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July 4, 1998


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Blood will tell

Suparn Verma

Urmila Matondkar and Chakravarthy in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
Some people in this world are just asking to be killed. Luca Brasi obliges them." Director Ram Gopal Varma repeats the lines from Mario Puzo's cult novel The Godfather. "It's the best line in the novel."

Varma's latest film, Satya is full of such characters. Characters who are primed to self-destruct.

Satya is a film about the people who are part of the underworld, though it treads a different path by not going into the whys of their past and examining motives for their actions.

The characters in Satya live in a naturalistic world, and their understanding of life is most basic -- kill or be killed. It is survival that drives their every action. The film also portrays a disturbingly true to life image of the Bombay underworld.

The recent killings and encounters in public places and the daily reports about police gunning for the underworld give Satya more credibility. But Varma says he did minimal research on the film.

"You think of them as people who come from the dark, do their work and go back into the dark."

The film is the story of Satya (Chakravarthy) who chases a dream to Bombay, lives in a cowshed in the suburbs and works as a waiter in a beer bar. The film doesn't tell you anything about the background of the lead protagonist, instead using Bhiku (Manoj Bajpayee) who is the strongman of the local don with ambitions of being elected in the election.

Satya serves a small rap after he gets into a scuffle with a local gangleader. He comes out with Bhiku's help and joins his gang unquestioningly.

Manoj Bajpayee and Chakravarthy in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
Staying in a one room flat in a crumbling building he gets drawn to his next door neighbour Urmila.

"I wanted to explore what they do in their spare time, what they do to have fun."

Fun and games it rarely is, as Bhiku, Kalu mama (Saurabh Shukla) and Satya go about the daily routine of extortion from builders in the city, evade rival gangs and hide from the police crackdown. Satya's behaviour irks city ganglord Bhau Thakre, who hopes to win the coming election.

The film is a reflection of today's headlines as splinter groups from big gangs battle each other. The film uses the language of the street. And it was passed by the censors uncut.

Varma laughs, "After seeing the film they said this was a film in which we debated which scene to cut. The film has been passed almost untouched. Even while we were shooting we never thought that the film will run into censor troubles."

Govind Namdeo in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
In fact, the producers of Daud complained that the director was too involved in the script of Satya to concentrate on their film.

"With Satya, the involvement was complete. It was a complete teamwork," says the director.

Song are used minimally in Satya, lasting for only half a minute. The director cut out entire songs to ensure the flow of the film isn't hampered.

Chakravarthy plays the silent brooding hero who speaks only when necessary. This is similar to the role Nagarjuna did in Ram Gopal's Drohi and Satya though Nagarjuna has more screen presence than Chakravarthy.

Urmila Matondkar in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
He is the perfect foil for Manoj Bajpayee, who gives an amazing performance as the volatile and hyperactive Bhiku.

Urmila's role as the love interest in Satya's life is well defined and she plays it well, adding the touch of glamour, despite being clad in a sari throughout the film. Shefali Chaya, who plays Bhiku's wife, does a great cameo as the wife of a man who spends more time in jail then at home, nagging him and living with his ways at the same time.

Saurabh Shukla, one of the writers of the film, plays Kalu mama, the man who is present when all the decisions are made, watching his small world collapse around him as he loses his gang members.

Satya is a culmination of Ram Gopal Varma's work to date. His characters have the intensity and anger of Shiva, and the Urmila-Chakravathy relationship is better tuned version of what he did in Drohi.

Manoj Bajpayee in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
Over the years, gangster films have become an obsession with film-makers.

"We are all interested in men who defy authority. It's all a power game. It's that defiance of authority that interests us. History has always had the tendency to write more about the invaders than the people who have been vanquished" says Varma.

So the director used a detached depiction of the underworld, trying not to take sides. Of course, at the same time, he tries to show the human side of these creatures of the night. Paresh Rawal, who plays the police commissioner, efficiently portrays the helplessness of the city police in tackling crime.

The film ends the way it starts, violently. There is no hope for anyone who wants to live on the wrong side of the law. Satya makes a mark a film that tries to make a statement staying within the framework of populist cinema and still being hard hitting.

Chakravarthy in Satya. Click for bigger pic!
"Mainstream cinema always portrays a fantasy world of people with gelled back hair partying on beaches in Mauritius. The fact is that these people don't go out that much. It's funny because whoever has seen this film, now thinks that I have contacts in the underworld. It's been said that the character of Bhiku Mhatre is very similar to that of Arun Gawli," he laughs.

Satya released on July 3, but even while preparing for its release Ram Gopal already had his next film, Kaun, on the floors. "Kaun has two characters, four dead bodies, one voice on the phone and a person on the television... It's a psychological thriller about what happens when you are home alone."

While Kaun will take a few months to release, Varma is basking in the critical acclaim of Satya, much welcome after the brickbats he got for Daud.

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