Direction: Prakash Jha
‘Satyagraha’ manages to stir the latent patriotic fervor in its audience but is deeply flawed in its execution. Prakash Jha’s storytelling not only offers simplistic solutions to very complex issues but I find his approach very problematic.
‘Satyagraha’ brings to fore a lot of systematic problems entrenched in the Indian society – corruption, government apathy, the collusion of the powerful and the helplessness of the common man. While all these issues are real, the director’s addressing of them is almost flippant. At the very onset, it is abundantly clear that even the protesters, with the exception of Dwarka Anand (Amitabh), have vested interests.
Manav Raghavendra’s (Ajay) involvement is totally emotional; for Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena), a peoples’ protest against the state government makes for a good story for her channel and Arjun’s (Arjun Rampal) support to the cause can catapult him into the limelight of state politics.
It is interesting to see how social media is used to fabricate the extent of the initial protest against Daduji’s (Amitabh) arrest. Students are bribed to do some sloganeering and videos with assorted close-ups are used to create the impression that the movement has gathered momentum. The participants and their leaders seem less committed to the cause and are motivated more by their personal ambitions.
Yasmin, a prominent political reporter for a national news channel, with her kohl-lined eyes and impeccable make-up (that withstands water cannons and lathicharge) is present to cover the movement. She is staying at Dwarka Anand’s house and is romantically involved with Manav. Soon we also see her face on the party posters. Surely this kind of involvement will affect her reportage? Is it possible for her to be unbiased in such a situation? Aren’t their any journalistic ethics involved here? These concerns don’t seem to have bothered the director at all. We have Yasmin participating as well as reporting the protests.
While the script falters, Amitabh Bachchan’s performance never does. He is brilliant, in the quiet acceptance of his young son’s tragic death, in the studied silence with which he watches Balram Singh’s fake sympathy or when he finally breaks down to mourn his son.
Manoj Bajpai, belting out yet another effortless portrayal as the seasoned politician, is in complete control of his game.
Arjun shows early promise but is relegated to the background, only allowed to raise his well-sculpted hands to participate in some slogan shouting.
There is little variation in Ajay’s expressions. He has perfected the brooding, pained look for Prakash Jha’s films and he could do this role in his sleep.
Prakash Jha’s films tend to be didactic but the unnecessary inclusion of a romantic track just dilutes the essence of the film instead of providing some much-needed respite. The director needs to realize that playing to the gallery isn’t always possible. ‘Satyagraha’ is well intentioned but the effect remains superfluous.
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