If you have seen the promos of Chakravyuh – a war you cannot escape, then fifteen minutes into the movie you should be able to guess the plot right. For the maoist cadre Kabir (Abhay Deol) in film promos and the white collar engineer introduction (albeit with streak of fighting-for-the-oppressed nature) is a mismatch and you can flashback to the famous Amitabh – Rajesh Khanna starrer Namak Haram.
The plot of Chakravyuh unfolds with telling of a story that plagues large swathes of rural and semi urban India. A maoist ideologue (Om Puri), a Superintendent of Police Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), his police wife (Esha Gupta), and a friend Kabir (Abhay Deol) begin the movie, where the SP is posted to Nandighat (sounds similar to Nandigram?), where industrialist Mahanta (sounds similar to Vedanta?) wishes to set up a steel industry.
Finding winning trust of villagers difficult, SP Adil Khan’s friend-turned-foe-turned-friend Kabir suggests he infiltrate the Maoist cadre and supply information. However akin to Namak Haram where Rajesh Khanna after infiltrating the workers of Amitabh’s factory understands and identifies with their issues and problems, similar transformation happens to Kabir. With a muted love story with Maoist area commander Juhi (brilliantly played by Anjali Patil), he at one point hands in another area commander Rajan (Manoj Bajpai’s character role surpasses others) but at another kills several policemen who are shown to be atrocious.
Turning against the system makes Kabir a sworn enemy of the state, but his after his true identity revelation, he is under attack from the Maoist too. And that happens to be the climax of the movie, where joining ranks with dissidents proves fatal for him.
First the negatives. The movie lacks finesse in the plot, especially in some transitions which happen very quickly. The distance, time frame, and technical correctness seem compromised in many parts of the movie. Role of Esha Gupta could have been done away with, had the intelligence scenario been replaced with something more concrete and better. The item number featuring the forgotten Samira Reddy is purely for commercial purposes and unnecessary.
The issues of land acquisition, lack of development, police atrocities, administrative neglect, politics, corruption in maoist ranks, maoist ideological gurus, role played by private militias like Salwa Judum, human rights violation, have been brilliantly depicted by Prakash Jha, however in small capsules they be. But the pivotal issue of Maoism and the internal war that hundreds of districts in India face have been dealt with (and thank god) maturely.
Maoist struggle is a very complex issue, with deep ethical concerns. It is very difficult to bring it to the fore in a two and half hour movie. But the way Prakash Jha has delivered it needs to be applauded, especially with his understanding that the urban viewers, the multiplex goers are far away from understanding the nuances of the issue. Though towards the end one might feel that the director has shown Maoist struggle in a brighter light, he has adequately provided for fodder to challenge it too.
All performances have been up to the mark, with Manoj Bajpai, Abhay Deol and Anjali Patil rising above he rest. Despite Jha’s liking for Arjun Rampal, he still remains inarticulate that he ever was and is one of the weak links of the movie. For the amount of reel space, any other better actor would have added credit to the movie.
The director’s challenge to keep the commercial content high along with his desire to showcase a very important issue that the country faces is evident. The class struggle in Namak Haram and the Maoist struggle is not very different at one point. While that was not intertwined with multitude of other issues, this certainly is. For dealing with an issue that should concern every Indian, in a mature fashion, Cahkaravyuh – a war you cannot escape, deserves a healthy 3.5 out of 5 to the movie.