Sunday, March 28, 2010

The seventh steed of the sun

e, in Denmark, began daylight saving today – March 28, 2010. What this basically means is that our clocks will now be set to an hour ahead. Why is this done? Essentially to get more out of the sunlight what with spring almost here. Once the days start getting darker and sunlight begins to shrink, somewhere in October that is, then we will stop the saving and switch our clocks back an hour again. Yes – to those of us who do not live in places that require this, the entire exercise may seem quite futile. But nevertheless, here we are, supervising the timetable for the sun and his seven horses.

It is curious how this day coincided with my viewing of Shyam Benegal's 'Suraj ka saatwa ghoda' (The seventh steed of the sun) last night. Based on a Hindi novella by the same name by Dr. Dharamvir Bharti, the movie starts with Raghuvir Yadav introducing us to a few afternoons from his life where he knew a man called Manek Mulla (Rajit Kapur in his debut venture). Manek, we are told, was a master story-teller. A man who could blur out the distinct lines between reality and fiction purely by his talent at peppering his tales with metaphors aplenty. Working with the railways department, Manek had acquired the knack of keeping the three young men (of which Yadav is one too) occupied during lazy afternoons with his tales of love, deception, social imbalance and immorality within the lower middle classes of India.

So, with this premise, a question is thrown – 'Should love stories be built at being relevant to the socio-economic growth of a society?' A bizarre, albeit thought-provoking, reference is made to the literary importance of 'Devdas' where, Manek says, there is no room for any sort of social relevance or optimism towards love as a public emotion. A definition, he claims, is what makes love so wonderful. Its lack of being a private, mysterious and almost forbidden concoction. So, in an effort to tell a tale of love lost connected with the complex fabric of social strata, he starts speaking of Jamuna. He speaks of how he was in school back then and Jamuna, the attractive next door girl, was in love with Tanna, another neighborhood fellow. Jamuna's and Tanna's love story was dated given the venomous relationships the two families shared due to lack of consistency in the Indian economic balance. As a result of this, Tanna is married off to a more educated Lily and Jamuna ends up with an old man knocking on the door of his grave.

As you might have realized, there is nothing new or refreshing with this piece. What starts making this short story more interesting, is the way Manek describes his role in it and carefully begins to uncurl the tiny strands that were knotted during the narration of the aforementioned tale. For instance, the fact that Jamuna is unable to conceive from her old-man husband and so chooses to go on a bizarre religiously aligned but emotionally maligned detour with the tonga-wallah is brought to surface. Also, the fact that the girl Tanna ends up with – Lily – actually was Manek's love/friendship interest and how a mutual separation was finalized in both their interests is unearthed. Connected to this colorful mix as well, is the story of Tanna's lusty father (Amrish Puri in a truly memorable role as Mahesar Dalal) and his wile desires towards the lowly gypsy-woman Satti (Neena Gupta) who befriends Manek purely for his intellectual skills. Her eventual fate against an adamant Mahesar Dalal and the decisions young Manek makes form the twisting portions of the climactic sequences. All of these is documented from various angles aimed at the same scene. So, it isn't so much that Manek is narrating different short stories but essentially narrating just one story but from the perspectives of various characters in them. In some of them, the characters seem like the victims, while when seen from the view of another person's tale, the same character in the same scene will suddenly appear to have acquired some gray shades. Shades one would see in a predator. Truly – if a movie can accomplish this level of intellectual worth, then it has certainly defined itself as the best example of meaningful cinema.

What makes this movie greater in its worth is the fact that such a unique feat was written by Dr. Bharti in the 70s and narrated by Benegal in early 90s! Today we sit in awe at the intermingling of multiple stories in Hollywood and, of course, in their remade versions within Bollywood, and applaud them as being 'masterpieces'. But to compare this work to any of these would be nothing short of a huge disservice. In fact, I would call 'Suraj ka...' a work of meta fiction which successfully attempts to expose the fictional aspect of the illusive world woven by Manek Mulla.

I also read some reviews that compared Manek's character to that of the holy trinity in Hindu mythology – Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar – and as to how he slips into these roles, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. In the first tale with Jamuna, Manek is Brahma, the creator of a relationship that he knew was meant to be doomed. In the second tale with Lily, he became Vishnu, the preserver of her sanctity and an upholder of a more mature and practical relationship. In the final tale with Satti, he turned into the destroyer – Maheshwar – who ended up putting an end to what could have possibly been the redeeming factor of his life. I suppose it is in spectacular interpretations like these, that 'Suraj ka...' stands out as a truly unique piece of work.

So, as I sit here looking out the window, watching the sun rise to his zenith, I cannot help think of that seventh steed in his collection. That one horse, the slowest and the weakest of them all, who decides the fate of the day. Could it be why daylight saving times even exist? Is it that seventh horse who is making all of us wind our clocks back and forth so that we can amply cater to his variant of a speed? I know, a pretty outrageous interpretation this. But undeniably misleading enough to ignite a thought. Something, I am sure, Manek, a lover of literary giants like Flaubert and Chekov, would probably agree with whilst keeping you guessing about his real stance in the affair.




2 reflections:

VividColors said...

This was a wonderful film. I saw it many years ago and liked the way stories got combined. I dont know why Rajat Kapoor now is doing strange and bad roles after acting in such films. I was also big fan of Vyomkesh Bakshee...


VC

ShaK said...

@VividColors

I agree, friend. Rajit Kapoor sure has made some weird choices lately. But then I am sure he is quite into theater and drama as well! And also, I don't think you can blame him for not doing good roles when makers aren't making quality stuff! What can talents like him do if they get mediocre stuff? It is quite tragic though.

Thanks for your words.

SK

 
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