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Satyagraha: A glorified hunger strike

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There is cinema called Prakash Jha genre. It is basically anti-establishment in its essence. The usual elements involve badly skewed good-vs-bad struggles, the usual locations, plenty of crowds and a small constituency that is supposed to represent the national scene of India today.

Amitabh Bachchan is the honest, retired masterji of a small township. His principles are as tall as his personal being. He is not always right but that is the way he is. He has cast his son, Indraneil Sengupta, in his very own mould. The son, an engineer, is the head of development of a whole precinct of Ambikapur, which is represented by the politician Manoj Bajpai in the state assembly. A new bridge is being built with his design, and Bajpai's brother is the contractor. As expected, a slab from the bridge collapses and kills many workers. The builder has used inferior materials but the blame is put on the designer, Indraneil, who is killed soon after. A compensation award of Rs 25 lakh for the killed workers' families is announced by Bajpai in front of the media. Days pass but the award is not forthcoming due to corruption. When approached,the district collector is rude. Angry with his behaviour, Bachchan slaps him in front of his subordinates.

Bachchan is arrested for slapping a public servant. Enter Ajay Devgn, Indraneil's bum chum who supported Devgn after his parents died in an accident. Devgn tries his best, appointing a topmost lawyer and even approaching the collector. Nothing works and he decides to start a campaign for the release of the honest ex-teacher through posters and MMS clips. Soon the local toughie, Arjun Rampal, an expelled student of Bachchan, joins the campaign with Devgn. Rampal's speciality is crowd mobilisation. Devgn decides to rope in Kareena Kapoor, a TV journalist from ABP News. Kareena is supposed to travel with the PM on his Japan jaunt but Devgn convinces her that something major is happening in Ambikapur by sending her manipulated pictures of huge crowds. When she arrives, she sees no crowds but not to disappoint her, Rampal soon produces a huge mob.

Bajpai decides to play a good guy, comes personally to his constituency and orders the release of Bachchan and also presents him the cheque for Rs 25 lakh. But looking at the crowd's backing, Bachchan refuses to accept the money till corruption is totally done away with in Bajpai's constituency. He gives a deadline of a month for the purpose. However, Bajpai is a tough nut to crack. He holds the ultimate power in the state government which stands because of support of his party. He is in the position to call the shots. This becomes the clash of egos between Bajpai and Bachchan and his supporters Devgn, Rampal and Amrita Rao. Kareena stays back to cover the movement as well as to support it and ends up falling in love with Devgn while she is there.

Bachchan is taunted by the widow of one of the workers who died when the bridge slab collapsed. She tells him it is fine for him to refuse Rs 25 lakh but because of him even her compensation of one lakh is not forthcoming. She and her children have to remain hungry. Bachchan is moved and decides he too won't eat until the widow's children get their due and the local administration clears all the dues of the people. He is now on a satyagraha. Don't know why hundreds of people come and stare at the hungry Bachchan on satyagraha because for the viewer of this movie whatever is happening becomes unbearable! Some relief during this time comes in the form of one of Gandhiji's favourite Bhajans, Raghupati Ragav Raja Ram with reworked words. Since politicians like Bajpai don't always relent, the only way to end the film seems to be to let the armed forces out on the mob. There is chaos and deaths and for some reason Bachchan goes for a stroll. Devgn goes to find him when Bajpai's goons shoot at both, killing Bachchan and hurting Devgn.

Devgn and Rampal go after Bajpai only to hand him over to the police; not a very satisfactory way to deal with a villain for the viewers.

Satyagraha is a dry, insipid film with a script of convenience. Director Prakash Jha may be adept at collecting and handling crowds but the same can't be said of scripting. A few scenes and sequences are also taken from the film Gandhi. Dialogue is routine. Photography is fair. Editing is slack. Musically, the film has a couple of good songs: the title song and Raskebhare tore naina. Performances by all artistes are okay; the script offers no scope for histrionics to any character.

Satyagraha has nothing except its star line-up to attract people. But that has never been reason enough for the cine-going public.

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