Satyajit Ray’s ‘cruellest’ movie up to now, Sadgati, is 40: The searing Om Puri starrer holds up the mirror to Dalit atrocities


A lot of the mythology round Satyajit Ray tends to deal with the acclaimed Apu trilogy, Charulata, Mahanagar, Jalsaghar, Nayak, Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and so forth. By some accounts, the legendary auteur’s personal private favourites have been Charulata and Aranyer Din Ratri. 1981’s scathing Sadgati, with Om Puri and Smita Patil as leads, isn’t talked about in the identical breath and but, it stays certainly one of Ray’s strongest broadsides in opposition to the caste system. Having the excellence of being Doordarshan’s first color outing, Sadgati is 40 years outdated at present however it’s message continues to be related. Caste-ridden violence of the sort that Sadgati denounces continues to be certainly one of India’s nice social evils even within the digital age.

You want merely look at newspaper headlines to know the way the ugly underbelly of caste-based violence and discrimination reveals the darker edges of a rustic that in different methods is fast-paced in direction of globalisation and financial progress. What’s surprising is that the persecution of the lower-caste even enjoys social sanction in lots of situations. Assaults on Dalit girls, gang rape, lynchings, the Hathras incident, the Bhima Koregaon case… the atrocities in opposition to Dalits is a typical actuality that almost all of us flip a blind eye to. Rohith Vermula wrote that he was happier “lifeless than being alive.” In 1935, Babasaheb Ambedkar condemned caste violence as “man’s inhumanity to man.”

Sadgati’s untouchable protagonist Dukhi (Om Puri) is a sufferer of the human cruelty that set Ambedkar on a reformist path. The violence on the coronary heart of Sadgati could appear insignificant in comparison with the far higher injustices meted out to the long-suffering outcasts however it’s this very personalised type of Brahminical brutality that makes the movie so impactful. They are saying when many individuals die it’s statistics. However (spoilers forward) Dukhi’s demise impacts the viewers personally as a result of Ray makes you complicit within the crime. You see him battle and being pushed round. Within the India the place Sadgati is ready in, feudalism and social hierarchies is the gospel. And it appears nothing may have been finished to stop the oppression in opposition to males like Dukhi.

Sadgati’s untouchable protagonist Dukhi (Om Puri) is a sufferer of the human cruelty. (Photograph: Categorical Archive)

Sadgati’s principal forged is one which the Hindi parallel cinema audiences would immediately recognise, for they might nicely belong in Shyam Benegal’s socially related cinema — Om Puri, Smita Patil and Mohan Agashe have all been co-stars earlier than. A tanner by career and caste, Dukhi, performed with uncooked naivety and a mixture of concern and trepidation by Puri, has a daughter who’s getting engaged. When he goes over to the village priest’s (Mohan Agashe) residence to fetch him to be able to get the venerable Brahman to solemnise the engagement, he realises that the panditji is in no temper to grant him this favour so simply. He makes Dukhi toil like a beast of burden, whereas he himself enjoys his meal and afternoon siesta. Then again, his spouse Jhuria (Smita Patil, naturalistic as ever in her rural act) waits impatiently for Dukhi’s return. Stung with starvation, Dukhi, in the meantime, passes out and dies of hunger, fever and over-exhaustion.

His corpse lies within the subject, his darkish shadow falling on the intersection in such a approach that villagers can not even entry the nicely for each day water. Ultimately, the priest has to clear Dukhi’s physique himself. He does so with out even touching the stays, utilizing a tree department and cord to tug the lifeless man. Sadgati is not any straightforward watch however the haunting climax stands out as most likely probably the most gut-wrenching second in a movie that one critic known as Ray’s ‘cruellest’ up to now. When the film first premiered on Doordarshan it “provoked a robust response from audiences and critics. It was stated to be each too surprising and never surprising sufficient, even by the identical critic,” writes Andrew Robinson in Satyajit Ray: The Interior Eye.

Ray was an avid reader who envisaged his cinema by means of the prism of literature. Like lots of his classics, Sadgati was primarily based on a Munshi Premchand quick story. Each Ray and Premchand have been hailed as nice “humanists.” In his writings, Premchand typically critiqued the caste system, whereas Ray, the last word metropolis man with a Western mindset, had introduced the agricultural life and penury so poetically to the display screen that he has been accused of “romanticising poverty.” Arguably, Ray’s greatest work is his lyrical adaptation of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s novels for the Apu trilogy. Curiously, for his solely two Hindi movies — in addition to Sadgati, there may be Shatranj Ke Khilari (1977) — he turned to Premchand in whom he might have discovered a kindred spirit, the best way he did with Bandyopadhyay. If Ray had been in a position to make credible and authentic-looking movies on topics he had little information about, say the agricultural Indian life or the caste system on this case, it was, as he acknowledged, as a result of he relied on the authors to offer him the cultural canvas.

Sadgati stills Sadgati was primarily based on a Munshi Premchand quick story. (Photograph: Categorical Archive)

Born right into a Calcutta the Aristocracy, the filmmaker was fluent in English and Bengali, however not a lot in Hindi. “Even the teaching of actors — the place I typically act out the items myself prematurely — grew to become inconceivable throughout the making of a Hindi-language movie. Since I wouldn’t have sufficient information of the language, I can solely give a specific amount of verbal course to the actors,” the maestro as soon as stated in an interview. In response to Nandita C. Puri’s biography ‘Unlikely Hero: Om Puri,’ Ray was eager to forged Puri after watching him in Aakrosh (1980). Puri was nonetheless some years away from being a high-in-demand arthouse star. Nandita mentions an fascinating change between Ray and her husband throughout the movie’s making. On the primary day of the shoot Puri was clearly nervous given Ray’s stalwart-like status. For the primary scene, Ray defined to Puri to stroll gingerly into the priest’s home. However Puri didn’t know what gingerly meant. Ray replied, “When a canine or a goat enters an unknown home, he enters gingerly.” With out that means it, that anthropomorphic instruction acquires an unsettling resonance in Sadgati’s climax. Dukhi, the person, the daddy, the husband, the workhorse, the perpetually harassed no person dies an animal’s demise and finally involves relaxation in peace with wild carcasses.

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