Blast from the Past: Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1977)

SUBLIME AND SUBTLE Raj Kapoor’s “SatyamShivam Sundaram” starring Zeenat Aman andShashi Kapoor was just not skin show but had aprofound message   | Photo Credit: 26dfr Scan 3

Once D.H. Lawrence was pilloried for celebrating the woman, her free spirit, her unabashed comfort in her body. Once –– or was it many times over –– Raj Kapoor was criticised for commoditisation of the female body, how he exploited his heroines in the garb of depiction of innocence and spirituality. How he had both eyes at the box office, and had nothing like spirituality on his mind when it came to celebrating the woman’s body. People read ugly meanings into whatever he did. Like the hero in this film, they too chose to skim the surface, not being patient to go beyond.

It all came to a head in 1977 when “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” was to be released. Cinema halls in Old Delhi, otherwise loyal allies of Raj Kapoor, said a polite no to the film; a hall in Connaught Place and a handful others in west and south Delhi showed the film to a mixed response, taking care all along not to allow any skin show on the hoardings in those more polite, infinitely more conservative times. All the talk in film glossies was about Zeenat Aman daring to bare like seldom before in the annals of Hindi cinema, the posters and the hoardings on the streets of our cities though focussed on Shashi Kapoor, a wonderful mannequin for a hero, with only close-ups of the heroine’s half-covered scarred face. Except for a few which had the hero and the heroine approaching an embrace, they misled the viewers: the film was actually a splendid showcase of Zeenat Aman’s powers of seduction, her voice, her figure, and her limited, quite limited acting potential. She teases the camera, tempts the viewers, arouses the poet in them only to find the man in them answering zestfully.

The advertisement campaign was as much a concession to public morality as a confession about the film’s subject: beauty is not skin deep. And innocence is not a prisoner of age. The director says it all so beautifully here: his heroine, Rupa, is a devotee of Shiva, bathes Shivlinga every morning, wipes the temple floor with rare abandon. Playful like Radha, devoted like Meera, she dresses up in a manner which suggests she has nothing to hide from her deity, not much from the world either.

Little wonder, like the proverbial moth, Rajeev –– Shashi Kapoor as a glorified extra masquerading as a hero –– is drawn to her candle, bright and burning. Her voice is attractive, her songs more so. He longs to be with her. There is a catch: he has been captivated by her voice, admired her figure, gaped at her body from a distance but never seen her up close. Rupa, contrary to her name, carries a scar too big, too ugly to conceal. The world knows it. He doesn’t. Love blossoms, actually lust disguised as love, raises its head. Then the reality strikes; the woman he imagined to be a picture of grace and beauty, is far from it. Her voice is golden, her face singed. She celebrates the powers of Shiva in Kashi, Ram in Awadh and Kanha in Vrindavan, yet when it comes to her own fate, the submission to all the deities is of little avail. She has to find her god within because she is the Lord’s creation with as much right to happiness as anybody.

In this conflict between physical love and a more profound expression, Raj Kapoor gives us a film that scores many symbolic points. He talks of a seeming division of gods’ empires yet in the end unites the world as the creation of one Supreme Being. His heroine dresses up in mini costumes, like the proverbial innocent girl. Such girls may never exist next door but in a man’s fantasy they stay right there and closer. No wonder, his lyricist calls her “chanchal, komal, sheetal”. Early on, she worships Shivlinga, getting her strength, for life’s battles. A little later, as she stands in front of the statues of Ram, Sita and Lakshman, domestic peace is not too far to seek. All so subtle, all so beguilingly beautiful.

With ample support from writer Jainendra Jain, music director Laxmikant-Pyarelal costume designer Bhanu Aithaiya, Satyam Shivam Sundarama, provokes and evokes, engages and extols by turn. Apparently, Lata Mangeshkar, who is said to be the inspiration with her matchless voice for this film, was not too keen to sing the songs of the film with Laxmikant Pyarelal. Yet, she put her differences aside to come up with songs that have outlived more than a generation. Same with Zeenat Aman. She was not the first choice. The director having Hema Malini and Dimple Kapadia in mind; both of them were uncomfortable with the idea of seducing the camera with their body. Zeenat stepped in. In came the film, the title song, “Bhor gaye panghat pe” and “Ramngmahal ke dus darwaze”. The door opened. Posterity still steps in once in a while to take a peek.

Genre: Social drama

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 11:24:12 PM |

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