Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Prakash Jha
Director: Prakash Jha
Almost 13 years ago, Prakash Jha made a film called Gangaajal, about beleaguered cops and powerful criminals in Bihar. In one scene, a frustrated police officer says: ‘Kutta ki zindagi hai sala. Kuch na kijiye toh public mare. Kuch keejeye toh sahib mare. Humse zyada izzat toh criminal ka hai. Itna sawaal jawab toh nahin hai.’
As it turns out, not much has changed. In Jai Gangaajal, the setting is Bankepur, which is a small town in Madhya Pradesh but might just as well be the Wild West. Characters with names like Babloo Pandey, Munna Mardani and Moti Pahalwan run the show. Land is usurped, women are raped and farmers crushed by debt hang themselves. Meanwhile, politicians and cops collude to amass mountains of money. Into this den of vipers arrives Abha Mathur, the first female superintendent of Bankepur. She has been brought in to serve the status quo. But she turns out to be brave, headstrong and honest. Of course, all hell breaks loose.
Politics has been an essential element of Prakash Jha’s cinema. He has contested elections himself and he has a keen understanding of how power games play out, especially in the hinterlands. So the trouble with Jai Gangaajal isn’t lack of authenticity. It’s repetition. Jha, who also writes and acts, isn’t giving us any new insights into these badlands. It’s the same old story of an upright officer against the system. The film also cannibalises the first film by retreading the same idea of mob justice — except here, instead of blinding criminals, the good folks of Bankepur are lynching them. Jai Gangaajal is relentlessly grim and only intermittently gripping.
The idea of a woman cop straightening out the goons is instantly sexy. Especially when the cop is played by Priyanka Chopra, who is convincing as the tough-talking Abha. It’s very satisfying to see her pummel the bad guys. But Abha is a one-note character. She doesn’t evolve, or exhibit a moment of vulnerability or fear. We mostly see her getting out of police jeeps and occasionally she gets to drop a killer line. There is one flat-out terrific moment in which the chief minister comes to her home to deliver a honey-coated warning and Abha fiercely pushes back.