NostalgiSatyakam: Dharmendra's career best

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Letter to the Editor

Dinesh Raheja

In Satyakam, a distressed-by-poverty Sharmila Tagore remarks: "Sone ke zevar banane ke liye thodi toh khot milani padti hai [To produce something as beautiful as gold jewellery, you have to add an element of impurity]."
Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra in Satyakam
This pragmatic worldview, however, is not acceptable to Satyakam's chief protagonist, her husband Dharmendra, who embodies the repercussions that result when a man places his lofty ideals over social obligations, monetary temptations and, indeed, over his own family.

A riveting, nationalist drama which invites parallels to Ayn Rand's famous novel The Fountainhead, Satyakam asks, 'In an imperfect world, is it possible to be an honest, unadulterated individual?'
ProducersDirectorMusic DirectorStars
Panchi ArtsHrishikesh MukherjeeLaxmikant-Pyarelal

Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, Ashok Kumar, Sanjeev Kumar

The story unfurls in the pre-Independence era, in 1946. Satyapriya (Dharmendra) and his friend Naren (Sanjeev Kumar) are set to part company after graduating from an engineering college. While the affable Naren is unsure about his purpose in life,Satyapriyais definite about his decision to follow the straight and narrow path of unshakeable commitment to truth.

Satyapriya's ability to live by the truthundergoesbaptism by fire at his very first job. His employee, a philandering prince called Kunwar Bikram Singh (Manmohan), is keen to bed the beautiful Ranjana (Sharmila) -- the illegitimate daughter of his sycophantic manager Rustomji (David).

A twist of circumstances finds Satyapriya in the role of Ranjana'sprotector. In a moment of dithering weakness, he allows Ranjana to be hauled away by the wily Rustomji. By the time Satyapriya realiseshe has sent a sheep to the slaughterhouse, it is too late. Kunwar, furious at the abolition of the privy purses, makes Ranjana the victim of his wrath and rapes her.

If one were to search for a deeper interpretation of this scene, Ranjana is probably a symbol of the vulnerable masses who were exploited by the rich.

Satyapriya does the honourable thing and marries an impregnated-by-Kunwar Ranjana. Interestingly, however, Mukherji leaves in a suggestion, via a terse exchange of dialogue, that even Satyapriya is unable to make peace with Ranjana's past. Though this chink in his armour may make Satyapriya a more humane character, and therefore more accessible to a section of the audience, it somehow dims the halo surrounding him.

The second half of the film shifts focus to Satyapriya's unrelenting fight to lance the festering sores of corruptionhe encounters in our society -- regardless of the ensuing personal prosecution and poverty.

Naren returns to the story after a long break and is quickly integrated into the flow. He represents the urban Everyman who, like most others, has compromised -- just enough to make his material life comfortable but not so much as to lose sleep over a stricken conscience.

But Satyapriya just cannot adopt to that mindset. He struggles to explain, "Mera dimaag kharaab ho gaya hai, ya main cynic ho gaya hoon, ya duniya badal gayee hain (I've lost my mind. Or, maybe, I have become a cynic. Or, maybe, the world has changed)." The desire to reach a higher self arises from his conviction that "main insaan hoon. Bhagwan ka sabse bada pratinidhi (I am a human being. God's most superior representative)."

The film can be said to have truly realised itself in the climax --the emotional tension is so strong, I felt a sense of relief when tears flowed down my cheeks, unchecked. Satyapriya dies of cancer and Ranjana, with starkhonesty, divulges to her son, Kabul (Sarika playing a boy), that he wasn't sired by Satyapriya and therefore cannot light hispyre.

Moved by her searing honesty, Satyapriya's grandfather (Ashok Kumar in a compelling cameo), revokes his long-nursed antagonism towards Ranjana and accepts Kabul as his great grandson.

Famous songs from Satyakam
Abhi kya sunogeLata Mangeshkar
Do din ki zindagiLata Mangeshkar
Zindagi hai kya boloKishore Kumar, Mukesh, Mahendra Kapoor
Thanks to this emotionally unforgettable ending, one feels Satyapriya's death was vindicated. Truth may have taken a long time to find its moorings, but it does pay dividends eventually.

Satyapriya may be no more, but he has irrevocably touched the lives of those around him. He had passed on the legacy of truth to Ranjana and his grandfather.

Hrishikesh Mukherji intelligently handles the film's many emotional high points without ever going overboard. He also successfully juxtaposes the heady eve-of-India's-freedom atmosphere with the building sense of foreboding leading to Sharmila's deflowering.

Mukherji also takes care to provide the background of his characters, giving them a well-rounded feel. For instance, we learn that Satyapriya's father became an ascetic after his mother's death and Satyapriya was raised by his grandfather, a Sanskrit scholar. Ranjana's mother, we discover, was a girl from a respectable family who gave birth toRanjana after eloping with her driver.

As the soldier of truth, Dharmendra's performance is flawless. When his warm smile reaches his brimming-with-tears eyes, the sincerity is eminently believable.The young Sanjeev Kumar is obviously a tremendous actor in the making. While Sharmila Tagore's character is not loquacious, she imbues her silences with potent poignancy. Her performance evokes the compassion one reserves for an unattended scar.

Many attribute Satyakam'stepid box-office performanceto the fact that one cannot relate to, or aspire to be, like the hero -- a torchbearer for truth.

The failing could partly lie with us (the audience). We may laugh at the sarcasm contained in Rajinder Singh Bedi's acrid dialogue: "Yeh aadmi (Satyapriya) bahut hi badmaash aur paaji hai. Rishvat vagerah nahin khaata (He is a real crook. He doesn't accept bribes)."

Deep down, we may have helplessly resigned to this notion ourselves and subsequently find Satyakam a discomforting experience.


* Producer Dharmendra believes Satyakam to be the strongest role of his career. Hrishikesh Mukherjee considers itone of the most satisfying movies hemade.

* Since Dharmendra had earlier won raves for his performance in Mukherjee's Anupama, he marshalled together much the same team -- actors: Dharmendra, Sharmila Tagore, David; dialogue writer: Rajinder Singh Bedi; lyricist: Kafi Azmi; cameraman: Jaywant Pathare. However, thoughcritics praised his performance,the masses failed to throng the theatres.


* The unusual Mukherjee-Laxmikant-Pyarelal team were unable to come up with a truly memorable score.

* Lata's Abhi kya sunoge, suna toh kahoge ke hai geet adhura taraana adhura does deserve more airplay.

More classic films by Dinesh Raheja
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