November 23, 2006

Ankur - A Review.

There is a big class of Hindi movies which are enjoyable largely for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific cinematic values. Consequently these rarely cause remark outside India. There is also a smaller class of movies which are enjoyable because they are truly "good". "Ankur" is a member of this smaller class.

Made in 1974 by Shyam Benegal, it is the story of Lakshmi (Shabana Azmi) and Surya (Anant Nag) set in the backdrop of rural India beset by feudal oppression. Surya is the young son of a wealthy landlord. He is married off to a minor girl and sent to take care of the family property against his wishes of pursuing a B.A. Though he is sad about these events, once in the village he quickly adapts to the authoritarian control that is expected of him. Lakshmi and her deaf-moot drunkard husband Kishtayya (Sadhu Meher) attend on Surya. In due course Surya is attracted to Lakshmi though she snubs his advance. But after Kishtayya leaves the village in shame after he is caught stealing, she gives into her master. A short affair follows until Surya's wife Saru (Priya Tendulkar) joins him. Lakshmi becomes pregnant and Surya begins to fear the loss of his reputation. He demands that Lakshmi abort the child, but she refuses. Meanwhile Kishtayya returns and accepts her pregnancy. In a gripping last scene symbolic of the oppression of lower classes by landlords, Surya savagely beats Kishtayya. More detailed plot and character descriptions here.

The movie brilliantly juxtaposes two generations of landlords, and how the "ankur" (seed) for the collapse of the system is laid in the second generation. The first one, represented by Surya's father, operated in a society which accepted its authority blindly. More importantly, the landlord himself gave enough concessions to forestall any dissent. This is portrayed by Kaushalya who is the mistress of the father. Surya's father does not try to disown Kaushalya and her son, but gives them some land and continues to help them at every juncture. Surya's mother accepts this arrangement. This is symbolic of the earlier generation. The injustices were always there; but during this generation they were accepted without any rebellion by the victims and the perpetrators refrained from "crossing the line".

The second generation represented by Surya hastens the collapse of the system. The first sign of deviation appears in the form of the formal education that Surya receives. This teaches him to intensely hate his father for what he considers a betrayal of his mother. He is exasperated by his mother's acceptance of that betrayal. Another deviation is the superficial disrespect that Surya shows the caste system: he sees no problem in eating food made by Lakshmi (he does this even before he is attracted to her). But in the final analysis these supposedly progressive habits turn out to be deeply hypocritical. Finally he breaks the unwritten code between the oppressor and the victim by refusing to own up to what he has done.

The ankur for the future rebellion is shown through many incidents. The loudest one is the very last scene of the movie when a boy, who sees the inhuman beating of Kishtayya by Surya, picks up a stone and throws it at the glass window of Surya's house breaking it.

Surya's father (and his generation more generally) did not think that what he did was wrong. His sole concern was to preserve his wealth and reputation. He genuinely did not believe that his acts constituted any sort of "injustice". For this reason it was very easy for him to care for his mistress. On the other hand, getting formal education and "seeing the world" taught Surya (and his generation more generally) something about injustices. They did not however give him the strength to be just and resist the attractions of injustice. So after committing the injustice he could not own up to it. This naturally led to the collapse of the system after his generation.

Shabana Azmi was truly amazing in the movie. Her brilliance could be felt throughout the movie. She was more than complemented by her co-stars. Sadhu Meher won a deserved national award for the best actor. Shabana Azmi won the first of her many best actress awards.


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