On 3rd July 1998 a phenomenon took place that changed the face of Indian Cinema forever, that phenomenon folks was Ram Gopal Varma’s hard-hitting underworld drama SATYA, a near star-less film which solely on the basis of Anurag Kashyap and Saurabh Shukla’s script blew the entire nation away rightly staking their claim in Bollywood History.
The message of SATYA comes across loud and clear- “CRIME NEVER PAYS” and while a number of movies in the past has presented the issue, Bollywood was still to be introduced to the underworld genre in the truest sense as with the exception of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s flawless PARINDA (1989) a complete gangster film had never been presented before with such searing reality and slice-your-nerves brutality.
The movie revolves around Vidya (Ramu’s blue-eyed dream girl Urmila Mantondkar as deglamourized as you get yet still managing to look stunning) who is an unemployed singer who comes from a very poor family, living with her mom and disabled dad. During a rainy night, there is a power outage, and she seeks the assistance of a neigbor, Satya (a wooden Chakravarthy who manages to leave a vapourizing effect without actually doing much, but more on that later), who helps her out. Satya and Vidya become friendly. Things begin to change rapidly for Vidya, as she gets hired by a prominent music director, and develops her relationship with Satya, who she plans to marry soon. Satya tells her that he will be relocating for employment to Dubai, U.A.E., and will receive a hefty salary, which will assist them get settled after marriage. Her delight with this news turns to horror when the police enter her house to question her about Satya, who according to them is a hitman in a criminal gang, and who is wanted for 17 homicides, including that of the Commissioner Amod Shukla (Paresh Rawal). The truth of Satya’s true identity shatters Vidya who never wants to see him again. Despite the cops being hot on the trail of Satya, he makes it to Vidya’s apartment one final time, but is it too late?
It would be an understatement to say that the script is the soul of SATYA. Kashyap and Shukla together weave a near immaculate macro-level view of Mumbai’s underworld. Part love story, part male-bonding, part brutal actioner and part nail-biting thriller SATYA is a film which is almost impossible to categorize in to a genre simply because the film is a sense a revolution that it CREATES the genre. Without a doubt SATYA changed the way directors made Indian films. Right from the lingo, style of direction, characters, milieu, setting and dialogues SATYA set the benchmark for what a gangster film should be like.
Even from the point of view of entertainment, SATYA is a riveting film which leaves the viewer hardly any space to breathe making it one of the most relentless thrillers of our time. Varma is too well aware of the essential ingredients needed in a Bollywood film hence manages to juxtapose comedy and romance in to the narrative. His flair for dark comedy and street-wise jokes is hilarious and eye-opening at the same time.
Often I feel Ram Gopal Varma is a director who isnt aware of WHAT he’s actually making at the time, whether what he’s making is good or bad, classic or â disaster. Which clearly explains why the same man who made SATYA also made RGV KI AAG (2007)? SATYA came at a time when Ram Gopal Varma was still trying to make his impression on the Indian market. Though RANGEELA (1995) had left a significant impact, he still hadn’t delivered anything since. SATYA was a surprising turn too as it was closer to Varma’s debut film SHIVA (1989) in it’s realism than it was to his musical ode to love RANGEELA.
Whereas lots of reviews compare SATYA with Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), it’s to my mind more influenced by Scorcese and De Palma : the very eighties and emphatic score, the virtuosity of the camera moves, the grotesque allure of the gangsters in the movie. And there’s of course the character of Satya, his low profile contrasting with other gangsters, the idea of the guy coming from nothing and making it big in a poor area of the city through crime, his very moving love story, the fight between moral conscience and desire to stay at the top. Yes, we’ve seen this before in gangsters movies but it’s been adapted to Indian reality, the movie showing the links between thugs and politics and cinema. And the theme of the police damned if they act damned if they do nothing is interesting too.
That Varma is a fan of Scorcese cannot be doubted, and the various bouts of conversations and interactions between the characters laced with pulpified violence is ample proof of that, India’s answer to GOODFELLAS (1990)? YES! But in another strange way this is a rather twisted and dark version of Raj Kapoor’s SHREE 420 (1955) which was also about a man who comes to Mumbai to strike it rich only to be sucked in by the city’s darker side to find redemption at the end.
That Varma followed this up with COMPANY later is ample proof that man is a bona-fide genius. Despite the failure of something like AAG, one shouldn’t forget that often a director is only as good as his script, and I’ve always felt Varma has always been best doing something original be it SATYA, COMPANY, KAUN (1999) or RANGEELA. Inspiration, now that’s another thing
The performances in SATYA became an instant cult phenomenon as India cheered for its new National Hero-Bhikhu Mhatre, a role model for the youth! This is perhaps the first performance in Indian cinema that made me draw an instant parallel to Late Amjad Khan Saab’s immortal performance in Ramesh Sippy’s SHOLAY (1975). The pure mass appeal, the spontaneity, the rugged naturalness, the animal-like ferocity and pure terror yet an ability to be instantly amiable and relate to the viewer as well. Bajpai delivers a performance that I hold in the highest of regards, and comes out trumps. When the movie was conceived, the role was written for Akshaye Khanna who wasn’t able to do the film, and by a pure stroke of luck Bajpai landed the role. To say Manoj Bajpai is born to act is an understatement, the man talks to the camera inhibited, confident and with naturalness each and every time he’s on-screen. From his violent outbursts to his rom-com with his wife this is a character that will always remain unforgettable simply because this is the kind of histrionics one expects actors like Pacino, De Niro and Bachchan to pull off not a rank newbie.. \
“Mumbai ka K I N G kaun? BHEEKHU MHATRE!”
As much as I have a weakness for Chakravarthys character and everything he stands for, I dislike Chakravarthy’s performance equally. My first impression of Chakravarthy was so little that I instantly disregarded his performance completely blown away by Bajpai and Shukla. As the years went by, with countless re-watches the performance itself has also grown on me, and I realize why Chakravarthy acts like the un-dead. SATYA came from nowhere, we never find out what he used to do? Where he comes from? What his family did or where his parents are(though he does tell Vidya (Main ek anaath hoon)? But do we take his word for it? In the initial fight sequence with Bhikhu Mhatre we can easily tell Satya is a far more dangerous man whom even Bhikhu accepts readily knowing that he’s met his match. That gives somewhat of an indication that whatever SATYA has been through to make him this motionless Zombie is far worse than the world which he’s actually living in The moments when SATYA starts regaining his humanity and realizes that he in-fact does feat death are astonishing, and Chakravarthy in the one scene at the beach where he tells Bhikhu ‘kyun ke main oose shaadi karma chahta hoon’ speaks volumes of Chakravarthy’s talent. And the problem I have with
Chakravarthy isn’t a new one, in some ways it’s similar to what I felt about Irrfan Khan in MAQBOOL (2003) and Ajay Devgan in OMKARA (2006).
Urmila is an absolute knock-out. This was probably the first time I realized that Urmila can actually act, and she delivers such a natural performance. She proves in an instant that she’s an actress of worth, and her portrayal of Vidya, a symbol of everything that is true and beautiful in this world is unmatched. Her searching eyes often speak louder than any dialogue delivered.
Saurabh Shukla is a revelation, the roly-poly actor is such a bundle of talent, and whom usesh is physical traits to full effect. Shukla’s screen presence is scene-chewing, and he goes through a gamut of emotions with flawless precision. His chemistry with Bajpai is outstanding and their scenes together are priceless.
Shefali Shah as Mrs Bhikhu Mhatre was mind-blowing. The kind of chemistry she shares with Bhikhu was an eye-opener and it would be fair to say Mrs Shah LIVES her part and becomes the character. Just witness the restaurant or the scene where she slaps Bhikhu.
Govind Namdeo exudes fear as Bhau! This terrific actor holds his own. Makrand Deshpande as Advocate Chandrakant Mule and Jeeva as Jagga are natural to the core. Snhela Dhabhal as Chander is haunting. Aditya Srivastav as Inspector Khandilkar is stunning, and delivers a fearless performance. Paresh Rawal in a short cameo is a knockout as expected.
Varma has incorporated Vishal Bharadwaj’s beautiful songs as a part of the narrative by displaying them as a Broadway like stage-show. SAPNI ME MILTE HAI and GOLI MAARO have since then found a cult following, and the songs picturization remain an innovative piece of work. The soulful BAADALON SE and deeply romantic TU MERE PAAS BHI HAI are aptly fitted in to the proceedings.
Sandeep Chowta’s background music is quiet easily one of the finest background scores I’ve heard in my entire life. Moody, sombre, atmospheric and often a character in itself.
Technically the movie is a pinnacle of perfection in Indian cinema. Mazhar Kamran’s cinematography LIVES in each and every frames and breaths like a camera. Kamrans captures the gritty bylanes of Mumbai’s underbelly with an undefining passion.
“All in all SATYA remains an outright classic, and one I shall visit ever year like I’ve been doing since it’s release almost 10 years ago.”
S A L U D E!