Movie Report: Ardh Satya

by Madhulika Narasimhan

Directed by Govind Nihalani

Based on a story by D.A. Panvalkar

Starring: Om Puri, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, and Amrish Puri.

The movie  runs on  fairly predictable lines. The protagonist Anant Welankar (Om Puri) is an honest cop with a sense of responsibility towards the society at large, and is particularly disturbed by the harassment that women are subjected to. There is also a Don in the local Mafia, Rama Shetty, who gives Anant a lot of trouble. Then there is Jyotsna (Smita Patil), who happens to be Anant’s love interest.

Despite the simplicity of the plot, the movie does not fail to put forward certain points pertinent to our society, albeit subtly.

I will begin with those parts of the movie that troubled me most, and these can be clubbed together under the category of gender (but this, mind you has nothing to do with me being a woman, I’m not a feminist, or so I would like to believe!). The attitude of men towards women has been brilliantly and naturally portrayed in the movie. Amrish Puri plays this stereotypical head of a family in a patriarchal society. He slaps his wife at the drop of a hat!  She is not allowed to give her opinion on any matter; if the son disagrees with his father, she bears the brunt; if her husband hastily turns around and drops the coffee, it is her mistake and she must be beaten up. He also believes in not having a beautiful wife as it would be a threat to her sexuality when the husband is not home.

Even in the urban set-up, among the uniformed men of civil society, there is an objectification of women. One sees references made to a woman, in terms of her ‘measurement’, and in words such as ‘maal’.
However, there is another part of this movie that depicts Jyotsna as a modern woman, who is independent, forms her own opinions about people, and believes in action rather than discussions when it comes to political issues. So both these worlds have been vividly portrayed in the movie.

Another aspect of the movie deals with the key problem of corruption.
The Mafia uses the Politicians as a vehicle for self aggrandisement, and vice versa. Caught between these two is the Police, and particularly, Anant Welankar. He considers his being in the Police department a symbol of masculinity (as if the continuous puffing, drinking, cussing and visiting dance bars weren’t symbolic enough). But this notion of his becomes questionable when he detects the darker undertones of being a cop in Mumbai. He is confronted with an obstacle
every time he has to perform his duty that often meant arresting someone who had political connections. If he went ahead with it, his job would be at stake.

In a turn of events, Anant, in a drunken state kills a thief in Police custody and is therefore suspended. Ironically it is only Rama Shetty who can get him his job back. Shetty offers to help him but on the condition that Anant must be in the Police department but work for the former. Hearing this, Anant, in a fit of rage, and in a bid to regain his masculinity, finally kills Rama Shetty, the Don who has made him and most others of the Police department too weak-kneed to act against those who subvert the stability of the society.

Some of my friends were troubled by the fact that the movie did not show what happens to Jyotsna at the end. I guess that is the problem with most women who have grown up on typical Bollywood masala movies, including me of course. A movie has never ended until we know whether the lead pair is happily married or (much to our disappointment)
separated. We do not know what happens to Jyotsna and Anant’s relationship. But this movie holds out some more important lessons for us to learn. It reignites the debate on what really is the solution of a heinous crime such as corruption. Is it simply killing the person who is involved in the process of corruption? Something what Anant resorted to? Or is it more democratic means such as a fast-unto-death threat? The answer can perhaps never be found by mere deliberating. Had it been that easy, corruption would not be a cause trouble today.

The discussion that followed the movie screening was moderated by Dr. Chudamani Basnet. It was truly enriching in the sense that there were different points of view put forth by the participants. Everybody had a different take on the conclusion of the movie. After discussing the gender aspects of the movie, Dr. Basnet led us to the primary question as to whether it was the Structure or the Agency that ultimately won at the end. There was a long debate on this.

The following poem from which the movie derives its name is recited at the end of the movie, and perhaps best explains my foregoing point.

“Chakravyuh se bahar nikalne par,mein mukt ho jaoon bhale hi, phir bhi chakravyuh ki rachna mein farq hi na padega. Soya hua aadmi jab neend se uthkar chalna shura karta hai, tab sapnon ka sansar use, dobara dikh hi na paayega. Us roshni mein jo nirnay ki roshni hai sab kuch samaan hoga kya? Ek palde mein napunsakta, ek palde mein paurush, aur theek tarazu ke kaante par ardh satya.”

“After leaving the circle of deceit, even if I am set free, the design of the circle of deceit will remain unchanged. When a sleeping man awakes and begins walking, he will never be able to see the world of dreams again. In that light of decision, will everything be equal? On one side of the balance is impotence, on the other is masculinity, and exactly on the needle is a half truth.”

Despite the fact that Anant feels immediate satisfaction in having killed Rama Shetty, and having liberated himself from the shackles of the civil society that has lost its moral compass, he realizes that it actually makes no difference to the society and to its functioning.
Although he breaks out of his ‘impotent’ torpor, and awakens to regain his ‘manhood’, he can never go back to lead a life that offered him the love of Jyotsna, a sense of belonging to his family, responsibility towards the society, and most importantly, the pride of being a policeman!


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