starring Uttam Kumar, Sharmila Tagore, Utpal Dutt

It is often said there are only two things that unify the vast hordes of our diverse country, with its rainbow of religions, cultures, languages: cricket, and the Hindi film industry. However, the premise falls flat when considered against the backdrop of some of Bollywood’s abiding afflictions. Among these is the abject failure of male actors from regional cinema to break into the territory monopolised by the Kapoors, Khannas, Deols, Roshans and Bachchans. Although fine actors, even super-stars from regional cinema — the iconic Kamal Hasan, Mohanlal and Mammooty — have sparkled as shooting stars on the Hindi film screen, none of them managing to establish a firm foothold, as a frontrunner. Rajni sir, needless to say. is in a league of his own.

Uttam Kumar, numero uno of the deeply entrenched Bengali cinema, is a case in point, as he managed to get roles in only a few Hindi films before his untimely death at the age of 53 in 1980. One only needs to watch Shakti Samantha’s “Amanush” (made simultaneously in Bengali and Hindi) to marvel at the scope of the man’s histrionic capabilities. Kumar shines as Madhusudan Roy Chaudhary, or Madhu, a straightforward scion of a zamindar family settled in a fishing village in the Sunderbans. He reflects angst and anger with understated ease after his life is ripped asunder by the machinations of the family munim , Maheem Ghosal (a superlative performance by veteran Utpal Dutt).

Reduced to a penniless drunkard, he is condemned to live the life of an amanush — half human, and half beast. As a debauched vagabond, he raises his voice on behalf of the downtrodden who suffer under the highhanded and corrupt Ghosal. This brings him face to face with the law enforcers, who are often hand in glove with the wily Ghosal.

It is in this backdrop that Inspector Bhuvan (Anil Chatterjee) lands in the village, where Ghosal ‘fills his ears’ against Madhu. Bhuvan, without going into merits of the case, acts harshly on Madhu, even whipping him at the police station. However, soon he comes to know the story of Madhu and his estranged love interest, Rekha (Sharmila Tagore).

In a flashback, Madhu tells him how he was entrapped in a fake case of theft in his own house, whereon his ailing paternal uncle, under the influence of the munim , handed him over to the police. He is also accused of fathering a child through a prostitute. Before he can prove his innocence the woman is abducted and killed at the behest of Ghosal. On completing his prison sentence, Madhu returns to his village, only to find that his uncle has been murdered by the munim, who shows it as a case of natural death.

Thereon, Bhuvan embarks on a mission to reform Madhu and gets him a contract for building a dam in an adjoining village. A determined Madhu, with his two sidekicks, completes the job commendably.

He even wins back the confidence of Rekha, whom he saves from drunken streamer operators one night. But the ice is finally broken when the village is endangered by raging flood waters that threaten to breach the dam. All villagers persuade Madhu to take the mantle of saving the village, but he spurns them, blaming them for his misery. Finally, on a visit by Rekha he relents, and saves the dam and the village from havoc.

His honour is restored, as is his love interest. Ghosal is arrested for his wrongdoings by Bhuvan, even as he is transferred to a new posting.

Shakti Samantha wields the baton with a clear vision. He manages to draw superlative performances from Uttam Kumar and Utpal Dutt.

Dutt merges himself into the character like a chameleon. His facial expressions and voice modulation are excellent. It is unfortunate that such an actor was confined to a straitjacket in subsequent years. His role as Ghosal is a benchmark. Sharmila Tagore is commendable as Rekha, although, at times, she looks too polished for what is essentially a village belle running a kindergarten school in a remote village.

Other actors like Abhi Bhattacharya (as Dr. Anand, Rekha’s elder brother), Asit Sen as the village priest and Anil Chatterjee are creditable. Prema Narayan as Dhanno, in the major role of a large-hearted prostitute in love with Madhu — that could have given a fillip to her career — is average. She imparts oomph, but is expressionless, like a wall.

The film, shot on location by Aloke Dasgupta, infuses life in a small fishing village. The editing by Bijoy Chowdary is slick, and art direction by Shanti Dass excellent.

Equally riveting are the dialogues, credited to Kamleshwar, which bring to life the milieu around which the story is woven.

Samantha shows his prowess over music, as each of the six numbers set to music by Shymal Mitra and lyrics by Indeevar is a rare gem.

The best of the lot is undoubtedly the Kishore Kumar song “Dil Aisa Kisi Ne Mera Toda”, which won him the Filmfare Best Male Playback Award. Indeevar bagged the best lyricist trophy for the same song.

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Shakti Samantha (above) drew superlative performances from Uttam Kumar and Utpal Dutt.