Satyagraha Review By Mayank Shekhar
Bak bak bak…
Director: Prakash Jha
Actors: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn
By Mayank Shekhar
Right at the start of the film we see Ajay Devgn as a young fellow who’s visiting a small town for his best friend’s wedding. The best friend’s dad (Amitabh Bachchan) is a siddhantwadi, principled sort of man, who used to be the principal of a local school once. Over a casual dinner at home, the best friend’s father (let’s call him BFF) asks young man Ajay the usual stuff, what his future plans are etc. Ajay merely tells him that he wants to set up his own business when he finishes his studies. Boy, this provokes the BFF enough to launch into a minor tirade accusing him and others of being greedy in a world where money is the only dharma and market the only morality. So far as I could tell he was only going to be pursuing a master’s degree at this point.
Later in the night while young Ajay is sharing a drink with his best friend, the BFF lands up on the terrace, lectures him some more, convinced that his son is keeping bad company. His son is an engineer in the public works department. By the end of the night, young man Ajay takes an auto-rickshaw and heads home even without attending the wedding he had come for.
This is one of the opening sequences of the film, and it rightly sets the tone for a hyperbolic, simplistic talkathon that follows for the next two and half hours where we’re not sure exactly what is everyone being all so super-serious and self-righteous about. We just know that somebody is right and somebody is wrong.
Within three years, Ajay is worth over Rs 6,000 crore. His best friend is no more, having lost his life in a road accident. The father is in the lock-up for slapping the district magistrate. Government compensation for his son’s death hasn’t come through. Within a few minutes, in a turnaround that deserves no character graph whatsoever, Ajay starts a movement to free his BFF, or Masterji, or Dadduji. A major journalist from Delhi (Kareena Kapoor) pretty much sets up base in a small town. She is a persistent reporter, you can tell, from the number of missed calls she gives: 17 to a minister, 203 to Ajay. She turns down an assignment to interview the PM, the editor can do nothing about it, she even officially joins the anti-corruption movement, never mind the basic ethics of her profession. The local dada (Arjun Rampal) also signs up for the cause. As does a junior level cop. These are rebels without a pause.
Every few minutes, we see Facebook status updates and tweets on the screen, a public rally after another as faceless masses consume highfalutin speeches, nod their heads, raise battle cries, fight water cannons. The crowds are of course incorruptible. They’ve had it with their district collectorate that demands bribes. Dadduji is the benevolent don who wants all pending government applications to be cleared within 30 days.
By now you know this film’s genre. It’s a political thriller. It’s directed by Prakash Jha, who is by now a genre of his own. The location is Bhopal. People speak in a quasi Bihari accent. Almost like a sequel to Jha’s Aarakshan, Amitabh Bachchan plays the calm, conscientious man whose heart bleeds for the concerns of his poor audiences who get taken for a ride by wily men of the world led by Manoj Bajpayee, the state’s home minister in this film. The opposition leader (Vipin Sharma) is no saint either. The actors seem quite pepped up for the job. The anti-corruption movement you see before you on the screen mirrors the one championed by Anna Hazare in 2011, for passing the Lokpal (Ombudsman) Bill in the Indian parliament. Like the andolan in this film, Anna’s movement had been picked up by the social media first, before it briefly captured the nation’s imagination.
The one here though is still set in a small town, its demands keep changing from removing the collector, to having him elected by the people, to enforcing some ordinance that Dadduji and his team rarely talk about much. Corruption is what they are against. You get the point. But what exactly is the plot? Lost, while looking for one, the filmmakers go around searching for the murderer of Ajay’s friend, a character inspired by Satyendra Dubey, a whistleblower in the government’s national highway project, who had allegedly been bumped off by the state sponsored mafia in 2003.
Unable to find much meat in there either, we’re back to more public rallies and homilies and simplicities on bhookh, garibi and bhrashtachar as the film tries as hard to be entertaining as it does to sound intelligent, failing miserably at both. At some point, you hear yourself go, “Ab bas bahut ho gaya yar. Bandh karo bak bak.” We get a lot of this on TV anyway, and at least we know what’s going on there.