India Masala

Bollywood and culture in an emerging India

Satyagraha: This revolution does not awaken anyone

August 30, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

In “Satyagraha“, director Prakash Jha attempts to show a divided society and the chasm between the people and their leaders.

But Jha seems to give in to the same kind of consumerism and greed that his film’s holier-than-thou characters look down on.

Amitabh Bachchan plays Dwarka Anand, a retired teacher and an idealist. Soon after the film opens, he berates his son’s friend for promoting a capitalistic lifestyle. Anand accuses the new generation of being greedy and having selfish desires that encourage corruption.

Within minutes, a character asks another if a packet of India Gate rice has been opened. Another extols the virtues of UltraTech Cement. How can you make a film that criticises certain values and promotes them in the same breath?

Jha sets out to make a film based on the 2011 anti-corruption movement by Gandhian activist Anna Hazare, adding references to the Satyendra Dubey murder case and homilies about a corrupt government battling outraged citizens whose only weapons seem to be hashtags on social media.

“Satyagraha” is a film about a rot in politics but Jha gives little importance to the specifics of the system or how it works.

In the film, Dwarka Anand wants the government to clear pending claims and petitions within a month, assuming naively they are genuine and do not need any checks. He wants an ordinance he hasn’t even bothered to draft and goes on a hunger strike. The audience never knows what his demands are.

Filmmaker Jha seems to think the issues are peripheral; all he apparently cares for is the potential melodrama.

Anand’s revolution takes place in a small town called Ambikapur. Manav (Ajay Devgn), the boy Anand had scolded in the beginning, joins the campaign after a change of heart that sees him give up a 60 billion rupee business empire. Local leader Arjun (Arjun Rampal) is the movement’s muscle power but doesn’t do much except shout slogans and sing on stage.

We also have Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor), a firebrand reporter who has obviously not heard of something called conflict of interest. Yasmin stays in the house of the man she is covering for the story, offers advice and is often on stage during speeches and hunger strikes – blurring the line between reporting and being the story herself.

There are item songs (even a rock song called “Janata rocks” which plays intermittently), a love story and a hurriedly cobbled together conclusion that doesn’t solve any of the problems.

Jha is lucky he has a stellar cast that pulls off the most ridiculous scenes. Bachchan towers over everyone but Devgn and Manoj Bajpayee (the evil politician) keep up with him. Kapoor preens more than she acts while Rampal doesn’t have much of a role.

“Satyagraha” is at best a dull film that doesn’t grip you. Look a little deeper and it’s a reminder of how little has changed about the way Bollywood makes movies and why it makes them.

(Follow Shilpa on Twitter @shilpajay)

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