“Satyagraha” conveys the uncontrollable anger and energy of a nation on the brink. For telling it like it is and for creating a compelling film out of the raw material of present-day corruption, the film deserves a standing ovation.
Prakash Jha is one of the few directors in Bollywood who has consistently championed political cinema. His rage at the rotten state of the system has simmered through his movies for nearly three decades. From the National Award Winning Damul in 1984 to Satyagraha, his stories have become increasingly simplistic, Star driven and Heavy handed. Satyagraha takes its inspiration from Anna Hazare’s historic fast, which brought the Central Government to its knees in 2011.The film, is clearly inspired, but only in spirit. It is a timely wake up call for a wounded nation.
Retired teacher Dwarka Anand (Bachchan) is an idealistic man. He runs a school for kids in a fictional small town Ambikapur: in India. In his introduction scene, we see him fighting with an official over inflated electricity bills. He Revolts against the corrupt government with a fast unto death. The people of Ambikapur are frustrated and helpless, much like the rest of India.
His engineer son Akhilesh’s friend Manav ( Ajay Devgn) is an ambitious capitalist a successful business man. . Manav cherishes his friend – who suddenly dies. He is described as the rising star of the communication sector. And early in the film Daduji Mockingly calls him “the ultimate consumer” In a spirited debate between him and Manav, they talk about entrepreneurship. While Dwarka calls it greed, Manav argues that greed is not a bad word, and is puzzled over his bitterness towards monetary success. But Manav soon gives up his materialistic ways to follow Daduji. Of course, one wonders in the age of social entrepreneurship, why Prakash Jha must keep things so sternly black and white.
His son Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta), equally idealistic, is an architect and designing a flyover. The story moves forward when disaster strikes. Akhilesh dies in a road accident, and local politician Balram (Manoj Bajpayee) announces compensation to the family. But when they do the rounds of the office to collect the amount, they are met with the usual red tape, compounded by extreme corruption. One thing leads to the other, and makes way for a Satyagraha led, surprisingly, by Manav.
Co-writer and director Prakash Jha (Raajneeti, Aarakshan) makes several references to Mahatama Gandhi and fittingly so. It spares no effort to reflect the rising tide of public anger against a creaking, corrupt and callous system that treats citizens of the country like a load of dirt. The script draws inspiration from several real – life scams and political conspiracies and constructs a predictable narrative that underlines the undeniable might of social media. The 2G Scam, mining policy flip flops, the ills of coalition politics, underhand deals between fixers and ministers, and the growing role of Twitter and Facebook in driving the popular ire against corruption and poor governance are all alluded to do. All this is socially relevant. Only this revolt is fueled by modern technology like the mobile phone and social media. Another striking feature of this revolt is its use of humor. A deadly weapon— their humorous campaign in the beginning embarrasses the government into listening.
The revolution has the full support of the youth that flood the social media with messages against the government (“Shape up, or ship out”). Jha doesn’t sugarcoat the messages and lets them appear complete with several commonly used abuses.
Manav requests Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor) a journalist to cover this local revolution. She too, gets involved in the goings-on strengthening the fight even more. She is the idealistic reporter. The film becomes more engaging as the core team of the revolution begin to have a difference of opinion.
Showcasing the side-effects of the movement, Jha also features poor families whose hopes of getting due compensation after paying a bribe are squashed. Meanwhile, Balram (Manoj Bajpayee) dismisses the revolution as a “picnic” with people dancing and singing over coffee and soft drinks. The Machiavellian arrangements between the politicians of the ruling and opposition party will repulse the viewer while exposing a common reality.
Heartfelt performance is the films strength. Devgn is Satyagraha’s strong body of the film. He matches step completely convincing eve when his characters arch takes an improbable turn. While Mr. Bachchan – Gaunt in grief , moving in fortitude – is its soul. He fits the role of the Gandhian, man – of principles character. Even though he has played similar roles before in varying textures, but he manages to add new nuance every time. Mr. Bachchan voices the movies philosophy – “Janta sarkaar ki malik hai. Malik nirdesh deta hai. Maang nahin karta”. And Manoj Bajpayee is glittering, delivered a fantastic performance in its perfection. It is really delight to watch him as the quasi – comical, convincing politician. Kareena Kapoor is superb; through her character needed more screen time. Arjun Rampal, though in a short role is superb.
The dialogue is articulate, superbly penned and electrifying. Background score is a bit too obvious at times, but functional. The soulful songs are a treat.
While the three main actors play off with each other with supple grandeur, some other supporting actors and characters are played at much too broad a pitch to be effective. When a corrupt policeman takes off his uniform to join the mass movement, you feel the script is teetering dangerously towards over-idealism.
The story is unique to the film, as are the other characters. Not to mention the finale, that takes a melodramatic turn. One rues the fact that the film talks of breaking shackles when Jha himself resorts to an item song and an outrageous plug for a rice brand in the film’s first half. Plus the other inconsistencies like a journalist being allowed to sit-in on a secret meeting between the protestors and the politicians.
In the end the film is pro non –violence, but also sadly non committal The film has its flaws but it is successful in capturing the disgruntled, restless and enraged mood of the country, and in fact the world. You will be moved by the film, despite yourself. For that and for the masterful performances, Satyagraha is worth a watch!