One week after a film based on social issues hit the big screen (Madras Cafe), Bollywood is back with yet another – Satyagraha. While the makers deny it, there is an obvious correlation between the Anna Hazare movement. Outrage sparks after Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan), a retired school principle, ends up in jail after several incidents unfold. Thus begins a people’s movement, helmed by businessman Manav (Ajay Devgn), journalist Yasmin (Kareena Kapoor Khan), local politician Arjun (Arjun Rampal) and Dwarka’s daughter-in-law, Sumi (Amrita Rao).
Satyagraha chooses a very relevant topic – corruption – and is based on several real events, but does that make it a good film?
If there’s one reason to watch Satyagraha, it’s for the performances – specifically, Mr. Bachchan’s performance. He packs in a punch, and is brilliant in every scene – more so the quieter ones that require him to emote, (which he does so well!), rather than deliver dialogues. For him alone, actually, the film is worth it – but the rest of the cast all deliver great performances too.
Satyagraha also has some powerful moments, like when Dwarka quietly asks, “Yeh humne kaisa desh banaya?” It even weaves in social networking and the youth angle as well, and there are several moments that resonate and illicit the intended emotions – anger, discomfort, sadness. As it stands, Satyagraha is an ambitious attempt to raise all the right questions about issues that plague everyone in this country.
In the end, however, the film does not deliver a big impact, due mostly to the over Bollywood-ization of the story. We really didn’t need a club item number (or any of the songs, actually), we really didn’t need a romance angle (especially when Kareena and Ajay don’t have 0 chemistry), and we really didn’t need everyone to look so glamorous (Kareena, particularly), when they’re supposed to be in the middle of political upheaval in a small town.
What sticks out as the most unconvincing, though, is the treatment of Kareena’s character, Yasmin. Other than being absolutely pretty all the time – fully made out, every hair in place – Yasmin is fairly unbelievable as a journalist. There is no way that she, supposedly an unbiased journalist, would be allowed to be the face of a political movement while still working for her news channel. Her job is established in the beginning, but somewhere down the line she suspends all other work just to be a part of this group – and a fairly big part, too, since her face is plastered all over their posters. To keep the journalist label intact, though, the script requires her to report from the frontline of the scene very often… except that it’s difficult to understand how any media house would allow anyone to become so openly involved in a political movement while still reporting from the scene.
For these reasons, Satyagraha is hard to really believe, which is a shame since the issues it tackles are very real. In fact, the film would have been that much better if they went the Madras Cafe route by telling an honest, no-frills story instead of diluting the impact by adding in clichés and unnecessary angles.
Great performances overall, but not as hard-hitting as one would have liked.
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