Political dramas are synonymous with corruption and unwarranted bureaucratic advantages taking place in India these days. Of these dramas, Jha's Gangaajal and Raajneeti completely outdid certain threads the genre is sewn upon with. Last weekend witnessed the emergence of Madras Cafe, which uninhibitedly broke the boundaries of the Hindi film political thriller stereotypes present today. Post Aarakshan - Jha's last dependable film till date - his only other release last year - Chakravyuh - failed to sensitively cradle it's own issue, missing the mark by many inches. And now, the director returns with yet another topical film, loosely based on quite a few vivid brushstrokes of some important political episodes over the years.
Set in Ambikapur, the movie focusses on the trials and tribulations of an upright schoolteacher Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan; Aarakshan, Black) who slaps a government official in the sheer rage of injustice meted out on his family. As he gets jailed, a close friend of Anand's deceased son, Manav Raghavendra (Ajay Devgn; U Me Aur Hum) joins forces with hotshot television reporter Yasmeen (Kareena Kapoor; Chameli) and a young-blooded wannabe leader Arjun (Arjun Rampal; Rock On!!) to quickly form a revolution, which gets bigger and bigger each passing day, with unprecedented consequences looming not far away.
Comedies with escapist political undertones like Lage Raho Munna Bhai have been able to deliver a more impactful social message than Jha does in the whole film. A close-to-real scene is followed by a jump of three years - which is supported by an unwarranted item number for reasons this writer cannot seem to fathom. What seems to be the need of the day here is the writing. Anjum Rajabali (Raajneeti, Aarakshan) may have delivered a thunderous response with Jha for Raajneeti, but the same cannot be said of his later films (of which Aarakshan seemed to be the only worthy follow-up to the 2010 hit) till date. With farcical character arcs as that of Amitabh Bachchan whose rage is supported by a conveniently justifiable conflict, the audience gets where this film would be headed. Jha's direction, as always, is heavy-handed. However, the over-dramatization of scenes in search of some cinematic impact largely dampens the effect. The romantic angle between Devgn and Kapoor-Khan's characters is overstretched with a cringe inducing number showing an absolutely awkward romance between the two. It would also be important to note that this film would be remembered by some for the most hilariously gratuitous product placements of all time in Hindi cinema. A dubious honor indeed.
The film is supported by Sachin Krishna's cinematography, capturing well enough the overall atmosphere of Ambikapur. The editing does the job without needing to get experimental. The film, however crosses the threshold of tolerance with it's avoidably long runtime. Production design is a disappointment. The art direction makes the town look a bit too falsely perfect for it's own good. That in itself isn't able to justify the cause of the film. Music by the array of music composers are a mixed bag. The initial item number does no good to the film. Raske Bhare Tore Nain is ruined visually by the awkward chemistry between the leads, and the song's random appearance into the film. The title track does quite some good, however Janta Rocks is laughably forced and tackily situational.
As far as performances go, Jha has managed to grab just the right array of performers. However, he has failed to make use of them wisely. Amitabh Bachchan is a prime example. The larger-than-life veteran disappoints for the first time in quite some years now. There seems to be no change in his character arc when compared to his last collaboration with Jha on Aarakshan. This, thusly, looks like a convoluted sequel of the same. Ajay Devgn has his moments of power. Along with Arjun Rampal, the movie raises the emotional context of some scenes to quite a level. Kapoor-Khan does a fantastic job as the feisty reporter. Her delivery of some of the film's most important dialogues will stun the viewer an occasional bit or two. Amrita Rao (Ishq Vishk, Main Hoon Na) gives quite an understated performance in comparison to her loud ones in Love You Mr. Kalakaar and the likes. The actresses, however, don't have any direction in their character arcs, thus making them mere props. Quite a sad thought when you see they've made such a valiant effort to perform well against the tide of a regressive screenplay. Manoj Bajpayee (Chakravyuh, Gangs of Wasseypur) as the corrupt Balram Singh plays his character with his all. Unfortunately though, a Raajneeti and Aarakshan later, you feel he's doing exactly the same thing now that he did in the former.
With Satyagraha, what you see is a social message being colossally ruined in it's delivery. The main reason for the same could probably be Jha entering into his comfort zone with the kind of formula he has been toying over for the past three years now. A film with a slow first, a decent middle and an over-dramatized climax; Satyagraha is suitable only for those who can ignore the film's many faults for its message. That in itself is going to be a major task for the audience to live up to.