Using the interest of TV reporter Shikha (Tanishaa Mukerji) in the social activist's life as a narrative device, writer-director Shashank Udapurkar, who also plays the title role, delves into how Kisan Baburao Hazare became Anna Hazare. Continuing with the theme of the aam aadmi, which has been at the heart of cinema and politics of late, the film takes you where the seed for the idea of the common man of today was sown.
The story begins with Hazare's iconic fast-unto-death of 2011 to bring about the Jan Lokpal Bill, which brought him into national consciousness, thanks to the media. The film then goes back and forth in time to explore what shaped the activist's life and made him into who he is today.
Interestingly, Hazare spent over a decade serving in the Army. His life as a soldier earned him the title of 'military babu' when he took voluntary retirement and came back to work for his village, Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra. Don't miss the possible jab at the current establishment when a young Hazare tells a senior in the force, “You don't need a broad chest as much as you need genuine feelings inside it.”
Other lesser known aspects of his life have been highlighted, such as Hazare contemplating suicide realising the fruitlessness of war, battling existentialist dilemmas till he chances upon Swami Vivekananda's book on youth and nation-building. The teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and Vinobha Bhave instilled in him ideas of non-violence, fasting as a means of protest, progression of his village from poverty-stricken to a self-reliant one, especially using watershed development for which he came to be honoured both nationally and internationally.
Hazare is shown as a man who rejected personal and family life to serve the society, beginning with using rainwater to help battle drought, banning alcohol from the village, getting a school electrified. Finally, taking his work in one village, across other states and finally bringing out changes as such as the right to information act, Jan Lokpal Bill, and the anti-corruption movement.
At 142 minutes, this mainstream ode to the activist is weighed down by a heavy pace. It is over dramatised at several points, especially some scenes with the local evil money-lender played by Govind Namdev who wears a black cap in contrast to Anna's white, till he reforms.
Strangely, the film leaves out people like Arvind Kejriwal who appear fleetingly in newspaper clippings in a montage. Udapurkar gets under the skin of the character he is said to have spent several years researching, including the resemblance, but fails to lend complexity to the man. Mukerji is somewhat grating in her role and remains just a pretty-earrings-wearing-journalist. Rajit Kapoor as the news anchor and her editor is wasted.
However, learning about the life of Anna Hazare, who has had a considerable impact on contemporary political consciousness especially among the youth of the country, could be considered a takeaway from Anna, the film.
Director: Shashank Udapurkar
Cast: Shashank Udapurkar, Tanisha Mukerji, Govind Namdeo, Rajit Kapoor