Chakravyuh (2012): Indian filmmaker Prakash Jha's political thriller based on the Indian Naxalite movement

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Chakravyuh (2012), starring Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Abhay Deol, Directed by Prakash Jha, starring
Chakravyuh (2012) - By Prakash Jha

Our Rating: 7.0
IMDb Ratings: 6.7
Genre: Action Drama
CastArjun Rampal, Abhay Deol and Manoj Bajpai
Country: India
Language: Hindi

Chakravyuh is a 2012 political thriller directed by renowned Indian filmmaker Prakash JhaThe movie premiered at the 56th BFI London Film Festival in October 2012. Chakravyuh stars Abhay Deol, Manoj Bajpai, Arjun Rampal, Anjali Patil, and Esha Gupta in major roles. The word Charkavyuha, which has a meaning of lotus formation or discuss formation, is of great significance in Ancient Indian Mythological Warfare, often described as the most formidable war formation ever devised. Those familiar with sage Vyasa’s epic Mahabharata would best relate the word “Chakravyuha” to the sanguinary face-off that took place during the Battle of Kurekshetra between the ace archer Arjuna’s brave and young son Abhimanyu and a myriad of supreme Kaurava warriors during which the former was slaughtered in cold blood after being cornered in the Chakravyuha formation designed by none other than the great Drona—Arjuna's teacher and the pupil of the mighty Parasurama.  The shameless episode was marked by utter chaos and is said be the defining point of the great battle for it transformed the hitherto indifferent Arjuna into a madman on a personal vendetta to avenge the death of his beloved son.

Manoj Bajpai as the charismatic Naxalite leader Rajan, with other Naxalites, Chakravyuh (2012), Directed by Prakash Jha
Manoj Bajpai as the charismatic Naxalite leader Rajan
Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh also points towards a similar chaos that, over the years, has taken the form of a plague, an epidemic that if not controlled could easily obliterate our entire nation. The crisis that Jha has chosen to put his spotlight on in his latest film revolves around the Naxalite movement—a generic term used to describe the violent movement carried out by militant Communist groups in different parts of India. Jha is a master at drawing parallels and over the years Mahabharata seems to be his greatest source of inspiration. In the epic Kurekshetra War, the righteous Pandavas were forced to fight against their own cousins, the wicked Kauravas, so as to protect their rights. The Naxalite movement also started under similar circumstances: the oppressed tribal peasants belonging to a small village in West Bengal being forced to resort to violence to fight against abject poverty and relentless exploitation. Jha has a great understanding of the Indian socio-political setup. He has twice contested elections from his native state of Bihar—the second most influential state in the Indian political parlance. His superior knowledge and predilection for realistic cinema give him an edge over other filmmakers, especially when it comes to tackling the real life issues.

Arjun Rampal as SP Adil Khan, Esha gupta as Adil Khan's wife Rhea Menon, Chakravyuh (2012), Directed by Prakash Jha
Arjun Rampal as SP Adil Khan (Left)
Chakravyuh is quite easily the first full-fledged attempt in commercial Indian Cinema to focus on the issue of Naxalism in India. And it is no surprise that the initiative has come from Prakash Jha. But, has Jha who had so brilliantly tackled the sensitive issue of reservation in India’s education system in his previous film Aarakshan (2011) succeeded in presenting the complex issue of Naxalism? Well the answer is an unequivocal “Yes”. Chakravyuh is a solemn attempt at tackling the highly contentious issue of Naxalism in India. And what is really commendable is that Charkavyuh by no means is a propaganda film, for it succeeds in presenting both the sides with equal fervor: the anarchy and bloodshed that’s associated with the movement as well its underlining causes. While the movie castigates the totalitarian ways of the Naxalites, it simultaneous sympathizes with their underlining cause. However, it's a pity the movie fails in coming up with any concrete solution for the ongoing crisis.

Abhay Deol as Kabir, Chakravyuh (2012), Directed by Prakash Jha
Abhay Deol as Kabir in Prakash Jha's Chakravyuh
In Chakravyuh, Jha takes us on a wild ride to the heart of a Naxalite settlement, makes us detest the barbaric ways of Naxalite life, incites in us a deepest feeling of compassion for the never ending Naxalite plight before leaving us high and dry, desperately wanting for more. While Chakravyuh is quite effective as a social commentary on Naxalism—albeit overwhelmed with tons of Bollywood clichesit suffers quite drastically from the cinematic point of view. The story of two estranged friends (played by Arjun Rampal and Abhay Deol) coming together after a period of seven years and then suddenly choosing to put everything on the line for the sake of their lost friendship is quite incredible in itself, but the fact that one of them is a loose canon whose sense of idealism lies on the borders of fanaticism and lunacy and who wouldn’t think twice before turning his back on his friend, in the name of being fair to the weak and the needy, for whom he was only just willing to jeopardize his life is indeed too much even for a traditional Bollywood viewer. Added to all this is a hyper-stylized tale of corruption involving the local politicians, venal administrators, immoral policemen, a ruthless business magnate (imperiously played by Kabir Bedi) heading over a multi-billion dollar empire and his impudent son (probably a manifestation of the Mallyas), and a brigade of intransigent Naxalite leaders including a lustful, dishonest money-collector and a spiteful female guerrilla (Anjali Patil) wanted for the murder of 49 policemen.

Veteran Indian actor Om Puri as the idealist Marxist Govind Suryavanshi, Chakravyuh (2012), Directed by Prakash Jha
Om Puri as the idealist Marxist Govind Suryavanshi 
In spite of this excess, Jha deserves the benefit of doubt on the account that in the absence of these incongruities the end product, because of being perilously close to been called a documentary on Naxalism, would have been very difficult to sell as a commercial work of cinema. But, the movie is also quite weak on the technical front. There’s really nothing worth mentioning about the movie’s cinematography, background score, editing, special effects. The movie’s acting, despite a highly promising cast, seems quite average at best. Arjun Rampal plays his role of a vulnerable police official without much guile. The same can be said of Manoj Bajpai whose acting talents remain unexploited throughout the movie. After his epic tour de force in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Bajpai is ought to chose his roles more wisely. Abhay Deol’s performance despite being high on theatrics is quite commendable. This can be attributed to the fact that his is the only character with any possible room for development. And fortunately he does use it to full effect. Anjali Patil too is also quite promising in her portrayal. Veteran Indian actor Om Puri gives a memorable performance as per his usual high acting standards. 

Chakravyuh (2012), Directed by Prakash Jha, Abhay Deol as Kabir, Natya Mandali, Satirical Song on Indian Industrialists in chorus
A Still from Prakash Jha's Chakravyuh
Overall, Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh is a thought-provoking work of cinema that remains true to its underlining theme. The movie suffers from a lackluster plot that’s further marred by the presence of obnoxiously dramatic characters. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, Charkavyuh has all the elements of a quintessential Bollywood film—albeit one that leaves the viewers with enough food for thought. The movie with its heart-wrenching portrayal of Naxalism in India is ought to educate the millions of Indians, who hitherto look up to Naxalities as a mere group of terrorists driven by insanity, about the abysmal plight of Naxalites and the underlining cause of the movement. Thus, Charkavyuh, despite being well short of Jha’s best work, serves to be a worthy addition to his oeuvre. The movie is a must watch for a Prakash Jha fan and anyone who wants to get some insight into the Indian Naxalite movement.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. Nicely written... I too believe that Mr. Jha has done a wonderful job in tackling the complex issue of Naxalism in India!

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing your valuable thoughts :-)

  3. Poor review.. its an ode to Jha overlooking the fact that the movie lacked a good screenplay, missed the plot at many places, had many average performers (sparing Abhay D, Om Puri and Anjali)...

  4. Thanks a lot, Nishkarsh for sharing your valuable thoughts. But, I think that you apparently failed to capture the essence of my review. If you read the review more perspicaciously, you will notice that it more or less agrees with your judgement on movie's weak screenplay, acting, etc. The USP of the movie without a shadow of a doubt its underlining theme!!!

  5. The best review on the movie I have read so far. I saw the movie just yesterday and to me it was a movie which disappoints because such a powerful and contemporary subject was expected to be dealt with much better by someone like Prakash Jha. I am sure if the movie had been made by a first time unknown director, I would have come out of that theater talking of its strengths rather than the weaknesses (and there are more than a handful) that one actually ended up doing.

    The first half of the movie (the first half of the first half really) was particularly disappointing. Perhaps because it had most of the cliched and contrived bits of the movie both situational as well as plot and character/s related. That out of the way, the movie moves along much more grippingly and impressively in the second half.

    The acting is disappointing as mentioned in the review above. I have never been a great fan of Deol although everyone else I know seems to be but he is clearly getting better with Shanghai and now this. Rampal disappoints (no surprise), Bajpai is an also-ran in the movie which is so sad, the girl who plays Rampal's wife is pathetic and should never have had a major role in the plot. It was quite unnecessary. There was no need for the three (Deol, Rampal and her) to have known each other and certainly none for this to be made such a big deal of. There was enough in the plot both content and character-wise which could have utilised that footage. The characters of Om Puri and Manoj Bajpai are cases in point. If Jha had just made better uses of the two best actors in the film and tightened up the storyline and writing to keep it strictly to raw-realism it might still have been a memorable movie.

  6. Thanks Swaranjeet for sharing your valuable thoughts in such an elaborate manner. And to be frank, I am in absolute agreement with your opinion. The movie could have indeed been much better had Jha been a bit more vigilant in his approach. And last but not the least, I am really glad that you liked my review :-)

  7. Brilliantly written Review. Loved learning about the parallels to Hinduism which I missed.

    I believe this was an awesome Jha movie about a social issue. However, it didn't quite work for me from a storytelling perspective. This has been a Jha pattern for his last few films now. See my full review (rant) below if you wish.

  8. Well... I am glad that you liked it. The mythology lies at the very core of Prakash Jha's cinema and it's only apt to expatiate on it. I agree with you that the storytelling was not top-drawer... but due to the aforementioned reasons I still managed to enjoy the movie a lot!

  9. From his past two films jha has been forced to give lesser importance to the endings of his movies as he is constrainted by society's point of view on reservation and naxalism , in aarakshan the issue deviated from aarakshan to a coaching centre and chakravyuh has also not been given a susbtantial ending primarily because our society [ read some fanatics ] won't let these movies release if any type of solution was provided in the film at all hence jha has restrained from giving a meaningful ending otherwise his film's release would have been in trouble .


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