The second installment of the Satyamev Jayate franchise is a kind of mess that filmmakers often try to justify as a mass-entertainer. Over the years, Bollywood has eulogised vigilantism and mob justice, this week, it is John Abraham’s turn to impart strident lessons in why to take law in your own hand through a triple role that tests your ability to endure a ham-fisted performance.
Also Read | Get ‘First Day First Show’, our weekly newsletter from the world of cinema, in your inbox . You can subscribe for free here
The makers plug dangerous ideas as twins, Satya and Jay, one is a lawmaker and the other an upholder of the law, combine to justify extra-judicial killings and lynchings of the guilty in the name of removing corruption from society — a cause for which their father, farmer leader Dadasahab Azad, laid down his life.
It is a dodgy deviation from the standard formula where the one who goes by the law chases down the other who becomes the crusader. Here, national symbols and the names of freedom fighters are used to justify vigilantism. With multiple references to the 56-inch chest and the idea of true azaadi, the makers seem keen to create a myth around the prevalent nationalist narrative but don't quite succeed. In the name of symbolism, the trite climax has the two brothers, in saffron and green kurtas, jousting in front of their mother who is tied to a ploughshare. Eventually, the villagers take the shape of the country’s map to lynch the real villain.
From the anti-corruption stir and farmers’ unrest to the manufactured oxygen crisis in a government hospital, writer-director Milap Zaveri plucks trending headlines but fails to conjure up a cohesive storyline around discordant metaphors and breaking news.
Despite being soaked in blood and tears, the cases of injustice have been so mechanically handled that they fail to evoke any empathy for the characters. So much so that even references to the secular fabric of society and women’s safety sound gratuitous.
We could sense that Zaveri wants to recreate Manmohan Desai’s cinema for the millennials but what we get is a disturbing patchwork, written perhaps after watching a series of dubbed masala fare that plays ad nauseum on Hindi film channels.
Forget about the detailing, even the intrinsic logic of the film doesn’t hold. How could a mother, bedridden for 25 years, walk into the thick of the action. Why would the villain allow her to recover?
When John is not busy reducing the opponent to a pulp, Zaveri attempts to pack a punch through dialogues filled with rhyming words that are more jarring than fun. And, when the punches become a dime a dozen, they lose their bite. As a dialogue writer, Zaveri has failed to imbue different tonalities to his characters. Everybody seems to have graduated from the same, outdated school of dialoguebaazi.
In the last few years, John has developed a body of work where his abs do the talking and his silences evoke meaning. Here, in a role that is explosive on paper, his limitations stand exposed. In a bid to make him sound better, the makers have surrounded him with actors who thrive on overacting. It doesn’t help.
Such is the magnitude of growling and howling that after a point one wonders whether Zaveri wants the audience to watch the film sitting in the seat or get crouched under it. Or, does he want the audience to behave like the insensitive inspector Shukla in the film who is asked to laugh while being beaten up by one of the Johns.
Satyamev Jayate 2 is currently running in theatres