Even 37 years later, Ardh Satya remains relevant and tells the story of brutal and conflicted policemen
Even 37 years later, the film remains relevant to our time. Neither politicians nor the police have changed much, reflects Subhash K Jha
Almost every ‘cops’ film that followed Govind Nihalani’s hard-hitting edgy drama Ardh Satya owes an allegiance to Ardh Satya in one way or another. And yes, as far as ‘cops’ dramas in commercial cinema are concerned, there was Andha Kanoon in 1983 where Hema Malini played a cop. But Ardh Satya was a brutal and unrelentingly intense study of crime, punishment, the law and its subversion by the powerful.
Eminent playwright Vijay Tendulkar had earlier penned the screenplay for Nihalani’s directorial debut Aakrosh, where Om Puri, in one of Indian cinema’s most striking debut performances, ended his unlettered mute tribal character’s self- imposed silence with a bloodcurdling scream of protest.
In Ardh Satya Om’s character of the conflicted and compromised cop Anant Welankar protests far more violently. At the end he jumps out of his chair and heads straight for the villain Rama Shetty (Sadashiv Amrapurkar)’s throat, choking him to death and walking out of the goon’s den, riding his motorcycle back to his police station to surrender for the ‘crime’.
And why not? If our socio-political system stifles the straightthinking upright civil servant why should he not smother the living daylights out of a goon who sits scoffing at Anant’s entire career of honest professionalism?
The relevance of Ardh Satya in this day and age of growing compromises in life remains. The police force remains viciously maligned.And the few conscientious cops who dare to think and act straight find themselves ostracized and even declared insane! Remember the government officer in Uttar Pradesh who was whisked off to a mental asylum after he accused the chief minister of corruption?
The powerlessness of Anant Welankar is the impotency of the Indian bureaucracy. It functions more by tradition rather than integrity.But Om’s character is no larger-than-life hero. Nihalani’s’ hero Anant Welankar took the filmy cop out of the ‘don’t-mess-with-me’ zone of invincibility.
Anant is a wounded, hurting middleclass Marathi boy from the village with a troubled childhood.With a bully of a father(Amrish Puri, bleeding brilliancy into the drama with his brief role) who beats up his poor hapless mother,Anant grows up despising all that his father respresents.And yetparadoxically, Anant is a bully in his own work space.
In a shocking departure from conventionalcinema, Nihalani captured the hero’s life in all its ordinary hues. We see the cop covering his beat in the small lanes and chawls of Mumbai. We see him picking up petty criminals and thrashing them for small crimes to vent his frustration. We see him drinking on the job and calling the girl he loves at her hostel, screaming for attention. We see Anant getting progressively embittered by the corruption all around him. We see him spurning his father’s paternal concern, reminding the shocked old man, ‘Tu meri maa ko peet-ta hai’.And then in the night we see Anant putting a blanket on his sleeping father.
The character’s biggest virtue is that it doesn’t try to be anything except what it really is…an ordinary government officer trying to be honest to his job. Nihalani cast Om Puri in the lead to capture the texture of ordinariness in Mumbai’s underbelly. The locations reek of a clamped-down corruption. Mumbai in 1983 was a city waiting to split wide open to reveal the wide chasm between the world of the working class and the layers of crime just beneath.
As Anant Velankar transcends into a kindof middleclass despondency that comes to the upright when they’re compromised,we begin to sense his despair and soon embrace it wholeheartedly. The demonization of the duty-conscious cop is palpable in scenes like the one where Anant snaps at the elderly constable, who gently admonishes him for drinking on duty…Or each time he rings up the mortified Jyotsna and slurs in a drunken haze.
Throughout the film’s jagged journey Jyotsna, as played by the serene Smita Patil, remains the symbol of all things pure and idealistic, sometimes naively so. Smita represents that breed of intensely committed women in starched cotton sarees who believe they can change the world through seminars and morchas. While most of Ardh Satya strikes me as being profoundly relevant to our times, Smita’s flag-waving idealism to the point that she tells her cop boyfriend to give up his job or his love for her, struck me as somewhat impractical and giddyheaded.
The world that Nihalani’s film embraces has no place for jingoism. It’s a cut-throat Mumbai where every section of people bully the underdog. We see a lot of sadistic violence in Ardh Satya. Unlike other harbingers of social change, who came in to make films in the 1970s and 80s, Govind Nihalani was not afraid of violence. He never flinches away from the dark areas of his hero Anant’s psyche.
Nihalani gets absolutely unostentatious actors to play Anant’s colleagues at the police station.
Shafi Inaamdar as Hyder, his immediate senior, is a portrait of benign pragmatism. Hyder knows we live in troubled times. And the sooner we stop trying to change society the better the chances of our survival.