The Indian political saga “Raajneeti” is high melodrama that, while forgoing its characters breaking into Bollywood-style numbers, certainly displays a healthy appetite for the choreography of skullduggery, electioneering and familial revenge. Set amid the backdrop of party-dominant democracy, it chronicles the wealthy Pratap clan and a fight for control of its political party between warring sets of cousins: scrappy Veerendra (Manoj Bajpai) and low-caste secret heir Sooraj (Ajay Devgan) against rakish Prithvi (Arjun Rampal) and intellectual Samar (Ranbir Kapoor).
Loosely based on the ancient epic Mahabharata and its tale of princes angling for a kingdom, producer-director-co-writer Prakash Jha aims for something trenchant about thwarted destiny and ugly ambition in modern Indian democracy but mostly winds up with a convoluted and tonally awkward “Godfather” rehash, with nary a character worth rooting for. Tracking the moral descent of Samar from family outsider to ruthless power player — this movie’s Michael Corleone — is meant to be the film’s searing throughline. But Kapoor’s performance is stony rather than calculating — especially jarring compared to the histrionic turns around him — while the third act shift to tit-for-tat violence feels less like inevitably tragic fate than an all-too-late adrenaline boost.
“Raajneeti.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 2 hours, 47 minutes. In selected theaters.