It is very easy to hate Prakash Jha’s brand of mainstream commercial political cinema given repeated dumbing down of political complexities, employment of stereotypes, casting/miscasting of stars instead of better-suited actors, the melodramatic staging and over-the-top theatrics under the pretext of emotions.
Yet, there is no denying the fact that nobody else even attempts to address relevant social issues, even with the minimal amount of honesty required of the issue. The result might be emotional and inconsistent, but at least Jha continues to experiment with how to take politics to the masses. After all, this is a country that grew up reading or hearing tales from epics rooted in politics — the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
In his latest episode in a series of political films on current affairs, Jha paints a candid picture of the state of affairs behind the anti-corruption movement that rallied the youth. It is the closest Indian reality has come to Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Rang De Basanti. Where the youth took to the streets, faced tear gas, lathi charge and expressed support to the man leading the fast — Anna Hazare.
Thankfully, Jha steers clear of the politics and ideology that right-leaning Anna Hazare is associated with, except for Gandhian principles, and creates a fresh character — a non-violent retired teacher Dwarka Anand, fondly called Daddu (Amitabh Bachchan is terrific here) pushed to the brink after the loss of his son and the sorry state of affairs. He slaps a Collector.
The “slap on the face of the system” finds support from all kinds of people tired of the system — the student leader Arjun (Arjun Rampal), the capitalist Maanav (Ajay Devgn) who has lost his best friend and the media Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor). Jha knows that no movement can take off without organised and strategic investment and deep pockets. So while Maanav has to pay students to orchestrate protests at first, he slowly finds support from the grassroots (through Arjun) and subsequently from the media (through Yasmin), the voice of reason who is quick to ask: “Ok, a frustrated teacher slapped a collector. So? How is it news?”
Satyagraha is about a bunch of people, who knew how to rally public support on ground and online but were otherwise clueless how to take on the all-powerful corrupt establishment. They make their demands, some unreasonable and autocratic. They make their mistakes, some with irreparable damage.
While the concept does look solid on paper (screenplay by Anjum Rajabali, Prakash Jha and Rutvik Oza), it is the staging that once again provides a few unintended laughs. But then, drama is a matter of sensibility. And in political cinema, what is said is always more significant than how it is said.
Despite the terribly staged chaos in the climax (Jha is making smooth take-offs and rough landings his signature), Satyagraha is a film to watch not because it is relevant but also because it is a responsible review. Of passion. Of paths we choose. And the politics around.
This could have easily gone all out populist and shown its characters are perfect people who are always right. Here, the non-violent role model is human enough to slap, the capitalist with a shady past makes mistakes picking his allies, the student leader is quick to take to arms. Together, they fuel the passions of an angry nation quite irresponsibly. Jha is a brave man to say it aloud: We messed up.
Cast: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Arjun Rampal, Kareena Kapoor, Manoj Bajpayee
Director: Prakash Jha