<Review by: Swati Sharan>
Directed by Prakash Jha. Starring Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Kareena Kapoor, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpai, Amrita Rao, Indraneil Gupta
With a gripping sense of direction, Satyagraha is both an intellectual dialogue for today’s issues as well as a modern chronicling of woes that the average Indian is plagued with on a daily basis.
They say India has not exploded because a saint is born in India every 10 years and Satyagraha makes me want to believe it. The story starts with the honest retired teacher Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) protesting over unfair electricity bills due to the exploitation of the private sector. In the midst of this, Dwarka’s son Akhilesh (Indraneil Gupta) and Manav (Ajay Devgan) meet up. Akhilesh and Manav are both techies but with ideological differences. Manav is enamoured by the dreams of rising in the private sector and its possible pay scale while Akhilesh is content like his father to lead a much more honest and principled lifestyle with a modest paying government job. Three years later, Akhilesh passes away in an accident with his wife Sumitra (Amrita Rao) then calling Manav over for help.
Dwarka and Sumitra then decide to start a social project in Akhilesh’s memory with the anticipation of 25 lakhs to be awarded in government compensation as per the declaration of politician Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpai). Unfortunately, after a lot of running around, that money doesn’t come near them. This then leads to Dwarka slapping the arrogant collector who keeps making them run around because of foolish bureaucratic red tape. Upon doing so, Dwarka is jailed with no hope for bail.
This outrages Manav who then coordinates an online and physical campaign surrounding this issue to arouse media attention with the help of Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor), a socially sympathetic journalist and reformed goon Arjun (Arjun Rampal). This one slap marks the beginning for the mobilisation of change and the Gandhi inspired march for truth against many injustices.
And from this follow radical proposed solutions where Dwarka deems the public to be the boss with the government as its workers who are supposed to take the public’s orders. And with a tongue-in-cheek on Indira Gandhi’s emergency, Dwarka justifies his demands by stating why can’t he request administrative answers be produced in 7 days when the government can declare an emergency within a span of 24 hours with no qualms? This garners mixed reactions by different stakeholders including fierce resistance and a thunderous social movement.
Amitabh Bachchan has delivered a performance par excellence as the angry old man with a purpose. Manoj Bajpai succeeds in being so despicable yet enamouring because of this very characteristic. Ajay Devgan exhibits great versatility with his transition from being a corrupt businessman to a social reformer. Kareena Kapoor Khan is cerebral with effective counter-argumentative shades and perhaps a consultative feminist perspective on group leadership vs. Ajay Devgan’s Manav who can sometimes take the unilateral approach to tackling matters.
Arjun Rampal is doing better with every film and this time he has succeeded in authenticating the role of a village hooligan turned social worker. Amrita Rao and Indraneil have churned out convincing performances as a middle-class couple though their roles may be considered in a more supporting capacity. Rao acts well as a silent yet strong supporter of both husband and father-in-law as is expected of many an Indian woman. Indraneil thrives in the role of an obedient yet idealistic engineer.
Songs are sparsely woven into the film but are momentous when they are. Shafqat Amanat Ali has done justice to the classical tune Ras Ke Bhare Tore Nain that has flavors of More Piya from Jha’s film Raajneeti. The traditional Raghupati Raghav Ram has been given a subtle but modern twist to make Indians less inert on social injustices. Janta Rocks is in keeping with the contemporary Westernisation of youth. The thumri Hamri Atariya Pe by Shraddha Pandit serves as a crowd puller with techno beats and model Natasa Stankovic to attract an audience that might not otherwise consider a subject of such gravity. Overall, Salim-Sulaiman’s music direction and Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics resonate.
Contemplation and Conclusion
It has touches of different incidences in India’s recent past ranging from a Crime Patrol case about an engineer who noticed faulty bridge design implementation to the slapping of Sharad Pawar to Anna Hazare’s fasts against corruption and public outbreaks to accusations that his movement is non-secular to the Rajeev Goswami self-immolation movements courtesy of the Mandal commission. Though the self-immolation cases happened many years ago, the film is bringing it on par with the modern era of youth suicides due to academic and job pressures and job losses.
While the private sector has been glamorised by many with the perception that it is not as corrupt as the government sector, the film shows how the private sector in fact, eggs an already lackadaisical government sector to further not perform according to public will. The government sector here in fact, is reflecting the British legacy of grooming Indians to be hyper-educated regurgitating bureaucratic clerks coupled with Nehru’s Marxist inspired implementation of worker rights.
The result: Besides bad work ethics, we have a society bereft of intellectuals who could have otherwise effectively brought more positive change in tune with the times. Instead, we are left with a society that values cash to the extent that we are willing to tolerate hooliganism on every level and blame those that challenge this.
Manav’s galvanising and campaign coordinating speak to the need for how modern Indian can organise and make democracy count. Through this character, Prakash Jha has also tried to integrate both the real and virtual worlds together and has shown how the two can work in synch to achieve social development. In terms of box office success, after witnessing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’s performance, there is no doubt that this will become one of the year’s top grossers even though it’s a serious film.
On the social front though, this film leaves me with some questions. Do we lack the charisma of independence freedom fighters or is it that democracy means less not just in India but globally too given that we have never had more people protesting on this planet as we do now for social change? And if either is the case, will it take another saint like Sri Aurobindo to come down and deeply meditate to create an enabling aura for more meaningful leaders to come up and affect change?