August 30, 2013
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Amrita Rao, Indraneil Sengupta
Director: Prakash Jha
With Satyagraha director Prakash Jha once again raids the headlines, this time turning his gaze on the growing public resentment towards the deep-rooted corruption in the system. Jha borrows liberally from real events and the lives of real people, including famed anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Andolan he inspired. Unfortunately Jha’s heavy-handed direction turns this well-intentioned drama into a plodding sermon.
Amitabh Bachchan stars as Dwarka Anand, a principled school teacher in Ambikapur, who not only stands up for what he believes in, but verbally pummels anyone who doesn’t fall in line with his strong views. At one point, his son’s friend Manav (Ajay Devgan), who is staying at their home, must pack up his things and leave in the middle of the night for clashing with the old man’s ideology. Rather extreme, don’t you think?
When Dwarka is arrested for assaulting a district collector some years later, Manav returns to help. Along with a youth leader (Arjun Rampal), he mobilizes a truth-seeking movement led by Dwarka, who demands that the local government clean up its act and empower the people. Their campaign gains momentum when prominent TV journalist Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor) reports from the scene. Even as Dwarka, or Dadu as he’s rechristened by his swarm of supporters, goes on a hunger strike to protest the government’s inaction, smarmy minister Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpai) tries every trick in the book to scuttle the movement.
Like Aarakshan and Chakravyuh before it, Satyagraha too suffers from Jha’s tendency to overstuff the film with too many ideas. In his attempt to hold a mirror to our troubled times, Jha alludes to such varied incidents as the 2G scam, whistleblower Satyendra Dubey’s murder, and Arvind Kejriwal’s alignment with Anna Hazare’s cause, linking the events with a not-always convincing thread. Apart from this, the director dilutes the film’s core issue by throwing in a gratuitous romance between Manav and Yasmin, as well as an excuse of an item number for the opening credits sequence. And in what has become another Prakash Jha staple, his characters don’t talk to each other, they speechify with lofty dialogue.
The story flounders as the drama builds up, and collapses like a house of cards in its clunky, overblown climax. Satyagraha, which starts off as a realistic film, gets shrill along the way and, disappointingly, offers no satisfying resolutions at the end of this long slog.
There are, however, some strengths in this endeavour, notably in the way Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai approach their roles. Bachchan infuses Dadu with righteous anger and heart-wrenching pathos, while Bajpai, saddled with the part of a caricaturish politician, evokes the required contempt. Ajay Devgan, as the ambitious entrepreneur who finds his calling in social reform, delivers a committed performance. Kareena Kapoor, and Amrita Rao in the part of Dadu’s widowed daughter-in-law, are sincere, yet stuck with boringly-sketched characters, and Rampal ably reprises the role of the hot-headed political leader he played in Raajneeti.
In Satyagraha, Jha effectively meshes the urban angst witnessed on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook with the ground realities of India’s heartland, but the plot subsequently loses its way. Sadly, the director’s storytelling has become so hackneyed that his cinema now merely pays lip service to issues instead of making a stronger comment.
I’m going with two out of five for Satyagraha. It may be coming from a good place, but it doesn’t know where it’s going.
(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)