Movie Review: Satyagraha (Hindi) 176

Prakash Jha's films have are usually about strong themes, and have something to do with Indian politics or hard hitting issues facing the nation such as caste based reservation, dynastic politics, or social issues such as kidnappings, custodial killings, bonded labor, etc., common in certain regions. This time, the subject is corruption.

Following the apparent accidental death of Akhilesh Anand (Indraneil Sengupta), an upright officer working for the Highways Authority, Minister Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpai) announces a reward. Predictably, his grieving widow Sumitra (Amrita Rao) has a tough time dealing with the local administration to get the cheque released. Enraged at this, patriarch Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan) slaps the Collector.

With the intervention of Akhilesh's childhood friend and business magnate Manav Raghavendra (Ajay Devgn), the arrest soon snowballs into a massive social media campaign against the high-handedness of the administration. Manav ropes in popular television journalist Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor) to cover the event.

Somewhere in the film, the story follows the India Against Corruption's 2011 fast unto death campaign by Anna Hazare. Here, Bachchan turns into Anna; Manav who is the brain behind it, apparently seems like Kejriwal; an altruistic lawyer is like Prashant Bhushan, a cop gives up his job and joins the group, a possible likening to Kiran Bedi.

The film also flirts with a sub-plot on what could've been Akhilesh's expose on irregularities in highway construction contracts, remember the whistleblower's murder case? With the main plot itself being a handful, Jha hardly had any time to touch upon the matter. Maybe it was only used as a plot element that could explain his death.

'Satyagraha' also suffers from Too many people being cast in the film. End result? They hardly get time to establish the characters they play. The angle of the opposition leader played by Vipin Sharma could have been better used.

Amidst all of this, what was Arjun Rampal doing? Except for being there as a seasoning in a dish. His meager role failed to justify his persona or his commanding voice. Kareena Kapoor's casting hardly mattered in the film. Even if a newbie or a second grade actor was cast, it would have not had any impact on the film.

Another passable creature was Amrita Rao, playing her typical typecast avatar as the quintessential good girl. If anyone noticed, there is a picture of hers from her film 'Vivah' pasted on to a bulletin board in the Anand household. Ah, how creative!

Having said that, some good acting by Manoj Bajpai, Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn salvage whatever that is left of the film. Nonetheless, it looks like we have gotten too used to seeing Bachchan play the idealist and Bajpai the antagonist.

Music isn't impressive barring the exception of the title song 'Satyagraha' on the tunes of a modernized 'Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’. Another song which has a some potential to become a youth anthem in any anti corruption protest is 'Janta Rocks'.

Given the gravity of the subject, 'Satyagraha' really had the potential to make its mark, which it somehow falls short of. Maybe, we have gotten too used to the same ensemble cast being re-cast time and again in predictable roles. And what to say about the plot losing itself somewhere, without coming up with radically creative solutions.

Verdict: Going by the films Prakash Jha has made and given the fact that the movie posters and promos make a clear reference to the Anna Hazare fast against corruption, you know what to expect. If you don't mind a movie that only scratches the surface on the subject of corruption, watching the film won't really hurt.

Rating 5/10: Genuine cause at heart but fails to pack a punch