A staunch Gandhian, a whistleblower, an oppressed janta, an upright reporter, a billionaire on a mission, a rising youth leader, scheming politicians and a corrupt system – if clichés were the order of the day, then “Satyagraha” is terribly ridden with it. Set in the fictional town of Ambikapur – a microcosm of a city representing the entire nation, “Satyagraha” lashes out its anger at everything – corruption, leaders, politicians, system, food insecurity, infrastructure, etc, etc. As much as he denies it, director Prakash Jha borrows generously from the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare’s movement, his core team headed by Arvind Kejriwal, its viral and on ground impact and the establishment of Jan Lokpal Andolan. This was a story that could’ve been told in so many intensely gripping ways, but much to our disappointment, Jha denies us the pleasure of a complete cinematic experience here.
With lofty preachy dialogues, a ham of a script, and a marathon of speeches, “Satyagraha” morphs into one of those films from the 1980s where everyone becomes a “Himmatwala” and calls a spade a spade. For a filmmaker of his expertise and caliber, Jha had this incredibly interesting subject to play with, to dig deeper into the system and to expose its rotten base. Corruption is not only in our system, it flows willingly in our blood too. It’s a deeply rooted evil that draws its strength form illiteracy, over population, poverty, goons, a glaring lack of leadership and “let someone else go on a cleanliness drive” attitude. Instead, Jha confuses us by shoving in everything wrong in this country in one film and lashing out unabashedly. Cathartic, yes. Deliverance, no.
Yes, it is making money and audiences are pouring in to watch, because this is what they want to say to an inept government. Jha takes the easy route – a popular medium, popular star cast, popular subject, popular headlines, popular language and a popular “in your face” treatment. He gives us a modern day Gandhi in Amitabh Bachchan, a local leader perpetually in his jeep in Arjun Rampal, the corporate head honcho turned crusader in Ajay Devgn, a fourth pillar in television reporter Kareena Kapoor Khan, the victim in Amrita Rao, and the bad wolf of a neta in Manoj Bajpai. So black and white are their roles that it’s actually irritating. If only there were more layers, plots and schemes, more conversation, and solutions and less dialoguebaazi and empty ideology, “Satyagraha” could’ve been a tad more tolerable. And the janta could’ve actually rocked it!