Directed by: Prakash Jha

Starring: Amitabh Bachchan, Ajay Devgn, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Manoj Bajpayee, Arjun Rampal, Amrita Rao

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There is no denying that Jha knows how to take an audience through the gauntlet of politics with astonishing clarity, especially in Satyagraha. At first, what seems like tedious block building swiftly comes together to create drama across all levels and drive the story forward. Jha also manages to create a very believable world where he questions how the ideals he proposes himself would be realised in reality and how even the best intentions struggle to stay true in the murky world of politics.

The problem I had with Satyagraha was that of control and characterisation. As the story gathers an impressive momentum, Satyagraha seems to lose control and go into freefall – so we have songs which are good but jar the rhythm that has painstakingly been established or we have the clumsy love story which I felt should have stayed implicit –  the Dwarka-Manav story is much more interesting and relevant. I was also disappointed with the character graphs – aside from Dwarka, the others begin strongly but soon tail off with no real purpose or direction disrupting any emotional connect the viewer has. This is especially true of Yasmin who battles against becoming a cliche of a hard nosed journalist who falls in love and becomes compliant until the plot demands it.

The performances are superb and really push the film up several notches – Bachchan is the emotional core of the film, adding gravitas and depth but also making Dwarka vulnerable and flawed. Devgn and Kapoor Khan are also good but are let down sometimes by the script which doesn’t know how to utilise them fully. I felt Bajpayee phoned it in at times – he plays the villain so well (and has fun with it) that it works but it really is time for him to change things up a little and perhaps do a different kind of role in this set up. Rampal and Rao are perfunctory but have little to do.

Despite its flaws, Satyagraha is a good film that not only engages but does provide plenty to think about after the film ends. Unfortunately, any film about corruption in India will feel current and Satyagraha does manage to capture the frustration and anger such a system generates. Sometimes I feel directors need to consider rewrites or reedits with such a large canvas but in this case, I think Jha needs to strengthen his curating skills. There is no doubt he has many good ideas and does know how to make them work on screen in a competent way – if he can master how not to overwhelm the viewer with his viewpoint, I feel he will get the wider audiences that he seems to be courting. In any case, Satyagraha is his best work since Rajneeti and definitely worth a watch, if only for the wonderful ensemble cast and timely subject matter.

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