There are too many recognisable elements in Prakash Jha’s latest comment on society and politics and their failings. For one, the locations are now beginning to look all too familiar, especially after Aarakshan. But at least Satyagraha is a couple of notches more tolerable than Jha’s 2011 film. Also, there is the standard item number and a somewhat predictable journey for the protagonist, in this case Manav played by Ajay Devgn.
Manav is a capitalist who locks horn with best friend Akhilesh’s (Indraneil Sengupta) socialist and idealistic father Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan). But when Akhilesh is killed in a road accident, and the bureaucracy dilly dallies over releasing the government endowed compensation to his widow (Amrita Rao), Manav uproots himself and dedicates himself to helping Dwarka Anand’s family get their just dues.
Shadowing them throughout, is news reporter Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor Khan) who rapidly sheds all ethics as she falls in love with Manav, lives in Anand’s house and covers events unfolding in this North Indian town, without a moment’s hesitation about a conflict of interest.
As they begin to realize how deep-rooted the corruption in the local administration is, led by Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpayee) the fight takes on larger proportions, supported by local youth leader Arjun (Arjun Rampal). Soon a personal fight becomes a people versus state issue with Anand deciding to go on a hunger strike till their demands for changes in local government are not met. The escalation of public support is depicted via tweets and Facebook ‘Likes’, a convenient device to nudge things along. Here, Jha’s story clearly borrows from real life events championed by Anna Hazare and his team. And just as that protest went off kilter, so does this one, leading to a tragic end, as the film is hastily resolved.
At a running length of 150 minutes, a hasty resolution is unjustified. Writers Jha and Anjum Rajabali’s script is verbose, preachy and sometimes seems like a replay of a news channel. A number of issues that are plaguing our country and politics currently are touched on – corruption in construction, the fate of whistleblowers, politicking and horse trading, etc.
Most of the characters are clearly black or white, few have shades of grey, and so your empathy never shifts. Therefore, as a viewer, eventually your interest begins to ebb. It doesn’t help either that the performances vary – Bachchan (in a role ridiculously similar to that in Aarakshan), Bajpayee (also too close to some many other Jha characters he has played) and Devgn (oh wait, we have seen him do something similar in Gangajal) have to carry the others on their more capable shoulders. Rampal’s Arjun is poorly fleshed out. Kapoor-Khan’s Yasmin becomes a joke when she compromises on her ethics.
There are some touching moments, some pointed comments and a few insights but for the most part, Satyagraha is a messy stitching together of the top news stories of the last few years.
Rating: * *