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In Satyameva Jayate John Abraham plays Vir, a pyromaniac vigilante who burns corrupt policemen in funeral pyres after uttering gruff, my-cause-is-holier-than-thou dialogues. Framed mostly in close-up shots with nostrils flaring, Vir isn’t all muscle and clenched teeth. The man has a mushy heart for the environment and stray puppies.

After scorching four policemen and sending their ashes to police stations, he cleans up broken glass from Chowpati Beach in Mumbai (in order to recycle shards to abuse another bad cop) and then takes a whining puppy to the doctor. When the puppy dies, the heroine asks Vir if he cannot strand the sight of death to which he answers: “Not of the innocent!”

While Vir weeps for the innocent and romances his girl (Aisha Sharma, whose wardrobe consist of denim shorts and overlong shirts), the police superiors send their best man to sniff out the cop-killer.

Milap Milan Zaveri sets up Satyameva Jayate’s faint, unoriginal premise with a paint-by-numbers attitude

On his entry we know that DCP Shivansh Rathod (Manoj Bajpayee) is a smart cop, so within minutes a cat-and-mouse game ensues that only prompts Vir to torch more cops right under Shivansh’s nose.

Director Milap Milan Zaveri (dialogue writer of Kaante, Plan, Housefull, Ek Villain) sets up the movie’s faint, unoriginal premise with a paint-by-numbers attitude. As a formula flick, Satyameva Jayate isn’t half-bad — meaning half of it is quite bad. Scenes become routine fast here, looping the same conversations over and over again without a fleck of intelligence or emotional engagement.

How and why Vir’s mind functions is something only he knows. Things just happen because they need to happen. The mechanics of how and why they happen are chucked out the window.

The only thing that stood out for me was Satyameva Jayate’s stance on safeguarding Muslims in India. In two sequences Vir takes down racial and religious malice, even though one of them gets its facts woefully wrong.

In a scene cut from the Pakistani release of the movie, we see Vir observing zanjeer zani (self-flaggelation with a chain) while Tajdaar-e-Haram (sung by Wajid Khan of the Sajid-Wajid music director duo) plays in the background. Clad in black and dripping blood in slow-motion, Vir may think he is above religious confinement, partaking in practices he (and the filmmakers) knows very little about, in the name of religious impartiality. As the scene continues, Vir ends up going mano-e-mano with a rapist cop who had chased an abaya-clad woman into a secluded corner — which, now that I think about it, was the point of the entire sequence in the first place.

After the sequence, my earlier assumption became unmistakably clear: there isn’t any method to Vir’s madness, nor is there intelligent reasoning in the filmmaker’s point of view. Satyameva Jayate’s plot later goes into a concise backstory that gives us Vir’s motive. However, by now we know that it is hogwash.

Abraham has matured enough as an actor but doesn’t get many opportunities to act — irrespective of the fact that he is in 80 percent of the movie. Bajpayee, once a good actor, is stuck in a rut as well, replaying the same expressions over and over again.

Satyameva Jayate looks grand in places (Nigam Bomzan’s cinematography is quite evidently inspired by Hollywood camerawork) but all the technical aptitude in the world can’t save a movie from its own ineptitude in telling a good, persuasive story.

Published in Dawn, ICON, August 26th, 2018