Friday, September 23, 2011
Sadgati (The Deliverance): A Short film by Satyajit Ray
‘Sadgati’ (Deliverance), is a short movie (45 min) directed by Satyajit Ray (the one of his two works in Hindi, the other being the 1977 feature ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’). It was made for Doordarshan and was based on a story of the same name by Munshi Premchand. It starred Om Puri, Smita Patil, and Mohan Agashe in principal roles.
Sadgati is a ironical take on the caste system that was prevalent in the Hindu society till a few decades ago (I say ‘was’ because even though it still has its imprints over our society, but most of the emotions that are associated with it are somewhat suppressed by the people these days in lieu of the stricter political, social, and regulatory environment). It is a very sad story that will depress you, haunt you, and make you think. Although I generally don’t find such themes appealing, Sadgati is a must watch for everyone, for we deserve to know what used to happen in our country, and what all things are a part of the culture and tradition we talk about so fondly whenever we intend to satiate our ‘Indian’ egos and fell good about ourselves.
The history books we read in schools are content to tell us that yes, there was a differentiation on the basis of caste (birth and color), and our society was divided into four ‘varnas’- Brahmins (the most superior), ‘Kshatriyas’ (Warriors and Kings), ‘Vaishyas’ (Traders), and ‘Shudras’ (The working class- the sweepers, the weavers etc.). And below these four were the untouchables, which did not even deserve to be put in a bracket owing to their genesis from a defiled source (They did not owe their birth to ‘Brahma’ who created the four varnas). But what the history books don’t really talk about is the dynamics in the society, and how things really used to function.
Sadgati in that sense is also an informational watch, through the medium of storytelling. Dukhiya (Om Puri) plays a poor and helpless ‘Chamar’ (an occupational sub-caste), and Smita Patil plays his wife. They intend to get their young daughter married (who doesn’t look a day over twelve, but child marriage is not the thing this movie talks about). For the purpose, Dukhiya goes to the house of the village ‘Pandit’ (Maharaj is how he is addressed by the villagers), and requests the Pandit to visit his house for the ‘Sagayi’ ceremony. The Pandit asks Dukhiya to do some manual labor and domestic chores for him, while he finishes his important work (read eating, sleeping, and resting). Dukhiya, not wanting to offend him, agrees to the work despite not feeling well, and despite have not eaten anything since morning. He keeps on working for hours, and the Pandit and his wife don’t even ask him for food. When, completely exhausted, Dukhiya lies down for rest; the Pandit reprimands him and asks him to show more mettle. Forced to work out of his capacity, and without any food in the dry heat, Dukhiya suffers a stroke and dies. What follows next and how the Pandit escapes the situation is what the movie is all about.
The movie is a social commentary, but never attempts to get into actual commentary. Points are made through the gestures and actions of the characters. Notice the way the Pandit applies his ‘Tika’ (holy vermilion) on his forehead at the beginning of the movie (it is symbolic of the authority he has, and the sense of power that he feels). Then watch the way Dukhiya greets the Pandit when he first sees him (the accepted Hindu prostration that a Shudra had to undertake in front of a Brahmin), and how the Pandit responds to his request. There are many such small things that are used to bring out a lot of grim realities of the system that our forefathers blessed us with. The last scene of the movie is soul-stirring, and will leave you asking a lot of questions about God, religion, and things like that (I won’t share the answers that my conscience gave me, for I don’t want to influence anyone’s thought process).
The performances from Om Puri and Mohan Agashe are just superb. This being a completely performance based movie, the onus lied on these artists to do justice to the powerful story, and they were completely up to the mark. Smita Patil has a small role, but she too proves her prowess- watch her when she discovers that her husband is not feeling well, watch her eyes- the compassion, the helplessness, the tenderness- all rolled into one small empathetic look she gives her husband.
Parting Note: This is not a patriotic movie, but still is a MUST watch for every Indian. I haven’t seen much of Satyajit Ray’s work, but this would surely rank as amongst his best. This following is the you tube link for its first part- The rest of the four parts can be found on the same page.