Language : Hindi | Running Time : 153 Minutes | Director : Prakash Jha
The great film maker Stanley Kubrick once said :
“I believe Bergman, De Sica and Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists. By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.”
We understand that artists tend to express their views over and over again. I’ll take an example of Ingmar Bergman to explain what this means. Ingmar Bergman would bring theology into his films whenever he wanted to expound it. He was on a quest to find God and be it Seventh Seal, The Trilogy of Faith he would ponder on it, try to find answers, provide an insight into his mind and each time it would be a difference experience. That is how an artist works.
Prakash Jha would like to call himself an artist who is nationalistic and addresses the interests of the common man through his realistic film making. Let me bring some clarity. Neither is Prakash Jha an artist like Bergman is nor are his films realistic. All his films have a common theme. There is politics at large, drawn out of something that’s happened at a national level and there’s been enough debate upon that even Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami have grown tired of it. If Rajneeti was a look at the political system in India and a superficial take on the Mahabharata, if Aarakshan was about the reservation system then Satyagraha is about Anna Hazare’s “Gandhian” fight against corruption in the country. Deep rooted within all these politically themed movies is an understanding of the system that people drinking tea on a bench and reading the newspaper have. Just a bird’s eye view of how things work and nothing in depth or sensible.
All of Prakash Jha’s movies have had this issue and this is no different. Satyagraha, starts off with an introduction of a capitalistic Manav (Ajay Devgn) and equality preaching, “Gandhian” Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan). It is rather implicit that we have to form our opinion of them and just consider their ideals at face value. Manav, a friend of Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta) is visiting him when he hears of his friend’s impending marriage to Sumitra (Amrita Rao). The dinner table conversation is exciting to get things started but even such a scene doesn’t live completely in your memory as you walk out of the theater. Akhilesh’s untimely death sows the seeds for a revolution. Prakash Jha tries to bring the youngsters’ angst on the social media to the realities on the ground and as he tries to be realistic, he fails to see where his revolution on the ground is going.
For someone who preaches Gandhian principles, Dwarka Anand goes and slaps the District Collector. This is where Manav gets involved in the revolution, in an attempt to release the man. As far as I have read about Gandhi, aggression by force was never a Gandhian principle. If slapping a man isn’t a violent start to a revolution, I don’t know what is. Oh yes, quite a silly thing to pick on one might say but if someone’s going to call himself a realistic film maker, I expect him to keep the ideals realistic, the story can take its own turn as cinema is work a fiction. But if you are going to make use of a man’s principles, one should make sure that there’s enough research in place and only then the script is written to ensure that there are no fallacies when a man’s principles are being expounded.
It is high time that there was some serious research that went in before a film of this nature is being made. In which part of the world is a member of the fourth estate allowed to be a reporter if they are morally compromised and no longer independent minded. Please ignore the paid reviewers or the paid media that the world has to deal with. Or is that what Prakash Jha is addressing here? That people will continue to believe and be swayed by the media run by politicians and so called revolutionaries. It clearly isn’t the latter as neither is there’s any subtlety to bring such an issue forward nor is it too radical as the movie might like to think of itself. So when Yasmin(Kareena Kapoor), a reporter supports the revolution openly and is a founding member of the movement continues to be the leading reporter of the new channel she represents, I didn’t understand why I was still letting myself be made feel dumb by this movie.
Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Bajpai must be tired of the character stereotypes they have been playing. There’s very little difference between their roles in Aarakshan and Satyagraha except for a change in profession. Amitabh Bachchan is a “Gandhian” who rises against corruption(supports reservation of a certain kind in Aarakshan) and Manoj Bajpai is a scheming, wily, corrupt, smooth talking politician(teacher in Aarakshan). They have been reduced to playing the same kind of roles in quite a few movies with little or no change and it is rather sad that two of the best actors in the industry are in the danger of being stereotyped or have they been already? They are the two best performers in this movie. Post Sarkar, this has to be Amitabh Bachchan’s best performance, including his performance in Paa. Manoj Bajpai evokes a few laughs with the timing of his dialogues. He has a gift for it and the wonderful actor continues the role where he left it off in Special 26, where I last saw him.
Ajay Devgn has been the man who comes from a position of power to fight against oppression and a character that’s been attached to him almost genetically by the industry. Kareena Kapoor has done quite well as the reporter. There’s very little of hamming and even lesser of the reaction-less face. Arjun Rampal is a big old oak tree. He stands there looking good, facing the camera like a man posing for an underwear ad where he has to show off his good build.
I’ve always maintained that a movie with a bad story but good acting or good craft can make a film watchable. Satyagraha has a pretty good cast but everything else about it as good as knowing that your girlfriend has not yet had her period.You are waiting for something good to happen but all you see is being saddled with a burden. Satyagraha is a burden to sit through.
Prakash Jha is to politically themed movies what Madhur Bhandrkar is to movies with female leads and what Karan Johar is to movies about NRIs. They are in their own dream world and neither has any new development to show. Rehashing the same old story and trying to pass it off as something new is not new but it is rather painful to sit and watch something which is emotionally manipulative, opportunistic, superficial with no sense of research or intelligence and “ghanta” rocks for brains. Pardon the usage of ghanta here. If someone’s going to play a ludicrous song like “Jantha Rocks” and also massacres the lovely “Raghupathi Raghav Raja Ram”, even my grandmother would feel abused. The music is too loud, jarring and doesn’t add a bit to the narrative except when they make use of the “Raghupathi Raghav Raja Ram” instrumental.
It needs great skill to pull off something which is emotionally manipulative. Satyagraha lacks the craft to pull this off. When dialogues like “bahut bahadur tha Lal Bahadur” are made use of to pull us into the manipulative web that is has woven, the web breaks and there’s laughter in the theater. Even the under cooked theme of rising against a corrupt government is not made use of intelligently. Dialogues of such nature and characters that are made to goof up to induce laughter, a bad attempt at humor, break the emotional manipulation at regular intervals and the important scenes fail to remain in our mind.
Satyagraha is like the samosa you get in a movie theater. On the outside, it is the same thing that you get in your favourite chat shop. Similarly, judging by the cover, Satyagraha is a take on fight against corruption with a great cast. Like the samosa, as you consume it, you start feeling bad for having spent 3 times more than you should have. Satyagraha is a dull, boring experience that one could do without. There are better movies about corruption and there are better socially themed films as well. Get a DVD of a great film and watch it. Lead a satyagraha against this Satyagraha.