Hindi Reviews

Satyameva Jayate Review: Whose Truth Is It Anyway

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Movie: Satyameva Jayate
Director: Milap Milan Zaveri
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, John Abraham, Aisha Sharma and Manish Choudhary

For just Rs. 118, I travelled back two decades or more. Satyameva Jayate is the kind of film where the hero flexes his muscles so hard that even a lorry tyre rips into two, where he is bloodied and bruised but still manages to send another corrupt cop to his doom, and where he commits the most brazen crimes in places so public but gets away with murder.

At the end of 140-odd minutes, I also learnt two things by rote — the pledge police personnel take when they join the force, and parts of the ‘Shiva Tandav Stotram’. Every time a corrupt cop is killed, the hymn is played. Remember the 80s and 90s, when action films meant blood and more blood. It’s a glorious throwback to that past in Satyameva Jayate.

The only hat-tip to the present in the film, directed by Milap Milan Zaveri, are references to demonetisation, the width of a certain person’s chest and ‘achche din’. Since 2016, I’ve been waiting for one dialogue that fused ‘note’ and ‘neeyat’. This one did not let me down!

At its core, the film has a solid kernel of a story. Shiv Rathore (Chetan Pandit) an honest policeman, is accused of keeping drugs and money at home and is dismissed from service. He immolates himself, unable to bear the humiliation. His two sons react differently — the eldest Shivansh Rathore (Manoj Bajpayee) has risen the ranks in the police force, struggling all along to wipe the stain off his surname. The other is painter Vir, whose only aim is to remove the slur off his father’s name. How does he do that? By burning alive corrupt policemen. Hint: Thought of Deewar, anyone?

John Abraham (Vir) can do many things, including said tyre ripping, but it takes a good director to tap into the kindness, sadness and laughter in his sensitive eyes. Sadly, Milap is not one. We have seen traces of what John can do in other films, even in the recent Parmanu, but here, all the actor does is look horribly beefed up, keep an angry or morose face and rarely speak, only scream. Even his usual grace is missing. The only thing he has to do is bash people up, in the most gruesome way possible, and save two abandoned dogs. In some scenes, you do get the feeling you’re watching Hulk, without the CGI!

The women are redundant, as always in these kind of action films. Shikha (Aisha Sharma) whom Vir likes, cleans the beach, works at a pet clinic, where she treats the dogs he brings, and paints street walls. You get the drift? Of course, she has a troubled past, but there’s a knot to unravel there too. Manish Choudhary plays the Mumbai Police Commissioner, who looks upon Shivansh like a son. He’s also Shiv’s best friend. But, are people what they seem at the surface?

A film such as this needs fine actors, and a finer screenplay that pulls all knots together and ties them up without letting the film unravel. Satyameva Jayate has the former in Manoj, who is in fine form, as expected. But, in a cat-and-mouse game where the cat has taken the lead, the head of the mice must at least be Ratatouille’s Remy, who navigates his way with certainty. The scenes, where Shivansh figures out the antagonist’s game-plan and where he realises who the culprit is, should have pulsated with tension; they were greeted with sniggers from the audience.
And, the next time a crime drama or thriller uses a song in a disco – this time, Nora Fatehi drizzles sand on herself and dances to ‘Dilbar Dilbar’ – the audience must walk up to the makers and tell them what they think of it.

Despite all its flaws, this film might just work at the box office, because it taps into everyone’s collective angst against corruption and wrongdoing in the system. It is jingoistic, and there is a scene where the mother of an innocent young man held on remand is told to perform namaz in front of the police station. The challenge? Let’s see if your God can save your son from me in the 20 minutes you pray! I kid you not!

While the film gives you every chance to make fun of it, Shinvansh’s character mirrors the confusion of every sincere officer out there in the field — does he do his duty or listen to his conscience? There could not have been a better actor than Manoj to showcase that state of mind.

*****

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