Satyameva Jayate movie review: John Abraham's action thriller is fairly illogical but entertaining in parts
Satyameva Jayate is a fairly illogical commercial thriller fronted by two actors who deliver forceful performances.
Two years ago, writer-director Milap Milan Zaveri made a conscious shift to reinvent himself. Raakh, a thriller with a runtime of around 20 minutes, was a seismic shift from the raunchy comedies loaded with double entendres and puns that had thus far lined his filmography. From Masti to Grand Masti, Kya Kool Hain Hum and his last directorial Mastizaade, Zaveri has reinvented himself to action thriller Satyameva Jayate.
A cold-hearted killer is on the loose. The names on his kill-list have two things in common – they are all Mumbai policemen and each one is reputedly corrupt. The killer’s modus operandi is to grab his victim, give him a sermon while his victim is fearing for his life and then set him alight. From ‘khaki’ to ‘khaak’ (ash).
Each victim is a caricature though – the money-under-the table type or the drunk-on-booze-and-power type or the lecherous type etc. Else it’s a buffoon like Shinde, assistant to DCP Shivansh Rathod, who makes ill-timed jokes and couldn’t keep an eye on a bus, leave alone a potential dead-man in a crowd.
Veer (John Abraham) might be a serial killer but he cleans up well. Besides his dark activities, you see Veer feverishly working on a canvas in his swanky apartment and then getting his hands dirty as a volunteer picking trash off a Mumbai beach. Here he meets Shikha (Aisha Sharma), who is pretty good at delivering sermons too. She gives a politician an earful about the importance of the national flag. She says some other stuff too but honestly, Sharma’s performance was so wooden my eyes glazed over.
Shikha is also a vet, paints Mumbai’s shabby walls, volunteers at a children’s NGO – basically she’s a top candidate for sainthood. Between trash, distressed puppies and grim art-works, Veer and Shikha strike up quite a friendship.
In the meantime cops continue to be burnt alive, to the piercing score of some Gregorian chants alternating with a recitation of Indian mantras. A good cop has to be on the case. Enter Manoj Bajpayee as Shivansh Rathod. He’s a righteous officer but always one step behind the killer. His plans are also a little amateur which means there is plenty of scope for Veer to get away with the crime.
Rathod does figure out a couple of things quite quickly. First, that the killer’s target is corrupt cops, and second, he’s following a sequence. This reveal set the entire audience in the screening I attended off on a game of guess-the-Mumbai-railway-station. Suffice to say you might never think of Thane in the same way again.
Coming back to the plot, Rathod now offers a nuggets of wisdom: the only way to stop the killings is either to catch the killer or get all the cops to straighten their act. In other words there is only one route – to catch the killer. Dialogue like this, and many other comments on corruption and the oath of the police force, are reiterated throughout, clearly designed to elicit applause and touch a nerve.
Bombastic dialogues (If God’s job is to look after mankind then his salary should be cut next month) and puns (e.g. ‘Petrol ka daam or Damle, dono upar gaye’) aside, Zaveri also writes in a classic (and surprising) interval point twist. With that he checks another box of the 70s-80s commercial formula film:
Item number – check
Punning dialogue – check Comic sidekick (thankfully limited) – check
Interval twist – check
An angry young man – check
Amped up background music — check
Love story – check
In this cat and mouse game, who will be left standing in the end? It’s quite a grisly ride to the finish and along the route you encounter a range of hammy performances by the supporting cast, many chest-thumping moments, some pretty enjoyable action scenes and a story that takes many liberties (for instance, given his ineptitude, why isn’t Rathod replaced on the case) but ties up all the ends.
Whether he is making a macabre charcoal painting or bursting out of a tyre or thrashing a shocked cop John Abraham does it all with sincerity, though he’s more at ease in the action scenes than the emotional ones. Bajpayee is all-in, as always, but his character is missing that one layer and Bajpayee seems to be lurching to breakout of the constraints of the writing to hit the high note.
Satyameva Jayate is a fairly illogical commercial thriller fronted by two actors who deliver forceful performances. It may not be the most intelligent thriller, but its lack of pretence is its greatest asset. It’s entertaining for some of the right reasons, and plenty of unintended ones.
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