Rinku Rajguru is back, running once again through tall fields clutching the hand of the man she loves, her politician father and his goons in hot pursuit. The breakout star from Sairat (2016), in only her second Marathi movie, hasn’t lost her quiet magnetism or her ability to appear more grown-up than she is. Rajguru was 14 when she dared to cross the caste barrier in Sairat. In Makarand Mane’s Kaagar, the not-yet-18 Rajguru plays the young adult Rani, who is studying for a social work degree and allows the principles of equality and emancipation to guide her love life.
Rani is secretly carrying on with Yuvraj (Shubhankar Tawde), a poor but bright aide to her politician-father Prabhakar (Shashank Shende). Yuvraj is an engineer whose heart bleeds for the sugarcane farmers in his region. The hot-headed Yuvraj also has enough in his upper storey to realise that in politics you need to “play your own game or become a pawn and that hope something changes”.
Yuvraj gets more than what he asked for when the political intrigue brewing between Prabhakar and his old party associate (Suhas Pakshikar) gets nasty ahead of an election. Yuvraj does indeed become a pawn – a point made all too obviously in a scene in which Prabhakar sits down to a game of chess. The question is, what will Rani’s move be?
Makarand Mane, who has also written the frequently sharp dialogue with Sanjay Pawar, is aiming for a sophisticated and caustic thriller about the soul-destroying nature of politics. This idea has inspired a great many Indian movies – Marathi cinema has one of the best of the lot, Sinhaasan. This plentitude makes it is hard to get excited about yet another film about an idealist being crushed as surely as a sugarcane stalk.
However, Mane seems to be doing just fine in the early portions. He deftly sets up the dance between romanticism and realpolitik and bring a smoothly choreographed quality to the rough and tumble of rural politics in Maharashtra. The little details of small-town life are faithfully transported onto the screen. Shashak Shende turns out a suitably sinister performance, with good back-up from Vitthal Kale. Yuvraj too initially has enough shading to ensure that he is more than a mere object on a chessboard.
Yet, Yuvraj is not the movie’s most compelling character. As Mane follows the scripting instruction that a gun introduced in the first act must be fired before the curtain falls, the melodrama is piled on and events breach the credulity barrier. Though songs are used as a speedbreaker, the background music reaches cacophonic levels. At 131 minutes, Kaagar feels too long, even as it attempts to say something momentous.
The movie doesn’t quite know how to deal with Rani and the talented actress enlisted to play her. Rani’s bitter choice between love and duty gets sidelined as Kaagar hurtles towards a denouement that nobody saw coming because surely, this isn’t the way such things end in the real world? The opening credits declare that Rinku Rajguru has been “reintroduced” through Kaagar, but even after getting top billing, Rani slips to the bottom of the pile. Rajguru is still on the run, but this time without a clear direction in sight.