Intended or otherwise, this is a meta-film where you can draw perfect parallels with the battle of ideologies. Replace 100 crore blockbuster-seeking star-obsessed studios with the capitalist multi-national corporation and arthouse filmmakers with the naxal group and you will find the chakravyuh that Prakash Jha finds himself in. A battle where cinema is the biggest casualty.

Prakash Jha has been experimenting with the commercial format with interesting results over the last decade. Political cinema isn’t the easiest to dish out given that the intent of the filmmaker is always to reach more number of people than just the intellectual elite that appreciates restraint and realism.

Can you imagine what would have happened to Drohkaal had Jha cast Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol (in the roles of Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah) and had a Sameera Reddy item number thrust into the plot? But hey, maybe more people would’ve seen it. Scene after scene, you witness the bloody conflict between subject matter that’s screaming grittiness and the treatment that just glosses over it.

Form and content could not have been at war more. Plot-wise, this is just a modern day update/reworking of Namak Haram but set under the backdrop of the naxalite uprising (the script is credited to Anjum Rajabali, Prakash Jha and Sagar Pandy). Treatment wise, it’s a film that is trying to be Avatar. The result is a Raavan-like film. If Raavan was a great filmmaking let down by a script that painted its characters in broad strokes of black and white, Chakravyuh employs grey characters only to falter with its loud Bollywood treatment.

Abhay Deol, as someone who has done both mainstream and parallel cinema, tries to strike a balance in the middle of this chaos. He’s every bit convincing. But look at everything that’s around him — Arjun Rampal with his limited range (barely effective), Esha Gupta as a cop in make-up (Eesh!), Anjali Patil (great young actress stuck in a one-note character), Manoj Bajpayee and Om Puri (superlative in roles that are cut short) and most actors who are just loud. And there are hundreds of them in many frames. The demonisation of characters on either camps is straight out of a bad Eighties film.

Films should never be judged for what it should have been but for what it is but Chakravyuh is one of those films that makes us wish Jha had treated this like an arthouse film and taken the effort to humanise every character in a way we would empathise with their motivations and kept it real. But the way it plays out, it’s been done to death.

Chakravyuh

Genre: Action/Drama

Director: Prakash Jha

Cast: Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol, Manoj Bajpayee, Esha Gupta, Anjali Patil

Storyline: Best friends find themselves on the opposite sides of an ideological battle after one of them infiltrates a naxal group to help the police only to empathise with their cause

Bottomline: The staging and excessive drama come in the way of a gritty action thriller. Namak Haram served Avatar style.