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Lull salaam, comrade!

Given his repertoire, one can safely expect Prakash Jha to come up with films that resonate with India’s ground realities. Having said that, it’s not mandatory he’ll always do justice to his chosen topic. His latest socio-political action-thriller catches that thread of distinction but keeps fluctuating as the minutes pass by. In other words, this endeavour could have been far better.

To begin with, Chakravyuh firmly deals with the overwhelming ‘problem’ called Naxalism—something no other mainstream Bollywood film has done lately. It bravely showcases that side of the country that’s not only neglected but also oppressed. Perhaps this approach gives the film an automatic edge over others in terms of novelty. But then, too much noise doesn’t always translate into gospel truth: unnecessary drama and below-par performances leaves you with so much more to desire.

Basically set in a village called Nandighat, the plot is a clear-cut battle between Naxals and Police. However, tribals’ interest is the unattended third party in the whole scheme and that’s what provides a closure to this story. In the thick of things, a rather impossible friendship between good cop Adil (Arjun Rampal) and a police academy dropout Kabir (Abhay Deol) gets tested as the latter decides to help the former crack the code by infiltrating into the enemy camp.

Chakravyuh
Abhay Deol and Anjali Patil in a scene from the film.

Coming back to what didn’t work, Arjun Rampal is an utter disappointment. Though he fits the bill physically, his emotional scale is grossly underwhelming. This is not Abhay’s best performance either but his switch from becoming a mole to turning rogue is convincing enough. Esha Gupta’s character almost borders on vanity and her hamming adds to the retinal damage.

On the other hand, Manoj Bajpai as the Naxal leader and Om Puri as guide are simply the best casting choice made but thanks to the twist of tales, their presence is relatively limited. Anjali Patil is the real find of the film due to her remarkable onscreen command as a determined Naxal; not to mention her put-on accent. She represents the pain as well as the communist cause with ease.

When in doubt, blame the editor. But blaring background score notwithstanding, some scenes are beautifully etched. Despite the intensity, dialogues are unremarkable for the most part. Amongst the memorable songs, Mehangaai takes the cake for its sheer courage.

Although Jha’s expertise gets noticed in the impeccable settings, he doesn’t highlight a villager’s dilemma about picking up arms. Accordingly, the scenes involving bullets and gore drags you back to the Hindi cinema of the ’70s. Also, it’s difficult to understand why he couldn’t resist the temptation of having a redundant item number. Finesse is clearly lacking and the climax’s senselessness seconds that.

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