Satyameva Jayate movie review: The horror, the horror

A scene from Satyameva Jayate

Film: Satyameva Jayate

Hindi (A)

Stars: 1/2 (out of 5)

Director: Milap Zaveri

Cast: John Abraham, Manoj Bajpayee, Aisha Sharma

I was six years old when I went for my first blood test. As the nurse tied a cord around my upper arm, and my mother looked annoyingly calm, a voice in my head said to me, ‘This is not so bad. It could be worse.’ It then rattled off a list of situations it imagined to be more painful than a blood test: Broken bone – the kind that snaps cleanly and pokes through your skin like some sick Jack-in-the-box joke; jammed finger – so severe that you glance at it months later and wonder whether that’s why your right pinky is just a little shorter than your left; a toenail torn from its bed like the sheet of paper your best friend begrudgingly pulls from the middle of her notebook; the gleeful stickiness with which a scabby knee clings to your favourite denim. It’s been a while since I’ve had to return to this beautiful box of horror, and I ran to it today as though I were Kajol and it, my last train.

The best you can say about ‘Satyameva Jayate’ is also the worst you could say of any film: that it is easily summarised. Vir (John Abraham) is an artist by day, corrupt-cop killer by night. As he burns alive gold-toothed, Muslim-hating, belly-dancer-loving policemen, good cop Shivansh Rathod (Manoj Bajpayee) sets out to stop him. It’s a nice enough concept – two guys on either side of the law, both of whom want the best for their city. The problem is that ‘Satyameva Jayate’ confuses its concept for its story; and when you poke around a bit, when you stir the pot, looking for the chunks of meat, you discover an endless, colourless broth, character sketches that never quite become characters.

We all know that John Abraham has two expressions. We don’t hold it against him because the second is that pet-me grin he’s shamelessly mastered, and by then we’re all thinking of puppies and daffodils and where to buy lemon tarts. Still, somewhere a foot must be put down by someone. It’s one thing for an actor to smile at us and get away with anything; it’s another for him to pretend he’s still in that Garnier men’s facewash ad, and expect us to pretend along with him. At the end of each scene, Vir delivers grand lines to no one in particular, and you begin to wonder what he’s trying to sell. Picking up trash on a beach, he cuts his finger on a piece of glass and declares, ‘Sheher saaf karne mein khoon toh dena hain’; tossing a lit cigarette at a policeman he’s just covered in petrol, he whispers, ‘Main bola tha na – thane ke paas cigarette peene khatarnaak hain.’At some point the most khatarnaak thing of all happens – the other characters begin to believe that they’re also in that facewash ad. In one scene DCP Shivansh is fishing with his daughter when he’s called back to the city. But we haven’t caught a big fish yet, the girl says. ‘Abhi magarmachh pakadne ke samay aa gaya’ he declares with a twinkle in his eye.

Everyone is talking about the gore in the film. Even the tyre that Vir escapes from by flexing his muscly-muscles seems to bleed. Men whip themselves in bloody rituals, people’s faces are slammed against walls with crunchy determination, a pointy-moustachioed cop beats a young man within an inch of his life. Yet none of it is horrific because it appears within the canvas of the film as just another colour that is not painting a picture. There are characters doing things onscreen but they are all personality-less (don’t even get me started on Shikha, Vir’s love interest who cleans beaches, shows movies to underprivileged children, and generally stands around in cutesy attire) and it is hard to develop an affiliation to any of them. A lot is happening – and somehow always to a very loud, very dramatic background score –but nothing really is.

About an hour into the movie, as I enviously watched a handful of people leave the theatre, never to return, a glimmer of hope appeared to me in my darkest hour. As I sifted through the box of horrors, I was reminded of how I had every right to tuck the memory of this independent Wednesday morning – with all its blood, daffodils, and one-liners – into that hallowed treasure chest. For future use, of course.

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Satyameva Jayate movie review: The horror, the horror

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