Cast: Prakash Jha, Priyanka Chopra, Manav Kaul, Ninad Kamat, Murli Sharma, Kiran Karmarkar, Vega Tamotia, Rahul Bhat
Director: Prakash Jha
Nations ka bhi mood hota hai. And these days hamare desh ka mood two mele-mein-bichdi fighter-cock sisters ki tarah hai. Left side wali sister ka mood is to shout slogans and demand azaadi from bhookhmari, bhrashtachar, berozgari, corporatisation, sampradayikta and uske Sanghi-sambandhi. It’s her wont to implement freedom of speech, kabhi gala faad-faad ke, kabhi Kanhaiya style ki masti mein.
Right side ki saji-dhaji sister ka mood hai Parliament mein pravachan dena, promises karna in very fake Hadi Rani style, left side ko pitwana, prime time pe jhooth bolna. Ek behen kehti hai main nationalist hoon, doosri kehti hai tu anti-national. Which side is what depends on where you are standing. In between all this, police, which should be in savdhan, attention mode, is at ease, unless it is called upon to hound sloganeering-students. Isi national mood ke beechon-beech aa dhamki hai Prakash Jha ki Jai Gangaajal: The End Game.
Even when bad, and recently bordering on downright tortuous in the second half of his films (Aarakshan, Chakravyuh, Satyagrah), Prakash Jha has always been a very interesting writer-director. He’s conventional, anarchic with a special affinity for vigilantism, but always political. And over the years, with films set in the Hindi belt, Mr Jha has, by repeatedly repeating himself, created a genre of films: The Prakash Jha Genre. Mrityudand, Gangaajal, Apaharan, Aarakshan, Chakravyuh, Satyagrah… With a few changes here and there, in this genre there is always an issue that is causing distress to the aam janta and the solution almost always lies with the one who wields the lathi, carries a gun. The motto always is that if cops fall in line, if they stop being kirai ke tattu of corrupt politicians, things will change. Don’t say!
Jai Gangaajal is a film of that genre. That it’s called “The End Game” could, perhaps, be a promise that this is the last one. Perhaps that’s why Jha has sprung a delightful surprise and has decided to be the hero of this film. The film’s plot, now set in stone courtesy Amitabh Bachchan’s Inquilaab, E. Niwas’ Shool, Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai and Prakash Jha’s own films among many others, can be explained by way of a simple diagram.
Take a piece of paper and draw three circles in a triangle formation. In the circle on the top write “Politicians”. Here the top dog is Mantri Chaudhary (Kiran Karmarkar), below him is Babloo Pandey (Manav Kaul), and then his bhai Dablu Pandey (Ninad Kamat). There’s an interesting Munna Mardani (Murli Sharma) in the side somewhere.
Now draw a line from “Politician” circle to the circle below, on the left, and in it write “Corporates”. No names here. Just men in suits. Next, from the “Politician” circle on top, draw a line to the circle below, on the right, and in it write “Police”. On the top here is Abha Mathur, IPS (Priyanka Chopra). Below her is DSP B.N. Singh (Prakash Jha), and then other, lesser khakis.
Now around these circles make dots. Random, tiny dots. Separate and in clusters. That’s the unwashed, suffering people who, in this case, are not just wailing but also found swinging from trees. All are nameless, faceless except two. So make two small faces, sad ones.
The aam people don’t get introduced to us ever, even though it’s for them and their haq that directors create and erect these “realistic” edifices. Never mind that. What’s relevant is that politicians require money to get elected and this money comes from corporates. In return corporates demand land to set up, in this case, a power project. Land is owned by nameless, faceless kisans, most of whom fall in line because of jeeps that vomit out armed goons ready to strike at a phone call. For the goons to operate freely, it’s a prerequisite that cops do not react to complaints and hai-hai wails of poor, garib kisans. So the cops must be kept happy and in vishram position, coming into savdhan only when required by their mai-baap.
In zila Bankipur, Madhya Prant, there is aatank hi aatank of the goons of Pandey brothers. They are harassing and torturing kisans to sell their land. Cops arrive, led by B.N. Singh, only to facilitate their kaali kartoots. For long politicians, cops and corporates have had it easy. They’ve been ignoring the completely ineffective IIT-topper, MIT-returned sum-total-of-all-NGOs Pawan’s bhashan-baazi (Rahul Bhat wasted and mostly forgotten).
Enter new SP, Abha Mathur. She’s svelte and stuffed with idealism, a staunch sense of duty and ready anger and outrage at any wrong, any atyachaar.
She catches some goons harassing a girl and beats them up with her danda, arousing the till-now-napunsak constables. But the corrupt B.N. Singh frustrates her attempts at clean-up. So, at one point, she tells him a few home truths and almost immediately something begins to shift inside him. Enter two aforementioned aam, sad faces and that mother of all crimes in cop films: laying rude, dirty, filthy hands on sarkari vardi.
Like in most Prakash Jha films, change and climax here is pivoted on cops who decide to do their job, and a responsive and bahadur samaj, i.e. the aam aadmi in hordes, baying for blood.
A standard film that rests heavily on the memory, goodwill and screenplay of his Gangaajal (2003), Jai Gangaajal is made better and engaging by sharp performances and the fact that there is no needless melodrama. In this vigilanteism-in-vardi genre, restrain is rare but key. It’s almost never to be found when there’s a woman in vardi at the centre. Invariably there’s a rousing of base emotions over izzat pe or parivaar pe hamla. There is much humiliation, victimisation before, in Ma Kali style, she does vinash of paapi people.
This is where Jai Gangaajal scores. It is calm and focused. Though there are several mob lynchings, there is some weak attempt at instilling faith in the due process of law. What’s also interesting are the small details here — insights into how the corruption machine works, its rules, relations and how feudal and patriarchal it all is on the ground. SP Asha Mathur, for example, is throughout called, tellingly and interestingly, “Madam Sir”.
As the only woman in an almost entirely male setting, Priyanka Chopra is neither overtly masculine, nor given to grandstanding or hyperbole. She’s agile, restrained and efficient. She doesn’t use needless swagger to project power, just seeti-maaro dialogue and moral glare delivered in brief, dramatic scenes.
The film has commendable performances by all, especially Murli Sharma and Manav Kaul. And Priyanka is very good but she is in a supporting role to Prakash Jha’s B.N. Singh. He is the protagonist. The film’s true delight is that an accomplished director, at the age of 64, has become his own muse, his own hero.
And what a find! Jha is excellent. Subtle yet expressive, controlled yet chilling. And with eyes that could bore holes.
His angular, ageing face, with criss-crossing deep lines, is like a monument to the issue itself. It’s seen more than it probably wanted to. I could study it for hours.
Though he is fabulous as the corrupt cop, his taut, bahubali frame carries him as the man who seeks to redeem himself. That and his salt-pepper hair, clipped tight and short. Am I sounding like I’m in love? I am, I think.