The thing about good casting is that it can elevate even an ordinary film. Jai Gangaajal, directed by Prakash Jha, is an ordinary film at best. A predictable police drama filled with the usual stereotypes. But Priyanka Chopra, gritting her teeth determinedly during interrogations, putting her might into her forearms while thrashing a goonda with her laathi, is immediately convincing as a no-nonsense police officer. And Jha, who keeps the film’s most interesting role for himself, playing a corrupt cop who undergoes a change of heart, is a revelation.
Set in a small town in North India – the sort that’s over-run by greedy politicians whose sneering henchmen bully locals into parting with their ancestral land at bargain basement prices while the police conveniently look away – the film makes minor adjustments to 2003’s Gangaajal, while staying more or less faithful to that template. Priyanka stars as Abha Mathur, an idealistic Superintendent of Police determined to clean up the mess. Jha is her deputy, BN Singh, and the bad apple within the force, who is on the payroll of local MLA Babloo Pandey (the typically dependable Manav Kaul) and his cruel brother Dabloo (Ninad Kamath).
The previous film’s key suggestion that vigilante justice and mob violence might be the only way to bring perpetrators to book, is addressed again in Jai Gangaajal, although there are hangings instead of blindings this time. It’s still a highly contentious point, and the film reflects that. We also get repeated sermons on the sanctity of the khaki uniform, and Jha’s character is the only one who gets a complete arc.
To be fair he’s pretty solid in the role, and completely at ease in front of the camera. Chopra, whose physicality is a good fit for the part, carries off both the action scenes and the dramatic ones without breaking a sweat. She’s a tad glamorous for the role, but throws herself into it completely.
Jai Gangaajal doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen before, especially in the director’s own previous films. It’s also interminably long at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes. Priyanka Chopra and Prakasha Jha’s performances keep you engaged and invested despite the familiar narrative, but by the end you’re overcome by the unmistakable feeling of exhaustion. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.