When Salim Javed were busy providing poetic justice in three hours, Vijay Tendulkar was grappling with the oppressive State machinery without any sugar coating. Besides being an accomplished playwright and script writer, his consistent engagement with human aggression made him a distinguished social scientist, who peeled the causes and impact of violence in our society.
His scripts, combined with Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani’s direction and Satyadev Dubey’s dialogues exploded bombs under the audience’s chairs. Like social scientist Ashis Nandy once wrote, Tendulkar never guarantees a good bedtime read…He never fails to make you feel that you have entered a dentist’s chamber with an undiagnosed abscess in the molars.
Drawn from a real life incident, “Aakrosh” is one of the best examples of his potent writing that can make you peel off the arm rest in disgust and frustration at the state of affairs. Here violence perpetrates violence not to seek revenge but as the last resort to avoid further humiliation. It is not meant for people who judge a film as fast or slow, it is for an audience who look for cinema as an uncompromised reflection of reality. Watching it today, when the country is on the cusp of change, it makes you feel that not much has changed for Lahaniya Bhikus of the society. It cuts through the conspiracy of silence, the politics of accident.
Bhiku (Om Puri) is a self respecting tribal who doesn’t bow down to the diktats of the lascivious forest contractor (Achyut Potdar). To teach him a lesson, the contractor together with his friends (Arvind Deshpande, Mohan Agashe…), from the top echelons of the adminsitration, violates the chastity of Bhiku’s wife Nagi (Smita Patil) and kills her. They pass on the blame on Bhiku and the wretched soul goes silent to save his father and sister from the wrath of the so-called social contractors.
Bhaskar Kulkarni (Naseeruddin Shah), a fresh law graduate fights his case against his mentor Dusane (Amrish Puri). Interestingly, Bhaskar is from the higher caste while Dusane is a tribal who has found partial acceptance in the social circle. He plays bridge with the local politician, police officer and the sarkari doctor but still gets threatening calls for trying to break caste barriers. Dusane’s ambivalence towards the case is disturbing and unravels the complexities of the cast system. To Dusane the truth is something that can be legally proved with proof. But we are placed in a system where those who can afford to buy can have the witness. When Bhaskar talks of human dignity, Dusane shrugs him off. In fact he is more confident than Bhaskar about the futility of fighting it out.
It was Nihalani’s first film as a director and you can sense certain rawness in treatment, a film school approach in shot taking but more often than not raw appeal is better than polished approach on celluloid. His immersive cinematography adds a new dimension to the narrative. He doesn’t gloss over the potholes on Om Puri’s visage but never overplays them ensuring that his silence does all the talking. In fact for the first 10 minutes of the film there is no dialogue but it doesn’t get into the way of storytelling. The half-lit face of Smita stays with you long after the credits roll. So is the interplay of light and shadows in the bylanes of a village where Bhaskar finds himself fighting a lonely battle.
The narrative is interspersed with metaphors making sure that it never gets didactic. On the morning walk the aging judge is hesitant about being touched by the raging sea waves while the young lawyer takes the plunge. It establishes the contrast between the old and the new order and prepares us for the New Wave. In another scene when Bhaskar is reading about the killing of a Naxal woman the radio news in the background says the Vinoba Bhave is going to protest again cow slaughter. It establishes the priorities of the leaders of the time. It has a contemporary zing to it.
When Bhaskar feels helpless in front of persistent silence from the side of Lahanya’s family, the social worker in the village whom Bhaskar labels as Marxist, tells Bhaskar that you pity these people and move on. You want them to speak out when the system is not letting them even breath. He wants to change the system while Bhaskar is eager to help an individual. At the end of the conversation the social worker calls Bhaskar an idealist, which is again a label.
Nihalani is not oblivious to the Bollywood presence in the society. You can see a horse cart promoting “Don” with “Khaike Paan Benaras Wala Khul Jaye Band Akal Ka Tala” blaring going past Bhaskar. The contrast is clear. While Amitabh Bachchan was doing stunts with bike, Naseer, equally angry, was peddling his way into Indian reality on a cycle. Similarly, when the two ‘respected men’ are undecided as who will take the dancer home for the night, one suggests going for head and tail, the “Sholay” way. He is threatened, he is attacked, but Bhaskar doesn’t take law in his hands. In fact in the lavani number the dancer (Reema Lagoo) makes a dig at his cold ways but the boy doesn’t give up his pursuit of truth. And when Bhiku actually picks an axe during the climax it is not to cut the contractor to pieces, but to avoid further disgrace. It leaves you stunned, provoked
Genre: Social/political drama
Director: Govind Nihalani
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Smita Patil, Amrish Puri, Mohan Agashe, Mahesh Elkunchwar, Nana Palsikar, Arvind Deshpande
Story and screenplay: Vijay Tendulkar
Dialogue: Satyadev Dubey
Music director: Ajit Varman
Lyricist: Vasant Dev and Suryabhanu Gupt
Awards: Won National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi and also Filmfare Award for Best Director, Best Actor (Naseerudin Shah), Best Actor in Supporting Role (Om Puri), Best Story, Best Screenplay and Best Art. Was nominated in Best Film category as well but lost out to “Khoobsurat”.
Trivia: Reema Lagoo, who is known for her mother image, danced to a lavani number in the film.