Sunday, January 29, 2012

Satyakaam (1969)

Many great men have exhorted the importance of following the path of truth, however arduous, in amazingly simple words (almost nonchalantly in many cases). Our holy relics, our Upanishads, and our two most significant historical texts- the Ramayana and the Mahabharata- too have averred vehemently that there is nothing greater than reveling in the knowledge and the spreading of truth. Hrishikesh Mukherjee, in his 1969 feature Satyakaam, pays homage to these thoughts by means of depicting the journey of a man who never wavers from this formidable path of truth.

Satyakaam is the story of Satyapriya ‘Sath’ Acharya (Dharmendra in what’s as per his own admission the best performance of his career), a young man born in a family that’s boasts on an illustrious lineage- all great men who spent their lives in the worship of truth and banished all thoughts of giving in to worldly pleasures that might have caused them to compromise on their ideals. His early education came from his grandfather Satyasharan Acharya (Ashok Kumar in a look that was used by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in another film with the actor at around the same time- Aashirwaad), who continued to remain the ultimate source of enlightenment and inspiration to him. The story is narrated through the eyes of Satyapriya’s best friend Naren (Sanjeev Kumar) and begins with both of them coming to the end of their engineering days in the year 1947, just months prior to India gaining independence.

Satyapriya and Naren pass their final exams and await their encounter with the real world where they would have to use the wealth of knowledge they had gained in the four years of their engineering (The story is set sixty years before our times so the engineers of today might not identify with their earnestness- even I don’t). Just fresh out of college they and their colleagues embark on a fun trip to celebrate their success, but on the way their bus meets with a terrible accident in which they lose one of their classmates. This incident is not touched upon later in the film, but it seems like the director wanted to make a statement on life and its unpredictability through this misfortune that strikes the young Satyapriya and his friends. Soon after this mishap Satyapriya applies for and secures a job with a rich industrial estate as project engineer. In his first assignment he is sent to a remote Central Indian region to make a survey and appraise a huge land holding for the company. There he discovers that his bosses are in alliance with the prince of the particular riyasat and were least concerned by the actual project at hand. They instead had some ulterior motives for which they needed Satyapriya’s assistance. Also, during his assignment he meets with and strikes a companionship with Ranjanaa (Sharmila Tagore) who becomes a victim of the prince’s sexual assault on her. But despite this Satyapriya decides to marry her being fully aware that his grandfather would refuse to accept this match. But he makes a decision that goes with his ideals and his dharma. It is one chapter of his life that is given a lot of emphasis, but moving on the proceedings become rather less hurried and the story takes a lot of time leaps (though with not much time interval passing between them).

Three years subsequent to their marriage Satyapriya and Ranjanaa are living happily, though their only son (who is not Satyapriya’s own but instead a result of the Prince sexual assault) acts like an uncomfortable reminder of their past. Satyapriya keeps on taking up a lot of jobs but everywhere he finds it difficult to make peace with the corrupt ways of his colleagues and the society in general. With every such job he becomes more and more steadfast and life becomes a tough battle for him and his family. He takes to smoking and becomes quite irritable and discontent. Naren meets him more than once at various junctures of his life, and ultimately in a curious turn of fate Satyapriya gains employment as a junior engineer below him in a Government set-up. Even in his new role Satyapriya refuses to even pay heed to Naren’s slight requests for slowing down a bit and taking things easy. He even picks up a fight with his best friend over a difference of opinion in how to deal with a contract. Things in fact become worse that what they look on the surface- Satyapriya becomes so finicky about honesty and doing the right things that he even refuses to leave his office a few minutes before the official closing time of five in the evening. It is here that Naren makes a telling remark that excess of everything is bad, even the excess of ideals. Soon, in a tragic turn of fate, Satyapriya develops lung cancer and the last few minutes of the film deal with the last few days of his life.

Hrishikesh Mukherjee chooses a very complex subject and treats it in an unconventional manner. The movie is definitely a critique on our society and how we tend to ignore a lot of things while leading our lives. Through the ordeals of Satyapriya he makes a defining statement on how difficult it is for an honest man to live with his head high in today’s materialistic and insensitive set-up. But at the same time through the dissonance and irritability of Satyapriya, he makes the point that it is futile to stop appreciating the life around us by becoming a cynic and seeing the worst in each and every thing. By the end of his life, Satyapriya becomes so obsessed by his ideals that he even started ignoring the interests of his own family. In a way God decided to end his trials and tribulations by giving him the lung cancer, after having given him enough time to fall in love with life. So Satyapriya can be seen as both a loser and as a winner. In my view he was more of a loser than winner, but I am sure people will form quite diverse impressions if they decide to watch this movie.

Because of my above view, I see don’t see this movie as a perfect film. Although the narrative and story as such is unique and the intentions are definitely quite honest, I didn’t like Satyapriya’s character and was left disappointed by him- and it was his story. Of course it was how Hrishikesh Mukherjee must have intended it to be, but because of the way the story was treated, the movie failed to either inspire or educate or educate. It is lengthy and has many unnecessary sequences that don’t really add up to the central theme. Also, Satyasharan’s (Ashok Kumar) character is shown as caught between his Dharma and his traditions. He is neither here nor there- and so is the film in its entirety. The performances by the lead cast otherwise are indeed praiseworthy- Dharmendra especially more because he was Satyapriya- and he was the entire film.

Parting Note: More than a film, Satyakaam is a comment on the society in the form of a biopic of a fictional character. It is most certainly an important film and showcases the range of Hrishikesh Mukherjee as a director. But overall the film is not the classic that it promises it to be. 


  1. I saw this one long back and remember only the rudiments of it. One ex-professor of mine who's a BIG fan of the film has been pestering me to rewatch it and review it, and that pestering is enough to put me off! ;-) And now your review has added to my resolve NOT to rewatch it. I remember finding it rather too depressing and negative...

  2. Oh, I am surprised that you have not written about it on your blog. I had made a mental note to check for your review once I saw that it was a 1969 film. Have been having problems accessing the internet (am using the phone) so didn't check.

    Please do review this film and ignore my views! I would love to read your take on it. Definitely it deserves a place on your blog. Please accept your ex-professor's request!

  3. This was a very interesting film, Piyush, and I, for one, found Dharmendra's character very annoying. Realistic in terms of his character graph, but annoying in real life, nevertheless. Because he was exactly what you said - rigid. I can understand not compromising on one's ideals and principles, but I think he carried it too far. But if you look at the film as a whole, his grandfather was *also* rigid. So, in one way, you can say that it was the way he was brought up. In fact, the one time that he regrets standing by his principles is when he thrusts Ranjana out of his room, and she is raped as a result. It is his guilt that makes him marry her (not a very good reason to start a marriage), but it is interesting that his guilt does not stop him from remembering what had happened to Ranjana - and that stops them from having a real married life.

    It was a very complex character, and Dharmendra did a wonderful job with it. Did you know that it was Dharmendra's home production? And Madhu, you *should* see it again - really. I thought it was a great character study, and certainly, one of the best movies to come out during the period.

    Sorry for the long comment. :(

  4. Hi Not at all, Thanks for taking time out and making the comment. Glad to see you here!

    I agree with what you have said. It's another reason why I thought the character of Satyapriya was more a loser than a winner- the fact that he failed to reconcile with Ranjanaa's past and did not share a normal married life with her. Wasn't being so unfair to her against his dharma?

    Like you said it was his guilt that made him marry her, and it probably wasn't his ideals- it wasn't love. Of course, this is how the character was- and one can't fault the film for that.

    I didn't know the movie was his home production. Dharmendra definitely gave it his all.

  5. See this review.

  6. @Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing the link. It's a very good read.