Satyameva Jayate movie review: John Abraham is a discount Akshay Kumar, peddling discount patriotism

Satyameva Jayate
– Milap Milan Zaveri
Cast – John Abraham, Manoj Bajpayee, Aisha Sharma
Rating – 0.5/5
The actor Varun Dhawan recently said that patriotism needs to be felt, not said. It is an indication of our times that level-headed statements such as this are considered brave.
We have been conditioned – thanks to sycophantic social media accounts, the imposition of pointless laws and most forcefully, a torrent of nationalistic films – to believe that to prove ones patriotism one must have an image of the national flag as ones profile picture, and the words ‘proud Indian’ as ones bio. To be forced to stand for the national anthem in cinema halls – a secular, socialist, democratic venue if there ever was one – and to be expected to cheer every time a fictional character delivers a passionate speech about our country – that is what has become the new normal.
And what better way to publicize ones patriotism than to project poorly written propaganda on thousands of movie screens across the country?
So no, you should not watch Satyameva Jayate, the latest in this intolerable slew of films that seems to dismiss any form of patriotism that isn’t loud, crass and oddly defensive. It is a film in which there are more gloriously shot flags, fluttering in slow motion, than there are believable characters; more ridiculous plot twists than there are honest cops, and more spoken Sanskrit than you’d hear in Akshardham Temple.
John Abraham plays Vir, a scud missile of a man who goes on a vigilante spree across Mumbai, ritualistically murdering crooked cops. Not only does he kill them, he subjects the doomed creatures to at least two minutes of poorly recited poetry before dousing them in kerosene (or alcohol, whichever’s available) and flicking a lit match in their direction. Being burnt alive is bad enough, but imagine dying with John Abraham’s couplets tossing about in your brain.
And DCP Shivansh, the man tasked with hunting him down, is no better. He’s played by the great Manoj Bajpayee, who once again proves that when enough money is dangled before ones eyes, no amount of embarrassment is bad enough. Every word out of his mouth is louder than the last, perhaps in an effort to hide the fact that were Shivansh’s lines to be delivered in a softer tone, they could easily be passed off as song lyrics.
So on the couple of occasions that Vir and Shivansh speak to each other on the phone, it sounds more like a poetry slam than a macho face-off.
Shivansh is supposed to be the best man for the job – an honest policeman, a super-intelligent crime-buster, one of the rare few that remains in Mumbai. However, at one point in the film, he suggests this strategy to stop Vir’s cop-killing spree: “We need to catch the killer,” he says, and after a pause for effect continues, “or hope that the entire police force turns over a new leaf.” He then proceeds to laugh heartily at his excellent joke.
The problem with films like Satyameva Jayate – whose title should be an indication as to its subtlety – is that they want to have their mithai and eat it too. Only the law can take the law into its own hands, says Shivansh, as if that explains anything. It doesn’t.
In recent years, John Abraham has sort of turned into a discount Akshay Kumar, and his films have become a front for discount patriotism. Like Parmanu – his previous effort to keep his toe firmly in line – Satyameva Jayate is also borne out of a fundamentally flawed idea. While Parmanu seemed to suggest that nuclear annihilation was worth it if national pride could be restored, Satyameva Jayate thinks that killing bad policemen is justice – as if corruption is a fly, and not a reflection of systemic problems in our country.
This is a brutal film, the sort of film that lingers over moments of violence well after the impact has been felt. It is also a gruesome film, overwhelmed by bad ideas and a headache-inducing background score. Many lives are lost, graphically, in Satyameva Jayate, all in the name of nationalism – a terrifying idea to celebrate if you consider the realities of similarly motivated crimes in our country.
Whatever message there is has been incinerated by inept filmmaking, courtesy Milap Milan Zaveri, who last crossed my path with Mastizaade – and it shows, because the only competent moment in the film is the item number, which, tragically, he might not even have directed. Out of a possible 10 stars over two films, he has managed to squeeze one-half out of me.
Satyameva Jayate is near-unwatchable. It is a torturous experience; a deeply irresponsible, phony and tone-deaf waste of time, a shameful low for everyone involved.

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