There’s a shot in Satyagraha – a rainbow glimmering for a second between jets of water pounding protestors – which typifies this film. Vibrantly layered, Satyagraha weaves together urban legends of corruption, encompassing corporate lobbyists to murdered engineers. It features slices of histories, Chauri Chaura, Mandal, Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Andolan. It takes a real issue – corruption – to reel life, movingly fusing fact with fiction, leading to a security guard accompanying a politico at its screening to sing out aloud, “Aam aadmi kitna aam, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram…”
Retired teacher Dwarka Anand (Bachchan) is an idealistic man. His engineer son Akhilesh’s buddy Manav (Devgn) is an ambitious capitalist. Manav cherishes his friend – who suddenly dies. Minister Balram Singh (Bajpai) announces compensation which Akhilesh’s wife Sumitra (Rao) cannot get despite daily applications before government babus. Incensed, Dwarka slaps an arrogant official and gets imprisoned. Manav starts a campaign to free him, using social media, roping in wannabe-bahubali Arjun Singh (Rampal) and journalist Yasmin (Kapoor). As hopeful students, hungry labourers and angry middle class citizens join, politicians panic. Will their moves derail the movement?
Devgn is Satyagraha‘s strong body while Amitabh – gaunt in grief, moving in fortitude – is its soul. And Bajpai is its glittering, malevolent cloak, delivering a satiny performance hair-raising in its perfection. Bachchan voices the movie’s philosophy – “Janta sarkaar ki malik hai. Malik nirdesh deta hai. Maang nahin karta.” But what is the best way to give such nirdesh? Symbolic protest? Violent revolt? Or a longer, harder route?
Satyagraha grapples with this dilemma. More philosophical than fiery, it adorns reality with gloss and loss. Dwarka touching the earth where his son fell brings tears while Prasoon Joshi’s wonderful lyrics – “Uthkar karne hain kuch kaam, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” – bring hope.
Satyagraha deserves an extra half-star for capturing corruption from root to branch – a government babu complains, “Yahan toh table ka bhi bhaada dena padta hai”. Showing true Satyagraha has no short-cuts, it also shows solutions glimmering ahead, as ephemeral, yet powerful as a rainbow cleansing the dust.
As corruption erupts, what’s the best satyagraha – to preach or practice?
The Times of India