faithful aide harbouring a dangerous secret about his boss’s past; an influential businessman for an enemy. ‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword.’ All this sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
For this fairly cliched storyline to work, one needs the writing and acting to come through. And this is where Deva Katta’s grandiose vision for a Godfather meets Gangs Of Wasseypur meets Sarkar saga falls away. The execution of the idea is let down by oodles of melodrama and below-par performances. Most characters in the narrative are mere caricatures. The only exception is Ali Fazal as the adult Ayush. The writing and flawed plot devices notwithstanding, Fazal provides the audience with an engaging portrayal in this middling film. The same cannot be said of the overacting antics of Dutt, Chunky Pandey, and even Jackie Shroff (in his supporting role). They ought to have utilised Manisha Koirala’s expertise a bit more in the narrative, but alas, I’m just grabbing at straws here.
With any mainstream Indian drama involving family, politics, crime, power, and succession, there is bound to be sexism involved. The challenge is to write your female characters as real, living, breathing women. It’s no surprise that Prassthanam gets this part wrong too. With the exception of perhaps Manisha Koirala (in a barely visible role), even the minor characters are so stereotypically sketched out.
A few glaring examples of this are apparent. When Ayush picks up his sister’s NRI friend from the airport, he asks about her trip to India. She dismisses him by saying that he wouldn’t understand why she’s here (a thesis on corrupt Indian politicians). When she realises that Ayush is in fact her friend’s brother, she says, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought you were some driver or naukar.” Wow! Elitist much? As the plot thickens (these two fall for one another in due course, naturally), she tags along with him everywhere. At the civic office, Ayush requests her to stay in the car while he takes care of official business. Unbeknownst to him, she watches as he reasons with the Nagar Nigam official to sign a file. When the official’s face lights up at the prospect of a handsome bribe, Ayush slaps him about, forcibly extracting a signature. Outside, she tells Ayush, with a smile, that she was expecting him to pay up; implying that physically assaulting the corrupt officer is somehow acceptable.
As the scenes keep progressing, our Baldev sahab can be witnessed either losing his cool and bashing the living daylights out of his nalayak sagga beta for not being more like Ayush or reflecting on the larger truths of life (principles, legacy, and whatnot) with his favourite stepson. Does this man actually believe for a moment that we’re not able to see through his deceptions…That he is going to turn on those who threaten the interests of his real family, when all is said and done?
I think Deva Katta was going for a classic antihero; a deeply flawed and complex individual who justifies all his actions with warped logic to suit his own ends and soothe an already-prickling conscience. But Dutt’s one-dimensional portrayal is a far cry from his Vaastav days. Not just is his role of Baldev Pratap Singh overdone, it lacks the depth and nuance such a character must possess. The scenes involving the seedy businessman (Chunky Pandey) and the MLA belong in a primetime soap.
Despite the potential for a complex/intelligent political drama involving violence and betrayal, Prassthanam disappoints. Even if you take away the unnecessary item number and periodic song-and-dance sequences, it is a film that could have been so much more. Ali Fazal continues his fine form from Mirzapur to give us the only shining light in this grandly conceived, yet poorly executed remake set in UP.