Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor, Manoj Bajpai
Director: Prakash Jha
Rating: Two stars
Meet Daduji of Ambikapur. A retired schoolteacher, he’s mega-peeved when he catches his about-to-be-married son swigging a bit of booze. In fact, all hell breaks loose. And woe and behold, the son’s drinking buddy is even banned from attending the wedding ceremony. A tad intolerant, isn’t he, this Daduji?
But that’s the way it is in Prakash Jha’s ‘Satyagraha’, which hauls you back to the director-writer’s favourite grazing ground: a smallish town brimming over with corruption, a crazy beggar called Transformer, a half-hearted item number, not to forget cavalcades of good ole Ambassador cars carrying an entire cosmos of ministerial baddies. Quite tyresome actually.
Come to think of it, you last saw the same self-righteous senior citizen, Daduji, combating the political Rasputins in Jha’s ‘Aarakshan’. Now he’s back along with some cast alterations, to enact a story inspired by the Anna Hazare movement against cash grabbers. And there’s a conscience stricken youngish man, too, spawned by Arvind Kejriwal, to rustle up some surrogate father-son emotional frisson.
As always politically, Jha’s targets of attack remain obscure. The melodrama, as a result, is rooted in Ambikapur and its zillas, never to assume a national dimension. All that you can surmise is that Daduji and his supporters are pitched against the ruling state government, party ideology unclarified.
Indeed, confusion prevails as sarkari chambers and police chowkies proliferate with portraits of legendary Congress leaders. But wait, the word ‘communal’ is dropped jejunely, compounding your confusion. So who or what exactly is the System here?
At most, it is an abstract local governance, dominated by a wicked minister (Manoj Bajpai) and a Chief Minister (Anonymous) flanked by goons and ghouls aplenty.
How they snigger!
Incredibly enough, for decades Daduji (Amitabh Bachchan) and thousands of Ambikapurkars have tolerated oppression from such ghouls. Something’s got to give, and it does. A satyagraha is sparked by the mysterious death of Daduji’s son, who’s run over by a truck on the highway. Boom! The township stirs into action. And what do you know? Manav (Ajay Degn), that drinking buddy re-enters, even giving up all his gazillions of wealth to look after the health of Daduji who’s quite weary of it all by now. And so goes on an indefinite hunger strike. Tsk.
Moved to glycerine tears, TV news reporter Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor), also gives up her comforts, to become one of the poster-girls on the huge banners of political protest. For much-needed diversion, she also falls in love with Manav, but ticks him off whenever she disagrees with his bad calculations. Attagal, welikes.
As for Daduji’s widowed daughter-in-law (Amrita Rao), she either cooks, weeps or darts grim reaction shots to the camera. And to complete the star package, Daduji’s ex-student (Arjun Rampal), once a goon but now more luminous than a full moon, is on stand-by to galvanise a tweet-and-Facebook savvy youth morcha. Too much happening here and without pause or reflection.
The staging of the dramaturgy and the locations are strictly Prakash Jha: one sketchy event after another set in cozy cottages, busy boardrooms, and the town square where multitudes throng for the finale. The climax is somewhat of a cop-out – or pointless.
Truly, in some 140 minutes, Jha and his co-storywriter Anjum Rajabali tread the timetested path of corruption-bashing, without ever suggesting a way out of the morass.
If there is something of a resolution, it is only in terms of a dangling line of dialogue at the end. Suffice it to say, you leave, wondering whether Satyagraha is a defence of Hazare or a spectacle of sound and fury signifiying precious little. A pity.
Because Jha does strike up a believable relationship between the unbending Dadu and Manav, which is humane and moving. For sure, the best sequences in Satygraha, deal with the alterations of their mind-sets. And it’s here that Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn, light up strong acting sparks. Of the rest of the crowded cast, Manoj Bajpai is bankably forceful. Kareena Kapoor is impressive despite the cliched role of an I-Pad flaunting journalist.
Come to think of it, throughout, the depiction of the media’s role in political protests, is shallow. One solitary journalist is the protest’s flag-bearer, while others inevitably ask dumb questions. And what does one do about the unintentional funny moments?
Like the journalist instructing her videographer to start shooting although he’s already been at it with the camera. Or a chain of Buddhist monks suddenly crossing the field of the camera out of nowhere. Or the moment when the journo reads a book in pitch darkness, setting off a titter in the Inox auditorium on Friday morning.
Without a doubt, Prakash Jha -- a perennial political complaint box -- offers nothing new either by way of content or style. How you’d like insights and information, from him, which you don’t know already. That would amount to excellent cinema, and not just one more star-fuelled trip into a political void. Suggestion: avoid.