Kamal Haasan’s ‘Sathyaa’

Released in 1988, for a change it is a remake of a Hindi movie in Tamil – Arjun starring Sunny Deol was released earlier in 1985. The talented Amala plays the role of a Malayali girl who romances the hero – an angry middle class youth who is frustrated about being jobless. Lata Mangeshkar has lent her voice to couple of songs in the movie – Valaiosai, the duet with SPB, remains a popular evergreen number till date.

Amala and Kamal in Sathyaa                                                                                                                                           Image Courtesy – You Tube

It has the makings of a commercial thriller – the story of the underdog taking on the System, some lovely songs, a beautiful heroine, plentiful of family sentiment and the typical angst of the jobless youth who are frustrated about not finding their space and role in society. It is a popular movie for delivering the right tonality to the subject and the approach was refreshingly new at the time when the movie was released.

Misguided youth being a pawn in the hands of politicians has been done to death now in our movies but Sathyaa was a pioneer in this realm. We are talking about pre-internet and even pre-cable TV days, when the awareness about the world at large and political games was not widely disseminated. Today’s youth is well aware of these issues thanks to the media exposure that has seeped into our lives – things were very different 25 years ago.

Kamal still seems to be sensible and socially aware – hanging with his gang of friends and playing carrom games late into the night is an attempt to live with painful reality of not having a job and not being able to support his family. He then reacts to the injustice around him and bashes up some local goons who are creating a nuisance. He attracts the attention of a local politician, Dhandapani (Kitty), who woos him through Janakaraj. Sathyaa is sensible and stays away from meeting him – possibly an instinct that its best to stay away from politicians.

Their paths continue to cross and eventually Dhandapani wins him over. He helps him financially and in return Sathyaa becomes his henchman. In particular he helps him target a rival politician, Mariappan (Rajesh) and Sathyaa obtains incriminating evidence against him. Dhandapani reneges on the promise he made to Sathyaa of exposing Mariappan – instead he uses the documents to negotiate a deal with Mariappan. He then casually dumps Sathyaa by taking away his Jeep and accommodation – clearly the game is over as far as he is concerned.

Kamal seethes in anger and seeks revenge in filmi style. The fight sequences are not overtly elaborate but are quite realistic. Sathyaa is grievously injured and procures evidence against Dhandapani-Mariappan duo. Unfortunately the file is splattered with his blood and bullets marks so is of no practical use. Left with no other option, Sathyaa resorts to extreme violence and kills the duo.

It is Kamal show all the way but the movie scored over Arjun in a few ways – Amala plays a cute Malayali girl and her chemistry with Kamal is picture perfect (The duo had made a popular pair in Pushpak Vimana that was released in 1987 and became a hit on the Box Office), Valaiosai song is a masterpiece by Ilayaraja and remains a popular number even today. Also Kitty’s début as an actor in a politician’s role is interesting – he manages to convince many viewers of being a philanthropist and it is only later that we figure out that he is a Wolf in Sheep’s clothing.

Kamal repeated the gangster act in a few other movies as well – Nayakan remains the classic take on the Don’s role while Vasool Raja MBBS was a hilarious one inspired by Munnabhai MBBS.


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