A hooded vigilante is roaming about in Mumbai, setting fire to corrupt cops, easily evading capture, and notching up the gruesome numbers: you close your eyes, and another one goes up in flames.
The film takes its objective very seriously indeed. We are shown stacks of wood, kerosene cans and matchsticks, and burning human flesh, over and over and over again. And again, just in case we’d forgotten.
There was a time, in the 70s and 80s, when B grade cinema embraced this theme—weeding out corruption with extreme violence– with enthusiasm. Satyameva Jayate brings it all back, with all its dialogue-baazi, and relentless background music, piling one improbable, cliché-ridden sequence upon another.
Backstory of the hunter (Abraham), as the devastated child forced to see his honest policeman father being hounded and humiliated? Check. A ‘Deewar’-like strand, with the ‘good’ brother (Bajpayee) on his trail, conflicted, yet true to his oath as an enforcer of the law? Check. A posse of cops milling about uselessly as our man breezes blithely in and out of cops stations and hospitals and other well-guarded locations? It’s all there.
An effective vigilante film has its guilty pleasures: who doesn’t like a bad guy come to a worse end? But not when the plot offers creaky tropes, and revives all the forgotten horrors of this kind of movie, where you dispense good taste in the pursuit of hoots and whistles. There’s so much gore that even hardened viewers may flinch, and there’s something entirely gratuitous about characters being made to mouth thunderous lines against people taking the law in their hands, and then showing humans being burnt and beaten.
Some of the lines are in cringingly poor taste. ‘Pata lagao uski koi rakhail hai ki nahin’, thunders Bajpayee’s character. A toaster is used to make ghastly jokes about a guy who’s been burnt to a cinder. Macabre jokes work only when you do them well: here, they don’t land, because the whole thing is so inept.
We can get why Abraham is in this film: he’s done this kind of movie before, and this looks like an extension, all bulging biceps and flaring nostrils, and using hands and legs against the enemy. He does action well: you believe when a tyre is split by those muscled arms. But what possessed the excellent Bajpayee, who can lift a film just by his presence, to do this?
There’s also the small matter of the portrayal of the ‘other’, showing Muslim characters in prison, in black ‘burkhas’, in bloody Moharram processions, and doing nothing else. There is also a steady barrage of phrases culled from today’s India: keeping India ‘swachch’, and chests which measure fifty plus inches.
Basically, death by ‘jumlas’.