By Subhash K. Jha
Film: "Rann"; Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Riteish Deshmukh, Sudeep, Paresh Rawal, Rajat Kapoor, Neetu Chandra, Gul Panag, Suchitra Krishnamurthy; Director: Ram Gopal Varma; Rating: ****
"Rann" is that rare cinema about the collective conscience which we often like to think has gone out of style. Like Mehboob Khan's "Mother India" and Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Satyakam", "Rann" shows how tough it is to hold your head high up in dignified righteousness in a world where ethics crumble faster than cookies in wide-open jar left out too long in the sun.
Ironically, there isn't much sunshine in "Rann". The film has been shot in an anaemic light, symbolizing a world that's largely losing light.
Cleverly, Ram Gopal Varma situates his morality tale in the cut-throat world of the electronic media where the TRP is god and deadlines the devil. And may the voice of the conscience rest in peace.
Without wasting time Varma introduces us to the plethora of characters who colonise the bowel of a declining channel run by the idealistic Vijay Harshvardhan Malik (Amitabh Bachchan). Malik believes there's room still for the straight and narrow path in a business where grabbing attention is the murder of all invention.
The glistening sweat on ratings, challenged eyebrows are captured through tight close-ups of worried faces that the camera - Amit Roy's sharply cruising lenses moving from face-to-face with obstinate restlessness - that give nothing and yet everything away.
As in Varma's "Sarkar", the moral battle lines in the media-run tale of "Rann" are drawn between the idealistic patriarch and his US-returned hyper-ventilating son Jai (Kannada star Sudeep) who is so anxious and ambitious, you know he will eventually cause trouble for his ideologue dad's news-worthiness.
Trouble arrives in the flabby form of a seedy politician Pandey - played by Paresh Rawal and he re-embraces villainy with lip-smacking relish - who plunges into the TRP war on television with no sense of propriety, legalese or the law.
Pandey pompously tells Jai before they both conspire with the help of a rival television tycoon (Mohnish Behl) to trash the idealistic Harshvardhan's reputation.
The plot accommodates more characters that a miniature touristic island in the holiday season. Not one of the characters need any explanation or occupy a superfluous place in the plot.
Varma's concern for the characters is genuine but non-judgemental. Each characters even the relatively-shadowy women, emerges as casualty of an over-competitive society where morality goes out of the nearest window.
The narrative is taut, restless and biting in its depiction of corruption in supposedly responsible places.
While much of film's inner fire burns outwards from the pithy and peppery writing (Rohit Banawlikar), the essential core of idealism is preserved in the understated relationship between the idealistic young rookie Purab Shastri and his mentor Harshvardhan. Wish this bonding was built on.
As restless as his camera, Varma gives no space to the complicated labyrinth of relationships to grow. We are left to gauge the depths and dimensions that underline the furious flow of empathy and antipathy between various characters by reading between the lines.
The first two-thirds of the narrative creates a gripping patchwork of television, drama and politics and how the three worlds often come together to destroy the basic fibre of human morality.
It's the last quarter of the narrative where Harshvardhan, after realising he has been taken for a ride by his own son's over-ambitiousness, that packs in the maximum punch.
Cleverly borrowing the premise for its climax from Mehboob Khan's "Mother India", "Rann" moves aggressively but confidently into its passionate finale where the patriarchal television tycoon must expose some harsh home-truths to cleanse his own conscience.
"Rann" takes us into a world where right and wrong are more financial than moral issues, where the people who make news conveniently forget that the source is often the nadir of the conscience.
"Rann" is a razor-sharp bitter and biting look at the real world of rapidly-moving moral issues.
Varma extracts superlative performances from the entire cast. From Ritesh's heartbreaking idealism to Neetu Chandra's part as Jai Malik's secret love interest.
As expected Bachchan as the conscience of the plot, presides over the speeedened proceedings with a thoughtful and gentle performance. His climactic speech makes all of us sit up and think about the quality of work we do in order to keep up with the competition.
Luckily, Bachchan's consistently excellent output is never dependant on the 'competition' around him. Ironically, his character is forced to stoop in order to conquer the TRPs.
Varma, who has been lately guilty of making fairly compromised films, rises above the morass of mediocrity with a meteoric force, letting other filmmakers know what he is capable of achieving if he sets his heart to it.
"Rann" defines the role of the electronic media in today's context with remarkable virility and dramatic force. This is Varma's best work since "Company".