Friday, July 27, 2012

Bollywood Essentials: Satya(1998)

This might be another one of my feeble attempts to start a running feature here, not that it will be any more regular than other couple of them I am doing right now. But, in the least it will give me a chance to do something I am trying hard to get into - write more about Indian movies. As the name would indicate, this is my attempt to talk about Hindi movies which I consider to be some of the best in the history of Bollywood. I will try and select movies which can be considered indisputably essentials according to the majority of pundits but even then I will re-iterate the fact that this my opinion and hence is open for a debate.

To tell you the truth, I would have liked to open with a little older, little easier to get into movie but couple of things worked in favor of Satya(1998) and since I consider it to be a milestone movie in history of Hindi cinema that I wouldn't hesitate to call a Modern Classic, I decided in it's favor. One thing that tilted the balance towards it is over at LAMB, Steve decided to go with Modern Bollywood(after 1990) as a theme for the next Foreign Chops and hence I decided to go for a modern movie. Another and more important factor is there is an Indian movie released last month that is being talked about a lot since, it is also being showed at Melbourne Film Festival, called Gangs of Wasseypur(2012) an underworld movie which tells a story of two rival gangs fighting for the control of Wasseypur. In my mind Satya has become a metric against which quality of all the other Hindi Gangster movies are measured and hence it has been on my mind for past month. Directed by Ramgopal Varma, Satya(1998) is a story of a south Indian guy named Satya who, like thousands of other Indians, comes to Mumbai to make the two ends meet. Mumbai is India's New York and LA combined together, city of dreams that never sleeps. But that does not necessarily mean that it is easy to stand on your own two feet there. Satya learns this in a hard way. Working as a waiter in a bar he gets in a fight with a local gangster Jagga who in turn works for Gurubhai and eventually gets thrown in jail for his attitude to take no shit. Even in jail, he picks up another fight this time with another gangster Bhiku Mhatre but they eventually strike up a friendship. Now, the thing is this Guru and Bhiku are sort of generals of one of the biggest gangsters turned politician in Mumbai Bhau Thakur.

After Bhiku gets him out of the jail, off course he takes him in his wing as well. In one of many great moments in the movie, right after whole gang celebrates Bhiku getting out of jail, he takes Satya to the bar where he used to work and where he got in fight with Jagga, calmly sleeps a gun into his hand and convinces him that you have to do it once you are in this game. Satya walks in, shoots Jagga's brains out and calmly walks out without anyone interfering. Bhiku's reaction at this moment, waiting for him outside in car, is just priceless. Getting into Underworld is not something Satya had planned when he moved to Mumbai, but once he makes his way in, with his tough attitude, serious demeanor and real acumen for business, soon enough he starts his climb in Bhiku's gang. He plays an instrumental part in Bhiku's war against Guru and by now has become the most important person in the whole gang, second only to Bhiku, so that even Bhau has to take notice of him. By this time, he has also fallen in love with a Girl named Vidya, very simple typical Marathi Girl, who lives across the hall. However, he can not muster up a courage to tell her that he is a gangster and lies to her telling that he works in a Hotel somewhere. As their war against Guru starts to heat up, they plan to get rid of him but have to step down in 11th hour because it might be problematic for Bhau's political aspirations. But Satya decides to go against his wishes and ends up making Bhiku and him most feared pair in whole Mumbai underworld("Mumbai ka King Kaun ? Bhiku Mhantre !!" "Who Rules this Mumbai ? Bhiku Mhatre !!"). On the other side of the law, enters new Police Commissioner Amodh Shukla. With the change in leadership, there also comes a distinct change in philosophy as well. Police who were pretty much an onlooker by now, make a serious move towards clearing up the streets with multiple encounters between gangsters and them. (SPOILER ALERT)And thus ensues an ultimate game of Cat and Mouse which culminates with complete wipe-off of Mhatre Gang(SPOILER END)

Central character of Satya is played by a newbie J.D. Chakrawarthy who incidently never appeared in any other Hindi movie since then. I never really thought very highly of his performance but his character is an interesting one, much like Ryan Gosling's Driver and even he plays it with same poise and stare void of any emotions. Scenes where he comes short in my opinion are the one's where he needs to show his humane side. Real highlight of this movie by far, has to be Manoj Bajpai as Bhiku Mhatre. Almost a nobody at the time of release, Manoj Bajpai came into instant limelight with this role and has stayed in with a wide variety of roles over the years. He really picks up the nerve of his character beautifully, portraying his bat-shit craziness of a gangster to dead seriousness of most feared man of Mumbai underworld with equal ease and finesse. Even after watching countless times since its release, I still literally jump in my seat on multiple occasions because every single dialogue that comes out of his mouth is pure gold. However, it is not just two strong central performances. Actually, I am really hard-pressed to think of another movie which has such a variety of memorable supporting roles(Sarfarosh(1999) is the one that comes to my mind which certainly will bean another essential). Shephali Chhaya as Bhiku's wife Pyaari is an absolute scene-stealer in every single scene she appears, but I wonder if me being a Marathi myself has something to do with it. Saurabh Shukla as Kallu Mama, one of the pillars of Bhiku's gang who also co-wrote the script with Anurag Kashyap delivers another flawless performance and so does rarely seen Makrand Deshpande as Advocate Mule. Even likes of Rajesh Joshi(Bappu), Sanjay Mishra(Vitthal) and Snehal Dabi(Chandar) play minor but memorable roles. Govind Namdev as Bhau, Paresh Rawal as Commissioner Shukla, Aditya Shrivastava as Inspector Khandilkar and only real known face of the movie Urmila Matondkar as Vidya round up the strong supporting cast.

As far as I remember, Satya is first gangster movie in Hindi Cinema. It's real success and main reason why it should be considered as Modern Classic lies in the fact that it gave another genre to the industry - Mumbai Noir and also in the fact that there must be almost 100 gangster movies by now. Almost every single one of these movies have tried to emulate its success and none them are anywhere near it, another aspect that makes it special. Made on a smallest possible budget of 20 million INR, Satya has distinct look of a small budget movie with almost no well-known actors. But this look and feel of a movie was more of a conscious decision to give it more realistic and jarring effect which works to perfection. Everything about Satya has some sort of raw vibe to it - onscreen energy of all the actors involved, their language, their demeanor. Saurabh Shukla and Anurag Kashyap's script deserves special mention for that. Portrayal of two Seemingly polar opposite central characters of Satya and Bhiku - one is always silent, other one never shuts up, one always goes for muscle, other always works with his brain - makes it much more interesting to see their collaboration reaching the new heights of underworld. Even though it is almost 3 hours long, there is a lot that happens during this time and it never bores you even for a minute especially once Bhiku's ascent begins. As one of the most intelligent movies made, its story develops on multiple fronts with each angle having a strong connection to the central storyline and moving in a specific direction to come together beautifully for a tragic finale. Director Ramgopal Varma, who has developed quite a reputation for himself now but wasn't a household name in 1998, did an extensive research on every single aspect of the movie. He literally handpicked almost every actor, even in minor roles. He put a lot of effort, time and money into making a movie exactly the way he wanted to make it and it reflects very clearly in the movie.

Some you may have noticed that despite being a Hindi movie, I have not talked about Music and Songs. Satya and for that matter many others Ramgopal Varma directed are kind of movies where these elements take a step back to concentrate more on story and characters, though there are few songs in it. It is actually one of the very first movies where there was prominent use of background score in Hindi Cinema. If not for any other reason, it sure can be considered an essential for being a trendsetter in so many different ways. However with careful direction, crafty and insightful script and some amazing performances Satya is a worthy candidate for title of 'Modern Classic'.

Rating(out of 5):


  1. You nailed it buddy :) Satya was definitely one of the landmark films in Bollywood. The hero, Chakri played a baddie in RGVs 'Shiva' starring Telugu actor Nagarjuna. Don't know if you have watched that film. Good one actually. Satya has always been special and unique and will remain forever

    1. Thanks Hari !! I know he was in Shiva. Kind of RGV's breakthrough movie. I have seen it and like it too. I meant he didn't do anything AFTER Satya.

      Good to know you agree with assessment as well.

  2. Very detailed... It's one of my all time favourite films.

    1. Thanks Raghav! It's one of my favorites as well.

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