Satya begins with a bang, as a man shoots a pistol straight into the camera and flames envelope the screen. The introduction of Satya accurately foreshadows the story to follow in this film about the Mumbai underworld. Directly after this choice of dramatic introductory scenes, director Ram Gopal Varma decides to use symbolic images of commerce coexisting in a city where criminal activity plagues the streets, broken down cars are scattered haphazardly, and dilapidated buildings are in the forefront of the audiences’ visual gaze. Discourse in the beginning narration include statements like, “police are corrupt” and “criminals rule a Mumbai underworld”. This is an excellent opening shot, that really develops a great tone and setting for the film. Satya, when translated means “Truth”, which proves to be a towering ideology, inhibited by lack of “knowledge”, and is applicable to many Mumbai underworld criminals.
Satya is played by J.D. Chakravarthi and is the main character of the movie. He is a young male who travels to Mumbai to find work and start a life on his own. There is no real introduction of Satya, we just see him meeting a friend in Mumbai to situate living arrangements, and ask for help finding a job. Satya is in luck because his landlord knows of a place he might be able to work, if he doesn’t mind a bar scene. This job begins as a positive aspect of Satya’s life and gives him money at first to get by. However, quickly after Satya’s hiring, he is barraged by a verbal assault from a bar owner and regular customer Jagga. Jagga is appalled at the quality of drink this new bartender Satya has poured. He spits and throws the drink out in a fit of anger. He curses at Satya and expels, “I will not spare the swine, I will not spare the swine!” this offensive remark hits Satya as he walks away from a restrained Jagga. This scene delivers a perfect mixture of irrationality and lawlessness, insight of two themes consistently appearing throughout this gangster epic. This relationship of Jagga and Satya will not be short-lived. I find this scene to be Satya’s first test of ethics and morality, as he fights the urge to ensue in a retaliation fueled by vengeance.
Soon after this encounter, another occurs between Jagga and Satya. Satya is humiliated by Jagga rubbing his feet on his face while he is serving him at the bar. Satya can no longer repress his actions and springs an attack. To Satya’s dismay, he is jailed on false accusations of exploiting women for prostitution, fabricated at the will of Jagga and carried out by his ties to the corrupt government.
In Jail, Satya meets Bhiku Mhatre over a scuffle that Bhiku was not initially involved with. Bhiku asks Satya to punch him, but he stands in silence. As Bhiku is walking away from the scene, Satya attempts an attack. He is then held back and overtaken by Bhiku. Bhiku threatens his life, which is then repeated by Satya threatening Bhiku’s. Representing some form of accepted equality between the two men and foreshadowing a coming relationship.
Bhiku is impressed with Satya’s enthusiastic spirit and drive. He sees a potential asset to his underworld crime gang. He explains to Mule, his attorney, the qualities he sees in Satya, and requests that he arrange for his release. Bhiku sets Satya up with his crew and a place to stay. Satya takes the offer and moves into the house and position in Bhiku’s gang.
Satya now meets Vidya, a beautiful girl who lives opposite of him, one night during a rain storm. Vidya is trying to turn the power back on in her house and Satya comes to her assistance by helping her locate the breaker box. Vidya lives with her mother and disabled father, and helps her mother tend to her father. Her real dream is to become a singer for the acclaimed film industry in Mumbai. It is obvious that Satya and Vidya have a clear connection upon first introduction. Their relationship becomes an important part of the movie.
Vidya translates into “knowledge or intelligence” and reflects the belief that “the main action of intelligence is to discern the true and real from the false and unreal.”(Swami, 11) Buddhi, an “aspect of consciousness…filled with light…reveals the Truth.”(Swami, 11) Light representing intelligence,(Vidya) required to attain enlightenment or truth (Satya). “When one’s Buddhi becomes fully developed, one becomes Buddha, or enlightened one.”(Swami, 11) It is apparent how integral and representative Vidya becomes, in particular for Satya’s own progression out of a false and unreal criminal underworld. She is fundamental in Satya’s transition to a consciousness filled with light and truth. These inclinations resonate loudly in the Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata and their relationship is a cinematic metaphor, representative of those ancient texts and beliefs.
With the introduction of Vidya to Satya’s life, I find another sub-theme concurrent with Bhagavad Gita and Mahabharata, in the spirit of Dharma. The role of personal duty and virtue being integral in pursuit of enlightenment, becomes evident in two separate courses. Those two courses are sculpted beautifully by director Rom Gopal Varma and are portrayed by the involvement of Bhiku and Vidya in Satya’s life. Vidya represents a more spiritually oriented life Satya could lead if he were to spend more time with her then Bhiku. Bhiku represents a selfish, action filled life, where evil reigns over good and core morality. Satya realizes his dharma to be the route provided by Bhiku when he is given a gun by him and asked to kill Jagga. This choice in time proves to be fatal for Satya with much deeper implications and consequences than can be foreseen.
Now, Satya has become a part of Bhiku’s gang, and earned a reputation by murdering Jagga. He is on a face paced track to the top of the ranks in Bhiku’s gang. His smart ways earn him respect and recognition among the gang and he becomes Bhiku’s right-hand man. They develop a friendship over time and duty that is very deep and indicative of a required balance the two provide for each other. During this time of criminal activity and advancement through the gang ranks, Satya is also spending time with Vidya.
I believe the relationship director RGV builds between these two characters is genius. Satya hides his criminal side from Vidya until he realizes he is in love with her and only through the admission of the Truth can he possibly keep her. When he tells Bhiku he can no longer continue in the profession Bhiku attributes this to him being in love with Vidya. This symbolic notion asserts that by fully accepting “knowledge” into your life as being a rational form of discourse and action, you can overcome will to commit evil. It is "one's" knowledge of the “other” and their individual Dharma's and emotion that can inherently be affected by crime associated with illiteracy. That knowledge in itself is a recognizable truth. A truth that Satya discovers too late to employ effectively into his life.
During the time of the development of these relationships, Mumbai commissioner Bhau is replaced by Amod Shukla. Former Commissioner Bhau is related to Bhiku and helps maintain the gang through a corrupt government office. The new commissioner decides to enforce a radical approach that has violent implications for gangsters and organized crime. This has a subtle undertone representing a rebellion towards early non-violent Indian government. As the police begin to fight back and kill many people within Bhiku’s gang, Satya and Bhiku decide to take a more violent approach also.
While Satya and Vidya are at a movie during the new police action, a serious challenge approaches Satya. He is met with police surrounding the theater in an attempt to apprehend him. They have the doors closed off and are filing people out one-by-one. An anxious decision to fire his pistol and create a swarm of fearful moviegoers proves costly as ten perish in the riot that ensues. However, Satya manages to escape in the crowd with Vidya never realizing they were after him. These past few events strike deep on Satya’s conscience and solidify his decision to retire from the business.
I believe the last turn of events were a perfect conclusion to the film and that Ram Gopal Varma did not skimp on any part of the movie. The public re-elected Bhau out of disdain for the methods the current commissioner was employing (the responsibility of the deaths at the theater fell on the police department). As a celebration Bhau visits Bhiku and Satya, much to the surprise of the audience and Satya, Bhau shoots Bhiku ending his crime cartel. Satya has one last wish to see Vidya before he leaves Mumbai, but when he goes to see her at the house police arrive and surround him at the door. He begs for Vidya to open her door “one last time”, but she refuses. He is shot and collapses into her doorway as she finally opens it after he admitted his mistakes and love for her. This harsh, realistic ending was perfect because it offered closure to the story by ending in a way most Mumbai gangster’s go down. It really makes you question the route you take to your own enlightenment.