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Jai Gangaajal
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by Jay Seaver

"Stretching the basic police corruption story out a bit."
3 stars

I'm not sure how much of a coincidence it is that Priyanka Chopra's most recent Bollywood film is getting is global release on a weekend when she has a fairly high profile in the United States - she was part of the Oscar ceremonies last week and her American TV show returns to the air this weekend - but it probably doesn't hurt. Those venturing to whatever theater in their city shows Indian films as a result may find themselves a bit disappointed; "Jai Gangaajal" is a middle-of-the-road cop movie that has the occasional spark but could probably do with a little bit less going on over a little less time.

It starts in a reasonably promising fashion, with Bhola Nath "BN" Singh (Prakash Jha) starting a new day in a house far too nice for an honest Bankipur cop to afford and going to work to find out what MLA Babloo Pandey (Manav Kaul) needs done, pointedly making sure he had nothing to do with the hunt for a lackey wanted for kidnapping and rape. Babloo, at the moment, needs BN to help out his brother Pabloo (Ninad Kamat), currently strong-arming poor villagers and a public market off their land to make way for a power plant. BN's boss sees what's going on and decides to shake things up by resigning everybody away from their corruption centers, but a political ally of Babloo's, Minister Ramakant Chaudhari (Kiran Karmarkar) intervenes, replacing the troublesome captain with Abha Mathur (Chopra), on her first superintendent posting and whose family had received a favor or two. This does not, however, translate into her attacking her job with anything short of complete diligence.

Jai Gangaajal is described in some places as being a sequel to filmmaker Prakash Jha's 2003 film Gangaajal, but it's more a variation on the theme - both feature young superintendents given a corrupt unit and gangsters with relations in politics, but there do not appear to be any characters shared between the two. There are probably a fair number of parallels, though, because the story is fairly standard stuff, with the expected moments of intimidation, the guys at the top getting nervous more because the timing is bad than any belief that the honest cops can touch them, the expected crises of conscience. Jha spends a fair chunk of time on the set-up, making sure a fair number of names and faces are familiar before dropping Abha in the middle of it, but not creating anything really new.

He makes it colorful enough, though - the Pandeys and their various henchmen and allies are not scenery-chewing monsters, but they're a pretty distinct group whose machinations make a certain amount of sense, although it's kind of interesting that the corruption is taking place around a land deal versus drugs or weapons or the like. It works pretty well, even taking an interesting post-intermission turn that serves as an impressive escalation that reacts to the morass that has been building up during the first half. Unfortunately, it's here that things start to really fall apart, as characters reverse course and compromise in ways that don't make a whole lot of sense.

Chopra is first-billed, but in a way she isn't the real star; Abha is the righteous defender of the public good who is not really going to waver over the course of the film. She's still a strong foundation for the film, though, playing the by-the-book character straight down the line but without making Abha seem like a robot, and able to let a little amusing smugness in when it's deserved. Jha saves the best role for himself (though he has only acted on fairly rare occasions before) - B.N. is a wonderfully smarmy antagonist to start off but gets layers as the film goes on. The role may veer between extremes too much for the story to really work at every moment, but Jha is always an asset on-screen.

"Jai Gangaajal" is pretty hefty for a film of this type, and there's a fair amount that could be cut or re-arranged and not be missed - after a certain point, it feels like binge-watching a series that is using shocking events to stretch things out. It never gets to the point where one would give up, though, and I suppose that if you discovered Priyanka Chopra because she's the star of a convoluted cop show, this isn't a bad way to start checking out what she was doing before that.

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originally posted: 03/06/16 16:36:51
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  04-Mar-2016 (15)


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