If we ever track cultural icons of cinema, a name we can’t miss would be Satyajit Ray. Earlier this week, on the eve of his death anniversary, leading dailies carried a eulogy on the greatest works of Ray. While most of his remarkable repertoire is in vernacular, he did attempt to reach out the masses with his memorable film Shatranj Ke Khiladi. While the film was deemed brilliant, being a Bengali, I am definitely better versed with finer works of this genius man.
It would have been easier to recommend a widely known Shatranj, I took up the daunting task of finding a Brand Ray masterpiece which is more easily watchable, in a language most of us recognize. Those who have remotely delved into Hindi Literature would surely have read Munshi Premchand’s Sadgati. But there’s a mild chance one has chanced upon Satyajit Ray’s 1981 telefilm based on the same, which he made for Doordarshan.
Ray was once slammed by actress Nargis Dutt for exporting poverty and most films of his undeniably are focused around the same theme, Sadgati was a appealing gem, that bloomed in Ray’s lieu of meticulousness.
The film well rooted in its strong original script, so vividly written, Ray’s perfection at detailing that makes Sadgati stand as impeccably as it does. A chamar Dukhi, played to the hilt of perfection by Om Puri, recuperating from illness goes to the village priest to get his daughter’s engagement fixed. He leaves instructions for his concerned wife, played by Smita Patil to make arrangements for the Priest to come home!
It can’t possible that two perennially fabulous actors like Om Puri and Smita Patil sketched together in a film so remarkably by an established director like Satyajit Ray, the film can ever imagine falling short of brilliance on any grounds.
Dukhi in order to lure the priest to accept his invitation accepts to doing his domestic chores, in return of which the priest agreed to find a suitable date for his child’s engagement. A weak and ailing Dukhi unwilling to offend the priest toils through the day incurring a health menace on him. Restless with weakness and hunger, the man succumbs to the pains he sustains all day after suffering a major stroke!
The film on its apparent level is a mere retelling of Premchand’s powerful story. But known for creating layered films, encapsulating all essential cinematic elements, Ray continuously harps on Premchand’s attempt at social commentary. While social stratification still remains one of the most constant plagues of our society, these problems were more heightened in the era the story is set! Ray’s indirect communication of the latent meaning without starkly conveying the issue, still manages to largely get vocal.
Simple instances like how Dukhi greets the Panditji, how the Panditayin throws the coal for chillum at Dukhi and mostly the last scene where the body is dragged and dumped into debris of animals’ skeletons– depicting the slimy rules of prohibition towards lower castes in rural India. The breathtakingly heartbreaking climax shakes our faith in institutionalized religion which puts its people through such grim realities unnecessarily basing their logic in baseless ideas of caste system!
The film is experimental in its storyline, yet the direction, cinematography and screenplay is done flawlessly. Performances wise, the film is first rate. Om Puri, Mohan Agashe and Smita Patil churn out their most zestful work in this soul stirring film. Each actor harnesses their prowess in most minimal dialogues, building an eloquent film!
If you appreciate cinema and are remotely concerned about Indian cinema’s centenary year, it’s a personal request don’t miss the wonders of Ray. It’s a well guarded treasure; his humanistic aesthetics encompasses the setting of each film utmost nuanced-ly. There is no better example of the man’s insurmountable artistry than Sadgati. Look beyond the film’s snail pace and find a film jeweled with immense caliber of an untold story that would rather be shoved inside a closet!