Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ambiguous Satya

Satya is a movie about the violent underworld of Mumbai. Adam makes some very insightful remarks about the movie and the integral relationships of the main character, Satya. However, I think he missed the mark on some important aspects of Satya’s multifaceted character.

There is no denying the fact that Satya is a complex movie based around a complex character. Satya travels to Mumbai in hopes of a better life. A better life from what, we are never told. In fact, we learn little of Satya’s past other than the fact that he is an orphan. This ambiguity over his past is an essential aspect to the overall ambiguous Satya character. He has many instances in which he proves to be a cold blooded gangster, but also moments when he shows reserve and hesitation. The reviewer notes that in Satya’s first ethical test, he “passes” by taking the drink spat at him in stride. But is this Satya’s first test? After moving into his new place, the superintendent asks for rent from Satya, which he gives. But Satya turns around and gangster extorts Satya as a form of protection from the mafia. In response to this extortion, Satya slashes his face. Does Satya start out with a criminal mindset? If so, why later does he show such hesitation when he is given the opportunity to kill Jagga. Satya endured many provocations and slights to his honor and the behest of Jagga. If he has a criminal mindset, he would not give pause to killing Jagga. Satya constantly contradicts himself throughout the movie. In one scene he is the instigator, urging on Bhiku to kill the commissioner. Then, in others he looks appalled with violence, particularly the altercation Bhiku and his wife have, especially when it turns physical. It is hard to discern whether Satya is born of criminal mindset or if he is forced into a life of crime. It is not until the end of the movie when Vidya provides Satya with enlightenment of what life outside of crime could be that we see him really start to question his previous actions. But, then again, he turns around and seeks revenge by killing Bhau. I think the director wanted Satya’s intentions to remain ambiguous, that way more viewers can relate to Satya.

That being said, Satya is an exemplar of the new type of Bollywood hero. With the coming of the Emergency and Indira Ghandi’s rule over India, India’s ideal role model became one who was tough, physical, ruthless, and inured to violence (Ahmed, 10). This change is reflected in Bollywood with the coming of a new hero, the angry young man. Amitabh Buchanan became famous as this angry young man, because of the real portrayal of his anger and disillusionment with society and its corruption. Buchanan and other actors worked to represent the crisis of the contemporary society, with issues of sex, drugs, violence, drink, the infiltration of technology. Satya embodies four main characteristics that allow his classification as an angry young man. First, Satya deals with issues of contemporary society, specifically violence. Second, Satya exhibits the same macho man attitude that many of Amitabh Buchanan’s characters portrayed. Third, Satya, and the other gangsters, wore more American clothes, echoing the impact of globalization on the new heroes (Ahmed, 300-306). Finally, Satya hints that he has a sad past. In “Dissolving the Male Child in Popular Hindi Cinema” Creekmur claims that “the ‘angry young man’ is, after all, a sad little boy” (365).

This film was made on a small budget and it’s reception surprised most of the filmmakers. While many people thought that this movie glorified the Mumbai underworld, many more people were pleased with the reality the movie portrayed. Ali Peter John, a movie critic, wrote in Screen magazine that he “will remember ‘Satya’ as long as truth lives…generations to come will be grateful for [Ramu] for having guts to tell the truth as it is, the truth about the truth” (The truth terrorises, www.witsindia.com/satya/revs_ali.html). I think this is important to note, because Satya, when translated, does mean truth. The director worked hard to portray the true life in Mumbai, the life that is often overlooked in Bollywood cinema. This idea is echoed in the tagline on IMDB for Satya is “the other side of truth” (Satya, www.imdb.com/title/tt0195231/). Satya depicts the nitty-gritty truth. The truth most people hope to ignore.

Overall, the movie was interesting to watch. The depiction of the underworld of Mumbai is hardly different then the underworld depicted in our American movies such as The Town and The Departed. I would be lying if I said I liked the ending in Satya, but I know that it had to happen that way to maintain the rasa.


Ahmed, A. S. (1992). Bombay films: The cinema as a metaphor for Indian society and politics. Modern Asian Studies: 26:2,289-320.

Creekmur, C. K. (2005). Dissolving the male child in popular Hindi cinema. In: Where the boys are: Cinemas of masculinity and youth. (pp. 350-376). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

John, A. P. (n.d.) The truth terrorsies. Retrieved March 28, 2011, from www.witsindia.com/satya/revs_ali.html

Satya (n.d.) International Movie Database. Retrieved March 26, 2011, from www.imdb.com/title/tt0195231/

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