At one point in this film, a character says, ‘Don’t judge a movie by its poster’. This is true of Prassthanam too – a film whose trailer or poster, frankly, does little justice to its content. The fact that it is a remake of a 2010 Telugu film of the same name that was by no means a blockbuster or genre defining cinema, despite being fairly well-acclaimed and successful, was another downer. But leave those notions behind as Prassthanam, the 2019 version, surprises you with its intriguing plot, interesting characters and well-researched take on the murky world of Indian politics.
Set amidst the backdrop of elections, Prassthanam is at heart, a family drama so expectedly all the elements of one are present here – betrayal, murder, complex inter-personal dynamics, twists and turns, lust for power and most importantly, sibling rivalry. Sounds a bit like Kalyug or Rajneeti? Perhaps, but director Deva Katta (who also made the original) keeps a firm grip on the proceedings for most of the time.
Sanjay Dutt plays Baldev Pratap Singh, a political heavyweight in UP who has three children – a stepson Aayush (Ali Fazal) and two biological kids, Vivaan (Satyajeet Dubey) and Palak. Married to Manisha Koirala, who was actually his murdered brother’s widow, this patriarch rules with an iron hand but is a gentle father and a politician with scruples. However, Baldev is a complex guy. He believes in the greater common good but plays the power games well with the help of a loyal coterie led by Man Friday Badshah (Jackie Shroff) and doesn’t hesitate to break the law if required.
Taking liberal inspiration from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as well as current political stories, the conflicts in Prassthanam are engaging. The good, principled son (Aayush) who faces the wrath of a jealous step-brother, a daughter who dislikes her mother, assassination attempts, a corporate villain waiting to strike a wedge in the family (Chunky Pandey) so on and so forth. There are quite a few parallel tracks, back stories and threads running through the film which makes it seem longer than it actually is, but the director ties them in well in the second half.
The political machinations provide the structure to the mess of the family mechanics. There are plenty of references to corruption in mining contracts, corporate greed and its influence over parties, the ugly fights over elections lists and pliable police officers…all of which ring true if you follow the news headlines. At the core is the message of merit versus dynasty. Aayush is the worthy heir but is blood thicker than water for Baldev? (Reference: good ol’ Mahabharata with its sibling fights and in the present context, perhaps a certain Gandhi family).
While Prassthanam isn’t exactly the most layered or nuanced take on politics, there is a lot to appreciate. None of the characters are black or white, each comes with their own shades of grey. As the body count goes up, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who’s good or bad and who’s on who’s side but isn’t that how it is in real life? The original movie may have been released over a decade ago but the director has contemporized it well.
On the flip side though, Prassthanam suffers from the second half syndrome. The pre-intermission part is a bit slow and takes its time building the story and the characters but it’s absorbing and piques your curiosity. For the most part, the post-interval sections keeps you hooked but certain sequences are stretched making it appear the writers wanted to make too many points at the same time. The songs are utterly misplaced (especially an item number in a bar), the story-telling is not exactly edgy (the way most films these days are) and some of the dialogues are clunky with too much gyaan on politics and how it’s played.
However, what works well are the performances. Ali Fazal is sincere in the role of the dedicated son while Satyajeet Dubey does a good job playing the hotheaded Vivaan. One wishes there was more of the gorgeous Manisha Koirala! Playing a mother to three children, each troubling her in their own way, the actress fills her role with pathos. The director does give her character the due importance but she deserved more attention. Then there is Jackie Shroff, playing the loyal friend and a stoic handyman and he brings his natural swagger to it. But above all, there is Sanjay Dutt in the central role. You may have loved him as the adorable goon in the Munnabhai series or admired him in his many gangster roles (Vaastav) but here he takes on a whole new approach. Be it the confused dad in a dilemma or the ruthless politician or a caring husband and friend, Dutt’s character has many shades and the actor brings out each beautifully. He is particularly good in some of the breakdown scenes; it definitely is Dutt’s most mature performance in recent years.
Watch it for him as well as the nostalgic appeal of seeing the stars of the late 80s and 90s (Koirala, Shroff, Pandey and Dutt). You will get your money’s worth. Recommended!