UTV Motion Pictures and Prakash Jha Productions’ Satyagraha (UA) is the story of an idealistic man, Dwarka Anand (Amitabh Bachchan), and how he takes on the government to make it answerable to the people.
Dwarka Anand, a retired, upright and principled school principal, lives in Ambikapur with his son, Akhilesh (Indraneil Sengupta). Akhilesh is to get married to Sumitra (Amrita Rao). Akhilesh’s best friend, Manav Raghavendra (Ajay Devgan), comes to Ambikapur to attend the marriage but Dwarka does not approve of his capitalistic views. Actually, Dwarka has an aversion to all who are or plan to become businessmen because he feels, businessmen use unfair means to amass fortunes. Since Manav tells Dwarka Anand of his plans to go to America and establish his telecommunications business in India, the latter gives him a piece of his mind. What’s more, Dwarka Anand hates it when he sees Manav asking his son, Akhilesh, to also join him in his business.
Akhilesh is an engineer working for the government and he is killed in a road accident soon after his marriage. The home minister, Balram Singh (Manoj Bajpayee), announces a compensation of Rs. 25 lakh for Akhilesh’s death in the accident but his widow has a tough time getting the cheque from the collector’s office as the staff is expecting her to grease their palms. Sumitra has decided to utilise the compensation money to build a school for children.
One day, Dwarka Anand goes to the collector’s office to complain about the delay and ends up slapping the collector (Sahedev Gireesh) in his room. He is arrested and put behind bars. Manav is informed by a weeping Sumitra about the arrest and he reaches Ambikapur in no time. He and localite Arjun Singh (Arjun Rampal) muster public support and force the home minister to order Dwarka Anand’s release from jail. Yasmin Ahmed (Kareena Kapoor Khan), a senior reporter with a leading television channel, comes with her crew to cover the public outcry against the arrest. She stays on as the aftermath of the arrest and release of Dwarka Anand becomes even more interesting.
After his release, Dwarka refuses to accept the cheque towards compensation and publicly announces that he wouldn’t accept the same till the government did not clear the outstanding demands of every single person. All the pending cases are forwarded to the government and Dwarka gives it 30 days’ time to settle them. In the midst of this month-long period, Dwarka goes on an indefinite hunger strike. Manav, Yasmin, Arjun and Sumitra are his pillars of strength during this month-long non-co-operation movement.
Meanwhile, Yasmin and Manav fall in love with one another. As Dwarka Anand’s fast-unto-death progresses, his health goes on deteriorating, giving his well-wishers a lot of cause for concern. Everyone in the group is keen that Dwarka should call off the hunger strike and for that, Manav is ready to enlist the support of even unscrupulous politicians, something Yasmin is not at all in favour of. Things take such an ugly turn that riots break out in Ambikapur and para-military forces are sent to control the situation.
What happens thereafter? Does Dwarka Anand succeed in his mission? Does Sumitra build the school? Does she get her compensation of Rs. 25 lakh? Was Akhilesh’s death an accident only? What happens to Manav’s plans to go to America and what happens to his telecommunications company? What does the future hold for home minister Balram Singh and for the chief minister?
Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali’s story is heavily inspired by the movement of Gandhian leader Anna Hazare against corruption in government departments. It is very contemporary and realistic so that the audience will be able to easily identify with the characters and the happenings in the film. The duo’s screenplay has several scenes which will strike a chord in the viewer’s heart not just because they are well-written but also because they bear a striking resemblance to what happened in the country not too long back and what is happening today. A couple of scenes would also draw tears from the audience’s eyes. But, by its very nature, the story is quite dry and there is not much scope for light moments. It is because of this that youngsters may not enjoy the drama. Even the dry drama may have worked universally but the problem is that the screenplay sometimes resorts to convenient twists and turns, robbing the story of its honesty. Since the film deals with a very important issue and pits honest people against the dishonest, this lack of honesty in the screenplay would not be taken too kindly by the youth. For instance, Dwarka Anand is shown to be shunning the support of Arjun Singh once, but taking him in his group soon thereafter. Even his acceptance of Manav seems all too convenient.
Furthermore, the stand of Dwarka Anand and his supporters is so idealistic that even a section of the audience may feel, their demands are far-fetched. For, in today’s times, the youngsters are more practical and less idealistic. The first half of the drama progresses at a fast pace and keeps the viewers engrossed but the second half has some contrived turns and twists, which don’t have the desired impact. In particular, the differences which crop up between Manav and Yasmin are not as effective as they ought to have been. The audience also wonders if Yasmin, by the end of it, is still a television reporter or has herself become a crusader.
Climax looks hurried and a bit abrupt.
Dialogues written by Prakash Jha and Anjum Rajabali, are good but needed to be more powerful. Of course, the dialogues mouthed by Balram Singh are suitably funny.
Amitabh Bachchan lives the role of Dwarka Anand and does cent per cent justice to it. He is mind-blowing! In the scenes in which Dwarka Anand is on a hunger strike, Amitabh Bachchan’s look (weak, pale, with parched lips and sunken eyes), his gait, his style of walking and talking – all are so real that it appears as if he were actually on a fast unto death. Ajay Devgan delivers a supremely honest and sincere performance, taking care of the smallest of nuances. Kareena Kapoor is effective and comes up with a fine show. Arjun Rampal is alright; he does not get too much scope. Manoj Bajpayee is extraordinary as home minister Balram Singh. His dialogue delivery deserves distinction marks just as his acting does. Amrita Rao is good; however, she gets limited scope. Indraneil Sengupta leaves a mark in a brief role. Vinay Apte is terrific as Kalkanth Babu. Sahedev Gireesh is natural to the core as the collector. Shireesh Sharma makes his presence felt as the chief minister. Vipin Sharma is effective as opposition minister Gauri Shankar. Manoj Kolhatkar (in the role of Indrojeet Sen), Raj Arjun Singh (as Sangram Singh), Jagat Singh Solanki (as Bulbul Singh), Ajay Trehan (as Durgalal), Masood Akhtar (in the role of Chhotelal), Mitalee Jagtap (as Ganga), Himanshu Gokani (as H. Parekh), Vijay Gupta (as Transformer Baba), Pradeep Kukreja (as Sundarlal Khatri), Mugdha Godse (in a friendly appearance as Malini Mishra) and Natasa Stankovic (in an item song-dance) lend able support. Others provide fair support.
Prakash Jha’s direction is nice but his narration is unable to camouflage the shortcomings of the script and maintain the excitement level after a point of time. Music (Salim-Sulaiman, Aadesh Shrivastava, Meet Bros. Anjjan and Indian Ocean) is appealing. All the songs are well-tuned. The best number is the ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’ song which is also wonderfully worded (by Prasoon Joshi) and has the soul-stirring quality about it. Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics even for the other songs are superb. Jayesh Pradhan and Uma-Gaiti’s choreography is alright. Sachin Krishn’s camerawork is splendid. Abbas Ali Moghul’s action scenes do justice to the script. Udai Prakash Singh’s sets are good. Santosh Mandal’s editing could’ve been tighter.
On the whole, Satyagraha is an average fare but its business at the box-office will be below average due to the below-the-mark start and lack of universal support, especially lack of youth support. Although it is contemporary and entertaining in parts and also has an emotional under-current, its convenient screenplay and too idealistic characters would mar its box-office prospects by limiting its appeal. Business in big centres and multiplexes will be better than that in smaller centres and single-screen cinemas.