Prakash Jha has been a long time crusader of political cinema for bollywood, with his each and every venture championing a social and political cause. He commands immense reverence for this, and with his latest Satyagraha, he deserves applause for raking up a burning issue that has engulfed India in its flames–Corruption. Satyagraha would have been a jewel, with such a noble background and an impressive starcast, but what plagues the film to mediocrity is that its inundated with too much of sub plots and sketchy characters. Inspite of its sublime potential, it just ends up as a another moralizing sermon from the Jha stable.
The story revolves around Daduji ( Amitabh Bachchan), a retired idealist school teacher in Ambikapur, who’s engineer son Akhilesh ( Indraneil) dies in a road accident. Home Minister Balram Singh (Bajpai) announces compensation which Akhilesh’s wife Sumita ( Rao) fails to get, inspite of pleading and running around the govt babus. Incensed and angry, Dwarka Anand slaps the collector in front of his subordinates, and subsequently gets jailed. Manav ( Devgn), an ambitious enterpreneur and a dear friend of Akhilesh with the help of student leader cum social activitist ( Rampal), and a courageous journalist Yasmin (Kapoor), collectively start a campaign to free the system from the clutches of nepotism and malfeasance.
Jha borrows heavily from real life events and characters, and weaves it into a plot which is a hodgepodge of several incidents, that are still crisp in our minds–Anna Hazare’s aamran anshan ( that brought the government to its knees couple of yrs back), Mandal commission, Whistleblower Satyadendra dubey’s death- which is ok, but what mars the film is its simplistic solution that he provides to all the root causes of this problem, which doesnt really concur with the tone of the film. You rather feel disjointed than angry once the film concludes, since it never allows you to be a part of the movement, with all the pivotal characters speaking jingoistic lines and volubles. This disconnect becomes the biggest drawback of the film.
But to give the director his due, the film has some poignant moments,specially in the scene where Dwarka Anand slaps the collector. Also you get into tears when Dwarka touches the ground where his son died. Jha triggers patriotic moments with a well etched out remix of Raghupathy Rajaram song. But such moments are sporadic and few, leaving you asking for more in desperation.
But Satyagraha works primarily because of its towering performances by the principled cast. Amitabh Bachchan is immaculate as Daduji , with a terrific portrayal of an angst ridden activist who takes on the cudgels against the corrupt government, through his indefinite hunger strike. Modeled on the character of Anna Hazare, he weaves a brilliant portrayal, embellished with grief and fortitude. Devgn too stands out with a riveting performance, as an ambitious entrepreneur turned social activist who uses brains than brawns to deal with the nefarious netas and babus. The ever dependable Manoj Bajpai as a scheming politician is a delight to watch, though he tends to get overboard sometime. Kareena as the journo acts well, but is mired with a sketchy characterisation. Amrita Rao gets minimal scope while Arjun Rampal reprises his role from Rajneeti, of a hotheaded and daunting leader. He gets relegated to the background completely in the second half, and is just not effective as he was in Rajneeti.
Satyagraha might just score at the box office with the harried audience who are frustrated with the corrupt system currently, but its actually sad that the film fails miserably in becoming a hard hitting fare . I was rather disappointed when the ending credits started rolling. Watch Satyagraha for its performances, but dont expect any solutions from these bunch of “political activists”.