Is this film the fantasy Prakash Jha has been inching towards all these years? The writer-director of Jai Gangaajal has done well to cast Priyanka Chopra as Superintendent of Police Abha Mathur of Bankipur – a tough cop who is keen to play by the rules – and Manav Kaul as Babloo Pandey, a vicious politician who has a stranglehold on his constituency. Where he goes wide of the mark though is in casting himself in a prominent role and mistaking himself for Ajay Devgn.
The policeman he plays in Jai Gangaajal – Bhola Nath Singh a.k.a. Circle Babu, for whom integrity is a fluid concept – ends up as the fulcrum of the story. The dilution of Priyanka/Abha and Manav/Babloo’s storylines might still have been okay if Prakash Babu could act. He cannot.
When Abha and Babloo’s paths intermittently cross, we get glimpses of what Jai Gangaajal might have been. When, however, the spotlight repeatedly moves away from them and falls on Prakash/Bhola, the film sags. The result: an uneven narrative which works when Abha and Babloo are on screen but goes lacklustre in almost every scene focused on Bhola Nath.
The set-up is promising. The SP of Bankipur is transferred when he decides to take action against Bhola for selling his soul to the region’s netas. In comes Abha, whose political mentor assumes she will do his bidding while he works towards his goal of becoming Bihar’s chief minister. He soon discovers that Abha is no puppet.
Bankipur at that point is under a siege laid by Babloo and his brother Dabloo Pandey (Ninad Kamat) who are terrorising the local farmers into selling off their land to make way for a power plant being set up by a corporate giant. Every form of violence – from emotional to physical – is unleashed on those who refuse. This leads to a clash between Abha and Babloo. What follows is a set of circumstances that causes Bhola Nath to turn over a new leaf. The story subsequently examines this question: should honest police personnel stand by while the public takes the law into their own hands to settle scores with netas and goondas who are ruining their lives?
In a country where online lynch mobs are increasingly demanding kangaroo courts and “off with his head” medieval-era justice, where some news anchors and too many politicians back populism and sensationalism over sanity, Jai Gangaajal could have been a crucial commentary on the dangers of mobocracy. Abha’s determination not to bow to public pressure is important in this respect because she is simultaneously battling corrupt politicians on another front.
Unfortunately, Prakash Babu sacrifices his heroine and this significant theme at the altar of his ego. Too much screen space is given to Bhola Nath, too many close-ups, too many fights, too many dialogues, too many silences, in short, too much of everything, although the actor-director does not possess the acting talent or screen presence to back the faith he has in himself.
Watching him in action, I found myself getting nostalgic about Mukesh Tiwari’s brilliant performance as the corrupt policeman Bacha Yadav who develops a conscience in Gangaajal, the 2003 precursor to this film. Whatever your arguments may be with Gangaajal’s politics, you have to concede that it possessed energy, focus, a sense of urgency and a stellar cast. As Jai Gangaajal persists in wandering away from Abha’s confrontation with Babloo, it ends up being an overly long, terribly unoriginal production.
The film’s gender politics is superficial and skewed. Quite ridiculously, the fact that Abha is a woman SP of a conservative region seems to play zero part in the public and politicians’ response to her. This could have been one of the distinguishing factors between Jai Gangaajal and most of the other police dramas we’ve seen in Bollywood history, but the film fails to delve into this angle at all.
Priyanka has the pizzazz and the body for difficult stunts, as we have already seen in Don 1 & 2. This film is further proof that she is well-suited to the action genre. In fact, one of Jai Gangaajal’s best-executed scenes has her single-handedly bashing up a rapist in a town square (I am NOT commenting on police violence here, only her physical prowess). What the film needed was more wolf-whistle-worthy fisticuffs involving this charismatic star, more screen time for her and greater depth in her characterisation.
Sadly, Jai Gangaajal does not tick any of these three check-boxes.
As exasperating as that fatal flaw is its token feminism. When a film goes against the Bollywood norm by featuring a glamorous, commercially successful female star playing a no-nonsense policewoman in the lead, it is clearly positioning itself as being liberal on the gender front. Yet, Jai Gangaajal casually throws up dialogues about men being eunuchs/neutered if they are not empowered or courageous.
At one point, when a junior sees Abha taking on Babloo’s goons for the first time, he says admiringly: Aaj aap humey mard bana diye hai, hum toh soche thhey ki hum napunsak hi mar jaayenge (Today, you have made us men. We were afraid we would die eunuchs). He then proceeds to bash up some villains because…in Jai Gangaajal’s book, that’s what ‘real men’ do?
In a later scene, Abha herself uses the word naamard for a man she views with contempt. This is what happens when you make an apparently feminist move, not out of conviction but because feminism is the fad of the day and faking it is the latest social trend.
Still, when the camera is on Priyanka Chopra and Manav Kaul, Jai Gangaajal is watchable. The film suffers sorely because Prakash Jha makes it too much about himself.