Ardh Satya (1983)

Poster for the movie   | Photo Credit: 07dfr ardh satya

It all began in the mid-’70s and in many ways attained full fruition in the early ’80s. Amitabh Bachchan as the proverbial angry young man was scaling unexplored heights. He was not a star, he was a phenomenon, often reducing his co-stars to glorified extras. His larger-than-life depiction of the common, dispossessed man scoffed at logic but worked wonders at the box office. Around the time he was charting his course, a couple of men were trying to find their own place under the sun as thinking actors, men who believed in a realistic portrayal of characters. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri gradually became names to be reckoned with on the parallel cinema circuit; their names in the credits ensuring certain interest in parallel cinema offerings. Then sneaked in a guy hardly anybody had heard of, at least those for whom Marathi was not the first language, and had no experience of Marathi theatre. He was Sadashiv Amrapurkar, the versatile actor whom we lost earlier this week. He was anything but handsome. But he had diabolical eyes that left you wondering at the myriad meanings he sought to convey with a single movement. And he had a voice to kill.

He arrived on the Hindi film scene a little after Naseer and Om had established themselves. It took a good word from theatre veteran Vijay Tendulkar to get noted director Govind Nihalani to watch Sadashiv on stage in “Hands Up”, a Marathi drama where he was pitted opposite the formidable Bhakti Bharve. So polished was Sadashiv that midway through the play Nihalani had decided to cast him as Rama Shetty in “Ardh Satya”. It was to prove a masterstroke; the film going on to be a landmark in the careers of both Om Puri and Sadashiv Amrapurkar. More importantly, Nihalani’s film was to prove a shining example of hard-hitting, gritty cinema: it was neither vainglorious like many films of Prakash Mehra and Manmohan Desai, nor steeped in sobriety like many films of Mrinal Sen or Shyam Benegal. Or even self-conscious. Govind in this tale of an honest cop against the system did not hold his punches. His go-for-the-jugular approach worked wonders. Both at the box office and the sphere of critical acclaim.

He had much to work with: Vijay Tendulkar’s script. An illustrious man, Tendulkar’s pen had more fury than a boxer’s fist. A difficult man to placate, he had a no-nonsense approach, focussed, sharp. Then there was S.D. Panwalkar’s story of an upright young cop –– Om Puri as Anant Welankar –– who brings a refreshing enthusiasm to his job. One day he arrests three thugs close to a local don –– Sadashiv Amrapurkar as Rama Shetty. It is an action that ensures there will be no easy days in his life. The don has political connections, his police bosses kowtow to bigwigs in Delhi. And when he lets his anger out at detainees, it is Anant who ends up fielding questions. The system is manipulated by the mighty to trample upon the meek. And an honest cop is helpless. He derives solace neither from his past: his father (Amrish Puri) was a strict man given to slapping his wife. Nor from his colleagues. His sweetheart, Jyotsna (Smita Patil in a small but luminous role), is his only anchor.

Like an able workman, Nihalani uses all these wonderful tools to devastating effect. If he had taken a little liberty “Ardh Satya” could have been your usual honest cop versus corrupt system tale. The difference lay in the treatment. No melodrama, no holds barred, no songs to interrupt the proceedings. Even softer moments come with layers of meaning and poetry. For instance, the poem which Jyotsna reads out to Anant. The poem, written in original by Dilip Chhitre, gave Nihalani the title of the film, an engrossing name that left many things unsaid. And finally, gave all of us a film we loved to watch even if at times we cringed at the events, the blood, the anger, the frustration of the hero, the malice, the wile of the don.

Today, a little more than 30 years after it was made, “Ardh Satya” continues to be a benchmark for hard-hitting political cinema. And from a cast that included such formidable names like Naseeruddin Shah, Smita Patil and Shafi Inamdar, there are only two names that stand out. One is obviously Om Puri, for whom it was not just an author-backed role but a career-defining one. Often in his career he played second fiddle to other actors of parallel cinema, here he gets a role tailor-made for him. Then of course, there is Sadashiv Amrapurkar. As a don, he speaks with understated pauses, stopping at least partly for effect. Then when he runs out of words, he lets his eyes do the talking. He is loathsome when he does that; he is barely above hate when he does not. And therein lay his great success. In his very first Hindi film, Sadashiv leaves an indelible impression.

Later, he successfully crossed over to mainstream cinema with menacing portrayals in films like “Hukumat”, “Aakhri Raasta”, “Elaan-e-Jung”, not to forget “Sadak” where his deliberately loud act as a transvestite won him new admirers.

He was an under-celebrated actor of many, many hues. That is the truth that emerges from “Ardh Satya”. As for Nihalani, well, “Ardh Satya” was to him what “Mughal-e-Azam” was to K. Asif or “Sholay” to Ramesh Sippy. It was truly his passport to fame.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 3:23:27 PM |

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