The ApunKaChoice movie review of Satyagraha. Such has the state of affairs in apna mahaan Bharat come to be today that something seems amiss if a new scam doesn’t pop up after every few days. Corrupt politicians have always been around, but with the whistleblowers getting bumped off mysteriously, honest officials handed prompt suspensions, and bureaucratic red-tape getting thicker than ever, the morale of the aam admi has gone the way of the rupee -- DOWN. In such a lamentably bleak scenario, the only sliver of hope the aam admi can have is from…who else?...himself/herself. Filmmaker Prakash Jha’s latest conscience prickler Satyagraha chronicles the tale of one such revolution fashioned by the aam admi.
Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) is a former teacher, a Gandhian and an unshakable idealist. His honest engineer son Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta) dies on duty and his widowed daughter-in-law (Amrita Rao) never gets to see the compensation money promised by the corrupt Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpayee), the state home minister of Ambikapur. Dwarka Anand’s frustration finds its vent in the apt form of a tight slap he lands on a government official, backed with an equally apt lesson, “Naukar hain aap janta ke, aur badtameezi bardasht nahin karenge hum.” Consequence: Dwarka Anand is put behind bars.
An act of political arrogance enough to rattle the conscience of Manav Raghavendra (Ajay Devgn), an NRI telecom magnate and friend of the dead engineer son of Dwarka Anand. Manav is a corporate man with unflinching greed, ambition and aim to have billions in his bank balance. Whatever the ideological differences between him and Dwarka Anand, he can’t sleep over the old man’s plight in the lock-up. So he galvanizes a movement. Through social media and direct contact with aam admi, he puts a spark in the tinderbox of the janta’s frustration against injustice and corruption.
What begins as a ragtag protest turns into a full-blown revolution with the other players like Arjun Singh (Arjun Rampal) -- a hotheaded youth leader and wannabe bahubali not averse to using violence to get his ‘right’ done -- and the dauntless journalist Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor) stepping into the fray.
The groundswell of support the quintet muster, Dwarka’s fast-unto-death, and how the public braves the water cannons and lathis calls to mind the Anna Hazare movement of 2011, that shook the citadels of Indian democracy and sent the politicians in a scurry to pass a ‘sense of the house resolution’ on Jan Lokpal that has eventually and expectedly come to nothing. In Satyagraha, Prakash Jha and his writer Anjum Rajabali choose a less subtle and more physical denouement with Manav getting one-on-one with the wimpy Balram.
The movie also calls to our corrosive memory the other headline grabbing scams (2G, Mining), controversies and candlelight protests we’ve seen over the years and they haven’t been few by any stingy count.
Yet, Satyagraha is not a film without its flaws. The idealism of the quintet almost teeters on the brink of corniness. All the talk of morals, principles and ideals loses its sting after a while because Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali make their characters converse in a turgid language of lofty words an aam aadmi seldom uses in real life and can’t relate to. Also, the romantic-sensual number “Raske Bhare Tore Nain” between Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor Khan popping up in all the seriousness of the plot is an aberration, not to mention how visibly ill-at-ease KKK is when Devgn locks her in his tight embrace.
To his credit Jha pulls off a few dramatic moments with aplomb. The scene when Amitabh Bachchan’s Dwarka Anand visits the site of his son’s death, or an interaction between Ajay Devgn and Amitabh can make you reach for the kerchiefs.
Satyagraha rests on the able shoulders of Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn, and both the actors deliver competently even though Bachchan’s Dwarka Anand looks and sounds cannily similar to the partly namesake teacher Prabhakar Anand from Jha’s Aarakshan. Manoj Bajpayee shines as the smirking, cunning and irrevocably corrupt minister who sees politics as business. Kareena Kapoor Khan is nearly creditable as an omnipresent journalist except when she’s giving intense expressions when hit by water cannons. Amrita Rao and Arjun Rampal chip in well for their parts.
Prakash Jha has got his finger on the pulse of the people, and convincingly portrays the angst of the common man in Satyagraha. But his noble intentions are done in by the abundant idealistic flourish he imbues the film with.