If the publicity material of Prakash Jha’s “Jai Gangaajal” is to be believed, this is the story of a woman police officer trying to take on and win against the system, but the biggest twist in this tale is that it’s not. Priyanka Chopra’s face adorns every poster of the film, but the real hero and the one who gets the most screen time is Jha, playing Chopra’s subordinate Bhola Nath Singh, a crooked police officer.
While Chopra’s Abha Mathur has a predictable story arc, staying idealistic and miss goody-two-shoes till the end, Jha’s character undergoes a transformation, from a corrupt officer openly subverting the law to a crazed vigilante who isn’t opposed to public lynching and murder to avenge those he once counted as friends.
Jha’s films have always had the theme of the oppressor and the oppressed, including more recent attempts at mainstream film-making such as “Aarakshan” and “Satyagraha”. In “Jai Gangaajal”, Jha repurposes his 2003 film “Gangaajal”, centering around an honest cop out to set the world right.
The bad guys are the politicians and the bone of contention is land acquisition for a huge multinational. Resident lawmaker Babloo Yadav (Manav Kaul) and his brother Dabloo (Ninad Kamath), take the help of police officers to coerce villagers into giving up land. Abha Mathur plays spoilsport by protecting the villagers who don’t give in.
When one family remains adamant, the Yadavs use brute force, killing two people and hanging them from a tree. The murders upset Bhola Nath Singh and years of cynicism and selfishness peel away to reveal a man transformed.
He vows to set things right and in doing so condones vigilante justice. Abha Mathur’s story takes a backseat and it is Jha who takes the lion’s share of screen time and the best lines. But at 158 minutes, this film is over-stretched, and doesn’t find anything new to say.
Inequality in society, breakdown of law and order, the story of one man’s redemption – these are all stories Jha has told before. This time, he doesn’t bother to come up with a new way of story-telling.
Of the cast, Chopra seems too perfectly put together and looks out of place in the dirt and grime of the northern badlands. Jha jumps and snarls and grimaces, and altogether tries much too hard for his acting to come across as natural and effortless.
“Jai Gangaajal” is another one of those countless police dramas Bollywood churned out in the 80s, with a gender role reversal that is cosmetic at best.