Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Yesterday, after a long time again, I saw 'Sinhasan', one of the best movies I have seen. Among all the movies about politics and the lust for power that I have seen, the straightforward and stark treatment meted out to the ethos of political bigotry in Sinhasan is in my opinion unparalleled. If you have not seen this movie, I would very definitely suggest you to. This movie sets a standard that Marathi cinema ought to measure upto. I believe it was made in the early 80s, but its basic message is as pertinent now as it was then, and probably will always be.

The movie itself boasts of a star-cast that has been rarely seen elsewhere. The credits read like a who's who of Marathi cinema and theater; Arun Sarnaik, Mohan Agashe, Shreeram Lagoo, Madhukar Toradmal, Nana Patekar (in an upcoming mini role), Shreekant Moghe, Satish Dubhashi, and many similar stalwarts put up fine performances. The movie is actually quite low key and devoid of melodrama. It portrays a culture that is all too familiar today, that of politicians vying for power and 'the chair', while the actual people who they are supposed to serve, keep on languishing in misery and poverty. Ministers come and go, coalitions form and get disbanded, key positions in the Ministry keep on changing, but the people's lot remains the same. The movie has no 'high-points' as such, no moments of rhetorical speech, or brilliant polemics. Jabbar Patel, one of the most accomplished directors in Marathi theater and cinema, has I think done a clever thing in never letting the performances dominate the overall message. The reason why the movie brilliantly succeeds is precisely this; it lays the facts bare before our eyes without embellishing them, because after all, that is how they are. No amount of rhetoric can obviate the reality that the beggar on the street, the maid servant working to support her children, and the worker working double shifts everyday, face. The movie focuses on Maharashtrian politics, between the struggle for power between the Chief Minister and his scheming party members, but of course the same picture exists elsewhere. A lot of time in the movie is devoted to portrayals of debates in the Council Hall. It is clear that there are a few good men around, who keep on bringing up important topics like the famine in parts of the state, the water shortage, and unemployment. As usual, the objections are silenced or diverted from their pertinent goals by clever and devious members of the assembly. All over the state, while this dillydallying is going on, people are dying from the famine, are taking up illegal and dangerous jobs like smuggling to support their family, and in general, the downtrodden are becoming more downtrodden. The debates and the rhetoric in the assembly seem quite removed from the world which it's proponents are supposed to represent.

However, I didn't mention the most important character in the movie, and in my opinion someone who has delivered the most brilliant performance among a series of fine performances; Nilu Phule. He plays a reporter, who is supposedly one among the inner circle of all these cunning politicians. He is frequently solicited by them, including the chief minister, is invited to their house for tea, and is treated like a close friend by many of them, to keep them upto date on the latest news which they can use as leverage against their opponents; after all, the press is all-powerful...or so it seems. Nilu Phule brings an inimitable quality to his role. In the first place, his rural, hollow, sunken look is perfect for such roles. His performance is extremely low-key, and the helplessness and quiet conscience which he displays are marvelous.
It is clear that all the treatment which is given to him is simply another ploy on the part of the ministers to use him as an information source, and nothing else. Even though they appear to actually ask his advice, it does not matter to them any more than the problems of the people which they are supposed to solve. Nilu Phule is characterised as a very modest man, shirking away from any favours that his leaders want to bestow on him. He lives in a simple apartment, and walks to the ministry, the hospital, and his press house everyday. He is neutral on issues, and is always a listener, prefering not to answer when asked a controversial question; perhaps that's why he is befriended by both the politicians, as well as the acerbic union leader, who is a thorn in their sides (admirably played by Satish Dubhasi). He also suffers from a personal tragedy; there is a former prostitute who he had fallen in love with. She is suffering from a terminal disease, and he is her caretaker, providing her with everything that could help her. He wants to marry her after she becomes well, no matter how long it would take.

Nilu Phule's role is unique. He is the silent bystander, not completely uninvolved with what's happening, but really helpless to do anything about it. He is in the worst position that a sensitive, honest man can be; not being a partisan himself, and forced to watch the crumbling of values, faith, and conviction in front of him. He is forced to take a global view of the situation. He sees how it is clear that for the politicians, their job is simply a game, in which the sole objective is to remain in power. All the speeches, debates, and press statements by the ministers that seem to be directed toward solving people's problems are but shenanigans to divert people's attention so that they can carry on hatching their plans.

There are however, one or two remarkable moments in the movie, which try to take a peek inside the hearts of politicians. These moments make us question whether politicians are simply people who want to make a difference, but are inevitably, even unwillingly, carried down by the vortex of power and corruption, so that just like a man who joins a gang of smugglers, they become unable to hoist themselves out of the quagmire of politics, even when they want to. In one incident, Nilu Phule has been summoned by the CM, Arun Sarnaik, to talk about arranging a meeting with a union leader. At one point, Sarnaik says, "Mala adhich jar ka mahit asta, ki mee nighalo hoto devacha Pandharpuri, pun pochtoy chorachya Pandharpuri, tar mee tewhach mage firlo asto" ("If I knew right at the beginning that instead of going to the saint's holy place Pandharpur, I am treading towards the thief's Pandharpur, then I would have stopped at that point itself"). Would he really have? For a moment there, you think you can see a rare sincerity in his eyes, but then it is quickly dissolved in a realistic appraisal of the present situation...are politicians really honest people at heart who are forced to become dishonest, or really ones whose hearts are inherently black? I think that the real tragedy of politicians is that even their honesty will seldom be taken seriously by many, being dismissed as pretension, and partly because they do have to use it as a false part of their persona. They are stuck in their own golden cage of artificiality and sophistry. They are the true embodiments of Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil for eternal life, or Dorian Gray, whose soul degrades, even as he remains forever young. I believe that that is the real pathos of political culture, that even one who is an honest man can almost never actually reveal himself as one, mostly because of the peculiar constraints that the whole business of politics imposes upon men and women. Of course, the ones who simply lust for power can, and do, make the most out of it and don't care, but I think that it could be a very bad place for even a reasonably honest person to be in.

In the end, seeing all the shenanigans and gratuitous inner games of power that are blissfully removed from reality, the third man, Nilu Phule, goes insane.

The song in the movie, 'Ushakkal hota hota, kaal ratra zali' ('Even as it was becoming bright, it became dark') by Asha Bhosale, with lyrics by Suresh Bhat, is very harrowing and penetrating. I remember singing and playing it in a school annual social in 7th standard.

One may think that the movie is too simplistic and naive, that things are more complicated than what they seem, and that's true. But movies like Sinhasan portray facts, and that's important. No matter what shades of meaning we impart to political philosophies and social issues, reality stays the same and very much real for the man in Dharawi, who is dying of TB in his hut, and who has not eaten for the past two days. It is important to be reminded once in while that he exists, no matter how obvious that fact must be, and I think Sinhasan does a fine job with that. A must see movie.


Anonymous Madhura said...

me ashamed to say this, but haven't seen Sinhsan (that's the way you would spell it btw ;) even if its pronounced as sinwhasan )!!!
but ushakkal hota hota is one of the greatest and most intese song I have ever heard, penetrating is near perfect word for it I guess!....anyway Asha Bhosale rocks, doesn't she?? :)

11:44 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Mala watlach mee chukicha lihilay! :(
Anyway, thanks for pointing it out. Badalto...
Ani yeah, Ushakkal hota hota is intense and really great. I was fortunate to meet Suresh Bhat once. A pretty quiet, whimsical man.
Ani tu baghitl nasshil tar bagh! Tula pathwu ka CD?!
And as for Asha...well...she is Asha! :)

1:36 PM  
Blogger Sumedha said...

I wonder if I've seen this move; that would be a long time ago.
Mee Majhya ai la vicharte!!
Another decent political drama is 'Haque', starring Dimple Kapadia and Anupam Kher.
The only thing I remember clearly is that Kher(playing a poltician) rigs a road accident involving his pregnant wife (Kapadia) to garner public sympathy. It left a deep impression on me at that age...BTW, do you think Dimple Kapadia is generally underestimated?

4:50 PM  

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