Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Movie Review: Suraj ka Saatvan Ghoda

Figure 1
Movie review : Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda
Before I begin with the review itself, I want to linger on for a moment on the “Why” of reviews. Why? Whence forth? What for? Both, the reading and the writing of them. A very good friend of mine asserts rather strongly that he does NOT read about a book before reading the book itself. (The fact that he maintains a blog of video game reviews is entirely another matter). To me, that rule is as tiresome as the rule of Always-go-through-the-About-the-Author-Page-before-you-begin. We all have our reasons for having a particular way of reading (including not having “any” definite way of reading) – and I’m not sure we can ever know if we’re doing it right, whatever that means.
In my case, due to serious restrictions on time, shelf-space and budget, I have to choose the books I’m going to buy and read, very carefully. The list starts getting prepared half-a-year in advance – and usually goes through major edits based on – guess what? – online reviews. Which is what this is, albeit that of a movie.
Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda, directed by Shyam Benegal and based on Dharamveer Bharati’s ground-breaking novel, is a must-watch in your college years – apart from some other classics like Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (Hindi adaptation of Twelve Angry Men).

The premise is appealing (having missed the first 15-20 minutes before switching the channel to DD Urdu, I assume the starting of the film is the same as that in the book): a recollection of a summer in which a group of idle friends, bound indoors because of the Loo, are (primarily) listening to stories narrated by Manik Mulla, the elder and the more-experienced in their group. The narrative then moves on into the several stories Manik Mulla narrates and the arguments the friends have – the stories all, speaking crudely, being actually just one story told from the perspective of various different characters involved.

              Figure 2: Rajit Kapoor as Manik Mulla                               

In short, meta-fiction.
Not a genre from which you usually expect genuine enjoyment. Intellectual stimulation, yes. Aesthetic pleasure, not so much. Having done an HS course on Approaches to Literature last semester, I could go on and on about the inter-textuality, nonlinear narrative, character arcs and commentary rife in Suraj Ka Satvan.

Figure 3: With Rajeshwari Sachdev as Jamuna in the first story
n the first story
In fact, watching Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda was an experience that fit in very nicely at the end of a semester marked on one hand, by intense discussions on “fundamental questions” like Truth vs. Beauty; and on the other hand, by a lot of thinking and reading on ideas that framed modern India. One of the “unsolved conundrums” I carry over from the literature course is whether formalism really outlines what we like in texts; whether the ingenuity of a meta-fictional piece is really enough to make me like it. While I think I got what the course instructor meant when she asked us to consider Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, there is still that nagging doubt about whether these are all not just gimmicks, nothing more than a smokescreen.

                                                                              Figure 4: The second story

Also, the fact that the avant-garde movement we discussed was rooted mainly in the Parisian café culture. Ideas that emerged from a culture so radically different from the one I find myself in that I am perhaps unable to appreciate them.
In Suraj Ka Satvan, I found something that was not Oulipo, not Rashomon, not Sherlock Holmes. A distinctly Indian work which, despite its eruditeness, is aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps, very much because of its Indian-ness, but I can’t say for sure if that’s what it is. For me, it brought together the two strands of thought that defined the last semester – Indian contextuality, and literary theory.

                                                         Figure 5: With Pallavi Joshi as Lily in the third story
I don’t know what Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda will do for you, but I can say this:
If you’re in college, there is no reason not to expose yourself to ideas. And in a movie as overtly erudite as this, whilst having enough of readerly pleasure to make the medicine go down, you can’t go wrong.

                                                       Figure 6: With Neena Gupta as Satti in the fourth story
- Udit Mavinkurve