Anna Hazare haazir hoon!Ok, Anna is in the US on a lecture tour, and we will have to make do with Amitabh Bachchan playing him in Prakash Jha’s new film Satyagraha. How Anna lost his mojo is one of the great mysteries of Indian politics but Satyagraha gives him a respectable exit. There is nothing wrong with dramatizing real life events,in fact politics make for riveting cinema, but maybe Prakash Jha thinks we don’t follow the news.
He starts the film with the spiraling cost of electricity and a call not to pay electricity bills which is exactly how Arvind Kejriwal launched his political party, the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP).He brings in a thinly veiled reference to the BJP which poses a moral dilemma to Ajay Devgan (Arvind Kejriwals proxy) since they cannot join hands with communal forces. When making Aarakhshan about job reservations, Mr Jha forgot to show the self immolation of Mr Rajiv Goswami, of anti Mandal commission fame, he makes amends by making a youth set himself on fire.When he wants to inject violence into a non violent movement he borrows from Attenborough’s depiction of the Chauri Chura incident in Gandhi, when a few policemen are lynched to death by an angry mob.
The film also puts forth Arvind Kejriwals very solid rationale that politicians are engaging in a match fixing and don’t expose each other fully because they are looting the country in partnership, providing a compelling raison de entre for the AAP. Arvind Kejriwal needs to revive the Anna wave in the Delhi elections in November, and convince voters that both the BJP and Congress are equally corrupt.Now let us imagine for a moment that Mr Kejriwal is the producer of this film.He puts his entire kitty of election funds, say 25 crores into making this film.He quadruples the money in 1 year and has a film which is the best possible campaign video for him just 2 months before the polls.That would have been brilliant!
But he is still a winner.Here is how:
It will be seen all across India and especially by the voters in Delhi where Mr Kejriwal has a real chance at becoming the kingmaker.As India heads into its most divisive and interesting general elections in a long time, Satyagraha and Mr Kejriwal add a healthy dose of self-righteousness into the mix which consists of pathetic dynastic politics and brazen corruption on one side and communal polarization on the other.Its difficult to predict a winner in that contest, but Satyagraha will conquer the box office and garner some votes for the AAP in the short run.I would have really loved this film, had the corrupt chief minister been a sweet, calm and corrupt old lady like Shiela Aunty.
When this film is seen in single screen theaters by people who have been drawn in by the star appeal of Mr Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor it will serve as a powerful reminder of what happened two years ago since the memory of those events have already faded.The next general elections is an opportunity for the common man to speak with his vote.During the Anna movement he spoke with his voice on social media, but Facebook “likes” don’t count when the votes are being counted.
It’s an utterly tasteless piece of cinema but hopefully an eye opener for the voter who is able to take out 3 hours from the grind of his life to watch a mindless song and dance film every weekend (and nothing wrong with that!) but spends election day catching up on his sleep.This is a landmark film in the sense that we are watching the birth of the political campaign film in India.Satyagraha is an interesting experiment making prospective voters pay and locking them up in a darkened movie theatre for 150 minutes.
So thats the political lowdown.And how does it stack up as a piece of entertainment, had it really been completely fictional etc. etc. as the disclaimers at the beginnings of films go?
The direction in Satyagraha is almost non-existent. The big-ticket actors strut the stage and mouth their lines, the sleepy cameraman rolls the camera with the scantiest regard for the aesthetics, composition and lighting of the shot, the background score is completely uninspiring, the costumes jarring and the script full of cliches.Yes there are some good one liners in there, but not enough to salvage the script.Manoj Bajpayee is reliable and good fun as usual.Any self respecting Indian commercial film needs eye-candy so Satyagraha starts with an item number and foregrounds Kareena frequently.Jha even makes Devgan shut her up during an argument with a smooch.That was a LOL moment for sure.
If the idea is to entertain enlightened and aware audiences the film fails. Mr Prakash Jha who once made wonderful films like Damul before he went to Bollywood and made equally entertaining and solid social thrillers like Gangajal and Apaharan, has of late tried to occupy the niche of socially relevant cinema.His Aarakshan and Rajneeti tried hard but were based on inherently weak scripts.This is a downward spiral for Mr Jha.Hope he snaps out of it and goes back to his artistic roots.The delicious irony of Satyagraha is that when political campaigning has to stop 48 hours before polling by all parties,this film will still be running in the theatres innocently.