Satyameva Jayate’s box office success proves the undying, universal appeal of vigilante dramas

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A mega box office opening for the John Abraham and Manoj Bajpayee starrer Satyameva Jayate was a foregone conclusion.

The collection of Rs 20 crore, when it opened in theatres on 15 August, reiterated the belief that no genre does it better than vigilante dramas when it comes to drawing audiences into theatres. The gory film, where John Abraham serves instant justice to corrupt Mumbai cops, has made an impressive Rs 60 crore in its six-day run.

By picking the subject of vigilante justice, Satyameva Jayate has revived the genre which was a staple of Bollywood in the 80s and 90s.

When the trailer of the film was launched, it resembled a B grade flick with its gore, action and chest thumping dialogues but the film has managed to defy preconceived notions. If one were to dive deep down into the film to pick any merit, chances are one would not find any, except blood soaked action sequences, repartees and a cat-and-mouse game but it’s the producers who are having the last laugh.

While such films may not have the potential to become blockbusters, they often ensure that the stakeholders of such films never go empty handed after the film has released. Satyameva Jayate makes use of all the possible clichés found in a vigilante justice drama and has come out a winner.

Abraham (L) and Aisha Sharma in Satyameva Jayate. Image via Twitter
Most of the vigilante stories that have lately been offered to audiences have meandered around cop dramas. While Satyameva Jayate shows a rogue brother serving justice to police personnel, knee-deep in corruption, films like Dabangg, Mardaani and Singham showed vigilante justice served by the cop themselves. Dabangg assumed proportions of a blockbuster in 2010 when antics of Chulbul Pandey was lapped up by all and sundry. Mardaani managed to salvage Rani Mukherji’s career at a time when she needed a hit while the success of Singham in 2011 spawned another sequel in 2010.

Vigilantism which usually translates to taking a life without fair trial helped actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth climb the ladder of success in the 70s and 80s and become superstars. The hero becoming the judge, jury and the executioner is something that has always fascinated cinegoers. The recent spurt in crimes associated with lynching is nothing but a fine example of mobocracy where few people take the onus of delivering justice on the spot — which is also a fair reflection of what’s being shown on the celluloid.

Call it sheer coincidence that most of the superstars from Bollywood have delivered their finest performance in such films. While Amitabh Bachchan is often remembered for for his gritty cop portrayal in Zanjeer, the same holds true for Aamir Khan for his performance in the obscure Raakh. For Sunny Deol, it’s Ghayal; More than Aakrosh or Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, it’s the role of a disillusioned cop in Ardh Satya — who burns alive a politician — that made Om Puri a household name. Shahenshah, Nayak and Hindustani remain films which guarantee viewership whenever they are beamed on satellite channels.

The reason for the success of such films can be explained as reflective of the average psyche of an Indian moviegoer. India remains a country where justice is precious and is difficult to come by. Court cases takes years before they reach a final conclusion and Indian judiciary system epitomises the proverb, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Through such films, viewers see a reflection of a situation which seem ideal and utopian to them and thus when John Abraham goes on a murderous spree of burning corrupt cops in SMJ, his acts are greeted with thunderous applause by audiences.

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