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Read reviews of 'Satya' by Ali Peter John (These reviews appeared in "Screen").


Listen, Mr. President
Listen, every Indian.
(A review of Satya by Ali Peter John - This review appeared in "Screen")

The critics, the pundits, the know-alls and even his fellow film-makers branded him as one more peddler of technique, some of the most modern techniques which Indian films had rarely used. They said Ramu (Ram Gopal Varma) was all razzmatazz in the name of good cinema. They predicted a very short life span for him because he did not have the substance, the soul, the spirit to survive.

Some of the greater pundits said "Ramu to diwana hai, aaj aaya hai, kal kaheen andheri galiyon mein bhatkega" (Ramu is a mad man, he's just arrived, he'll soon get lost in some dark and dreary lanes). Ramu proved them wrong with 'Rangeela'. He showed them that razmatazz also could have soul. Then Ramu made them scoff at him again when he made 'Daud', a film which had everything to keep the audiences running out of the theatres. And I wondered and a major part of the world wondered how the young man who made 'Rangeela' could also make 'Daud'

Ramu himself seemed to have realised he had made a mistake. He went to work again on one of his favourite subjects, the underworld. He didn't want stars. The only exception was Urmila Matondkar who had to strip herself of her stardom to play a stark, true-to-life role, a role which was turned down by the very choosy Mahima Chaudhary. The others were actors like Chakravarthy (from Telugu films), Manoj Vajpai, Govind Namdeo, Saurabh Shukla (who is also the writer) and some other unknown faces, strong, sensitive and sensational actors. This time, Ramu is sure to stun all those who still have a corner of their consceince left. All those who can still feel. All those who can still think.

I would like everyone, from President KB Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Bajpai and all our honourable leaders and all our learned judges and teachers to find time off from cutting ribbons and making speeches before people who need so much more than just speeches on which they have thrived for fifty years. I want people from every walk of life to see 'Satya', Ramu's attempt to find the truth about a malady which is mauling the vitals of a nation on the move nowhere (that's the postion now). Ramu's discovery about the truth, about today's turbulent youth perched on a time bomb, is a greater discovery than discovering a cure for AIDS. Yes it is, Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister and Mr. Every Indian. Ramu's discovery of the truth is more powerful than all the investigative stories, all the inquiries, all the commissions.

Ramu's truth can save the youth of this country. It can. It will. That's why it must be seen by every Indian who still loves the truth, by every Indian who still swears he is an Indian. I am obsessed by Ramu's 'Satya' because I am obsessed by the bitter truth.

The truth terrorises (A review of Satya by Ali Peter John)

I am sure my naughty little student, David, who grew up to become one of the most dreaded, admired and lovable bhais in a suburb in Mumbai would have been thrilled to see Ram Gopal Varma's 'Satya'. He always had a complaint against Hindi films. He always told me he was angry with the bheja (brains) of Hindi filmmakers who promised to make films about the lives of boys like him who were destined to become bhais and ended up mocking them, making fun of them, making them card-board cutouts or glorifying them as rough and tough men with hearts of Amul butter. This was not the truth, this was not satya about them, he screamed. "Ye saale filmwalo ko ek baar mere paas bhej do, gurubhai (he used to call me gurubhai because he never forgot that I was his teacher once and was always grateful for whatever little I had taught him) main unko sikhata hoon bhai log par kaise assal fillum banane ka (send these filmmakers to me once. I'll teach them how to make a true film about us, bhais)."

I remembered David during every moment of 'Satya', one of the all-time best films I've seen during my life which was so true to the life I had seen in the raw. The kind of life when man ceases to be man just because of this great game called survival in a stone-hearted city like Mumbai which was a city everyone loved once and which instilled fear into almost every human being - because of so many different reasons - the rise and rise of these bhais and their wild wild ways which has threatened to rip Mumbai apart was one of them. Like Satya in 'Satya', David also came from a lower middle class family. His father was a security guard, his mother a nurse. His father died when he was just seven. His mother couldn't carry on with her four children. She encouraged David to sell cinema tickets in the black market. David was street smart. He picked up the trade within no time. It took him just three years to expand his blackwallah bijness all over the suburbs.

I then lost track of him. I found him years later. He was the bhai, the bhau, the bhaisahab, the don of the land. His law was the only law. He dispensed justice. He protected all kinds of people, for a price. He killed for a price. He had committed eleven murders, one in a court. His name spelt terror. Politicians, businessmen, builders, anyone with bags of money made by illegal means trembled before him. The policemen in the area danced according to his tunes. They arrested him once in a while - with his permission.

But he was also a very loving family man. He loved his wife, his little children. He gave them all the facilities, gave them the best convent education. He helped all the charitable organisations, all the orphanages, all the deserving causes in the area. Old men and women touched his feet, little children waited for his visits because his visits, was like Christmas or Diwali for them. I walked with him for three months. I watched him as a man. He only told me about his life, described his exploits. He never let me see his life. He said I was too delicate to take it, tolerate it.

Then one day he said he wanted to change, renounce everything, start life, anew. And one week later I received a call. David Bhai who was just thirty-five had been shot dead by some unknown assailants. No one knew who his killers were. What happens to his wife and three little children now? Almost every bhai has met the same end, I know. The pattern is so painfully familiar now in Mumbai. The entire area came to a standstill on the day of David Bhai's funeral. David Bhai amar rahe, David Bhai zindabad, people screamed. Women and children beat their breasts and wailed in sorrow. The world had lost a Bhai. They had lost a messiah.

David Bhai, his life, his exploits, his dangerous deeds, his extortions, his killings, his boys who were trained to become other Bhais, his relationship with his wife, his love for his children, I remembered everything as I watched the story of Sayta and Bhiku Mhatre unfold on the screen. An amazing effort, a laudable effort, a gut-wrenching effort made by Ram Gopal Varma and his team. My hats off to Ramu and especially to Manoj Vaajpayee who plays Bhiku Mhatre, a command performance which deserves all the awards if they are really genuine awards. Ramu says he would be happy if his film changed at least one bhai. I am sure it will change many bhais, many more bhais in making and the attitude of human beings to these misguided, misled, misunderstood and manipulated human beings. I will remember 'Satya' as long as truth lives. I will remember 'Satya' as a film that threatened to tear my soul apart, trample my conscience. It is one film which will certainly shake up every young man about to take the first step into a dark and destructive land called nowhere. Ramu has done more than any modern social reformer has done. Generations to come will be grateful to him for having the guts to tell the truth as it is, the truth about the truth.

Click here to return to the "Reviews & Interviews" page

Click here to read a review of 'Satya' by Shobha De

Click here to read a review of 'Satya' by Dinesh Raheja

Click here to read reviews about Manoj Bajpai

Click here to read a review of 'Satya' by Suparn Verma


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