‘Satyameva Jayate’ – Deciphering the Real Plot

‘Bollywood… tum baaz nahin aaoge!’

I had heard some positive things said casually about this movie which has been running now for a couple of weeks, so decided to catch it post-dinner on a weekend before it went off. If I had been looking to be pleasantly surprised then the experience turned out to be just the opposite.

To convey an idea: if you can imagine the worst possible version of Manmohan Desai kitsch adding to it a good deal of gore, this would be the most accurate description. Or, in case one is more familiar with Hollywood: you could imagine a belated ‘Rambo’ or ‘First Blood’ adaptation, with a lot more schmaltz but mercifully no poker-faced protagonist.

Movies, in particular Hindi movies, are rarely nuanced. There is always the need to conjure up a devil and have a hero appear as an avataar who slays it. The viewer derives vicarious satisfaction watching justice delivered, the evils that plague his daily life dispelled and the bad men aptly punished. But emerging from the theatre and stepping into real life he is even more cynical because he realises that no such thing will happen and nothing will ever change. And the reason for this is that in movies the real evil is never even recognised. It offers no perspective, leave alone a remedy. It has no real struggle to identify with, nothing to strive for. If it were only for this defect of a chimera that lulls the viewer into a false comfort zone for a brief period of time! There are other underpinnings in ‘Satyameva Jayate’ that are far more harmful.

Recently there has been a flurry of Bollywood movies with Muslim-sympathetic overtones and decided insinuations against the majority Hindu community. There appears to be a concerted agenda, no doubt actively financed by not entirely reputable agencies, to sneakily influence perceptions to view Muslims as victimised, innocent minorities, and implicate the Hindus as aggressors. This movie is another piece that fits neatly in this plan.

The 1983 movie ‘Ardh satya’ was an all-time classic that acutely portrayed corruption in the police department, its nexus with the politically powerful and the mafia. It was a gripping story of a young, idealistic cop lower down in the hierarchy and his struggle with the corrupt system that brought out his angst and despair, and the drastic step it impelled him to in the denouement. It remains still one of the best movies on systemic rot and victimisation of the honest.

‘Satyameva Jayate’ purports to use a similar theme that shows the depths of corruption in the police department and the suffering of the common man. Released on August 15, it professes to be a nationalistic movie, but it is not difficult to see through that veneer soon enough and divine the devious agenda. (Din’t I say it is tacky?) The movie ‘Mulk’ that released just shortly before does a better job disguising its motives!

The movie has John Abraham as the protagonist, Virendra Singh Rathod or ‘Veer’, a vigilante who takes it upon himself to deal justice by picking out corrupt police officers and punishing them by handing them the most horrific possible death.

The movie opens with a scene where Veer sets alight a cop tied to a pyre burning him alive. The grisly murder sends the police department in a tizzy, all the more as the killer sends the urn containing the dead policeman’s ashes to the police station in an open challenge to the force. The victim having been a notoriously corrupt officer evokes no sympathy among the public, but all the same it gives a clue into the mind of the killer, one who believes in the virtue of taking law into his own hands to remorselessly punish those dyed-in-the-wool, unconscionable officers who cause misery to the poor and helpless people, abusing the office they are entrusted with.

The problem with such portrayals is that it assumes polarities of good and bad and blames a set of people as evil. In reality, corruption in the police department, whatever its extent –which is predictably exaggerated in the movie for sensationalism– does not exist in isolation. Any public institution only reflects the consciousness of the general society it draws its members from. The much vilified police department can be only as corrupt as the public at large.

The next policeman to be targetted is one Inspector Qadri (played by Shaikh Sami Usman) who is shown accepting bribe to cover up the death of street dwellers mowed down by a car driven by a rich and well-connected brat. Spotted in the scene is Veer, who curiously enough seems to always find himself opportunely at the setting where he catches the policemen at their corrupt acts firsthand.

As one by one the gruesome killings are carried out letting no clue on the identity of the murderer, nervousness spreads among the ranks most of whom are corrupt and therefore fear for their lives. The police commissioner (Manish Chaudhary) puts his most trusted officer DCP Shivansh Rathod (played by Manoj Bajpayee) to investigate the case, who soon discovers a pattern to the killings, yet draws a blank in apprehending the audacious killer. He somehow appears rather incidental to the whole –rather poorly done– plot, a clueless prop who is just left playing catch-up. Aisha Sharma, who plays Veer’s love interest, Shikha, too seems to have no worthwhile purpose in the scheme, except that the protagonist must have a girl, until the Director decides at the fag end to make her into the Police Commissioner’s daughter. With Nora Fatehi’s item number thrown in, ‘Dilbar’, the script has all the ingredients of a showy but uninspiring Bollywood gimcrack, musically and aesthetically forgettable.

So far the movie appears to be another flick along the lines of the hackneyed ‘evil and the angry young man’ theme, but before long it devolves into the propaganda that the movie is meant to serve, as insidious suggestions begin to be slipped in.

A young, innocent Muslim boy, Aslam (Jay Joshi) is held in lock up by the knavish Inspector Bhonsle (Rajesh Khera), who revels in torturing his charge to extract a confession because apparently that is the only way he can gain a coveted recognition in service! As if this is not far-fetched enough, his pious mother (Neetu Pande) all wrapped up in burka, beseeches the villainous Hindu policeman to let her son go, who taunts her in the name of her Holiest Book and challenges her faith in Allah to save her son. Sure enough, as soon as she calls upon her revered ‘kill-em-kafirs Allah’ (to the accompaniment of Azan calls in the background) lo! An angelic saviour appears in the form of Veer who then clobbers her son’s tormentor to deliver them.

(Source: BollyWorm)

What is this if not feeding the characteristic Muslim victim complex, the same that summons lakhs of chest-beating, grieving Muslims to the funeral processions of terrorists? The mother-son duo are thereafter shown defiant refusing to cooperate with the police in identifying the killer. Is it not exactly what the recalcitrant Muslim community does protecting criminals from among them even going to the extent of physically resisting law-enforcement officers to keep them from entering their ghettos?

Does the career of an Indian police officer build on torturing innocent minorities? In reality, law enforcement struggles with the constraints of the minority-centric Indian polity to even register cases against, leave alone prosecute, culprits from among minorities who brazen it out, known to molest and even kill police officers on several occasions, secure in the knowledge that they are protected by the political bosses.

The insinuations do not end there. A corrupt officer Inspector Gaekwad (Devdatta Nage) is shown exacting hafta from a poor, old Muslim. When his daughter (portrayed by Archita Agarwal) appears on the scene, Gaekwad makes lewd overtures towards her and threatens her with dire consequences at her spirited rebuff. And so on a Muharram day (another ‘holy’ Muslim festival of gore) the vile Hindu Maratha police officer accosts and tries to ravish the pious Muslimah, before Veer appears miraculously on the scene again to save the honour of the outraged damsel. It is a pointed incrimination of Hindus, esp. those in the administration, of desecrating the atmosphere during Muslim religious festivals.

Is this even nearabouts a true portrayal? Is it possible that on a day when Muslims are at their zealous most, a lone Hindu police officer enters a Muslim dominated locality to molest a woman from the community? Is a single such case known on which this exemplar was fashioned?

(Source: Mid-day)

It is such victimhood tales seared on the psyche of the average Muslim through consistent propaganda and religious indoctrination that acts like fodder to an avenger’s mentality, producing a ready stream of terrorists from among the community. The appearance of Veer in this episode as the self-flagellating devout Muslim, is the classic vision of a jihadi who perpetrates acts of violence and sacrifices himself for what he is convinced to believe is a righteous cause. That the character is actually supposed to be a Hindu is just a bare façade since he becomes one of the believers and acts on their behalf.

You may ask: ‘But the movie also shows a corrupt Muslim police officer.’ True, but that episode is included just to sleek over the overall message of the movie. (Ab thhoda balance toh dikhana maangta hai na?!) Inspector Qadri is shown as unscrupulous, not inhuman. The religious identity of the victims of Qadri’s venality is carefully concealed, while those of Bhonsle and Gaekwad calculatedly revealed, and this certainly cannot be an inadvertence.

The movie ostensibly questions the idea of self-righteous retributive violence, but in effect justifies it by bringing out Veer’s past as motive, where as a child he witnessed his father commit suicide by immolating himself, being falsely implicated and dishonoured in a set up case.

What is most unpalatable is the ‘Shiva taandav stotram’ playing in the background as Veer goes about his bloody killing spree, a misappropriation of the sacred chant which is not even remotely an exhortation to violence, but an invocation of Shiva, a lofty conceptualisation of the Absolute, Ultimate Reality beyond form, phenomena and causation. Would they in similar manner have portrayed a Muslim carrying out acts of violence with verses from the Qur’an playing in the background, whereas the likelihood of the latter happening in real life is much higher, since jihadis do frequently carry out killings of non-Muslims loudly proclaiming the justness of their act citing their holy text.

In the end, the presumption of this movie to demonise the police department (comprised mostly of personnel who work in extremely hard and dismal conditions for grossly inadequate compensation) on account of corruption, begs the question: how clean is the conscience of the makers and actors of the film? Why shouldn’t the common Indian question the film industry and its members, when they routinely churn out such defamatory and outrightly perfidious portrayals against their nation, about the sources of their own enrichment, in the sensational filmi lingo: ‘Aap logon ne kitna-kitna aur kis se khaaya?’

Cover Picture: NtvTelugu

Author: Smita Mukerji

Published: Sep 14, 2018

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