One has to still acknowledge that when compared to his last film 'Aarakshan', Prakash Jha does more than just scratches the surface with 'Chakravyuh'. Also, his conviction in telling this tale is more than apparent. This is established in the way he spins around the tale, hence picking up from newspaper headlines and other research material and keeping the narrative intact for most part of this 150 minutes long film. Yes, there was scope to go further down the line and bringing out deeper facts but for the material he had in hand, he made sure that the point was well conveyed to the audience.
While the core plot of 'Chakravyuh' is quite straight forward, what with a cop (Arjun Rampal) on hunt for a Naxal leader (Manoj Bajpayee) who is trying to help tribals win rights of their land. On the other hand there are industrialists, politicians and local mafia joining hands to earn their hundreds of crores. In the middle of this all there is a 'chakravyuh' where Government and especially cops find themselves trapped as even those who are honest don't really find an amicable solution to this system. A commoner (Abhay Deol) tries to help Arjun in bridging this gap, only to find himself trapped as well.
Thankfully, Jha establishes his characters in a jiffy, something which is made visible in the very opening sequence of the film where Arjun Rampal and Om Puri come face to face. Later, whether it is the female cop (Esha Gupta), an industrialist (Kabir Bedi), a female Naxal leader (Anjali Patil), a corrupt Naxal commander (Murli Sharma) or the politician (Kiran Karmarkar), it is ensured that 'Chakravyuh' never strays away in taking too much time before coming to the point.
The sequences that follow keep you glued to the proceedings and though songs, whether it is 'Mehengai' (with Abhay) or 'Kunda Khol' (Sameera Reddy) were completely unwarranted, you still want to know how the story would unfold. This is what makes the first half of the film quite interesting since the entire episode around Abhay infiltrating Naxals is well established. Also, the conflict that develops between him and Arjun isn't done in a hurry and there are at least 4-5 important sequences placed into the narrative that make the change of heart totally convincing.
(Spoilers ahead) However, just when the drama starts picking up towards the later reels in the second half, especially after Anjali Patil is arrested and then Abhay counter attacks with his killings, the film starts moving towards a predictable climax. Yes, the action does hold good but you somehow feel that the drama has become more of a conflict between two friends than the larger issue. This continues right till the last scene which does leave you with a sense of emptiness as there was something far more volatile expected from Jha than two friends fighting it out in the field.
Though one has to agree that a subject like this couldn't have found a true culmination for itself due to the complexities involved, one does feel that at least from the film perspective, 'Chakravyuh', which had such a good build up in those two odd hours, deserved a better finale. Also, it could have been a little more layered, something that was the strength of another film on the same subject, Ananth Mahadevan's 'Red Alert - The War Within', which had almost similar characters.
Still, credit has to be given to the film's fast pace, a highly effective background score and real settings. Arjun is fantastic, his dialogue delivery and body language is firm and effective while most importantly, he looks the part. Abhay, in a very meaty role, is someone who one can relate to. He doesn't look awkward at all while holding arms. Manoj can just not be expected to act badly and though one would have liked to see more of him, he makes sure that his presence counts. Anjali makes a fine debut and is utmost convincing. Esha is hardly there while the youngster playing Kabir Bedi's son is unintentionally funny.
Prakash Jha has his distinct way of storytelling where one thing which is definitely expected is heavy duty drama. There are tense moments that you do look forward to in the narrative of his films where characters indulge in verbal battles with dialogues taking centre-stage. Well, this does happen in 'Chakravyuh' as well but for a change, Jha brings in a lot of action into the affairs as well. So while there are blazing guns galore with explosions taking place every ten minutes, you do feel that a little more drama with more insight/viewpoint into the core issue would have taken 'Chakravyuh' to an even higher level.