The first sign of trouble is in the opening credits: the background music is by the eardrum-challenging composer Amar Mohile.
It all gets louder and broader in Shashank Udapurkar’s deeply reverential biopic of the social activist Anna Hazare, whose participation in the India Against Corruption movement in 2011 paved the way for the passage of the Jan Lokpal Bill, which seeks to create an independent body to investigate corruption. It also led to the formation of the Aam Aadmi Party.
Hazare famously fell out with the earnest activist Arvind Kejriwal over the formation of AAP. Kejriwal does not feature anywhere in the 141-minute film, nor does anybody from the India Against Corruption movement. A woman who resembles Kiran Bedi can be spotted behind the screen version of Hazare as he leads a public fast for the bill in Delhi in 2011, but since the movie is about Anna Hazare to the exclusion of everybody else, this is pure guesswork.
Udapurkar’s account uses the fast to frame Hazare’s journey from an Army man into a one-man juggernaut against social evils. As a child, Hazare is transfixed by the independence struggle. As an adult, he joins the Army to serve his nation and survives border conflicts, but is plagued by doubts that are not lucidly explained in the narrative.
In the first of numerous epiphanies, Hazare (played by the director) is converted to social service after reading books by Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi. He resigns from the Army and goes about transforming his drought-stricken village into an emerald paradise. Although Hazare is portrayed as a humble and pious person, Udapurkar makes sure to give him sole credit for Ralegan Siddhi’s many achieveents. Several actors mumble their way through the movie, including Kishore Kadam as the helpful village elder and Govind Namdeo as the exploitative moneylender, but the focus stays firmly on Udapurkar’s beatific visage.
If Hazare has anything resembling an inner life, it stays out of sight. Shorn of nuance and complexity, Anna is unabashed and dull hagiography. By cutting Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and Yogendra Yadav out of Hazare’s national campaign against corruption, the movie is not even adequate as Amar Chitra Katha-level history. The only note of subtlety is the timid suggestion that Hazare was a pacifist who realised that the real enemies were not on the borders of the country, but just beyond the door of the house. The point is drowned out by the soaring music, the amateurish handling of scenes and actors, and the insistence on treating the subject as nothing less than a saint.