Starring: Sujata Mehta, Nana Patekar, Rohini Hattangady,
Director: N. Chandra
Nutshell: Searing Masala socio-political drama contains the most powerful woman’s role in years.
Before Chandra hit the big time making slick commercial ventures with big mainstream Bollywood stars he had been churning out low budget, earthy, socio-political drama’s that were certainly commercial, but relied not on slickness and polish and big name actors but rather on the sheer weight of its script and the performances within.
Chandra was also instrumental in introducing the talents of Nana Patekar to mainstream Hindi cinema as his effort prior to Pratighaat was the highly acclaimed and hit feature Ankush which had Nana turning heads with a typically powerful display. Ankush had hit a nerve with the masses and though it was a gritty, low budget feature with no established performers in the cast – Chandra’s assured direction and his ability to get the maximum from his actors won the day and Ankush went on to become a considerable success in the urban centres.
Chandra displayed a natural ability to depict unrest, and a simmering, below the surface tension and violence. Both Ankush and Pratighaat are driven by this raw energy that he is able to impart to the films. Pratighaat burns up with a searing, political energy. It is unpolished, crude film-making but it is so much from the gut and with so much sheer drive and passion that it works tremendously well, mesmerizing its audience as it swamps you with its potent political message of emancipation from corruption and injustice. There isn’t an iota of subtlety involved, yet it is the sheer emotional charge that the director is able to ignite that allows the film to score a bull’s eye with its target.
Pratighaat, quite without any well-known stars in its cast, went on to become the smash hit of 1987. The film focuses on an outskirts town of a larger city like Hyderabad in South India where local student “politicians” rule with their gangs of marauding thugs, not at all dissimilar to the situation in Pakistan where criminal thugs terrorize communities under the guise of being a “Student Federation” of some sort. The film shows a population cowering in front of injustice, completely unable to stand up for any rights at all. It takes a feisty, head strong young teacher in the form of Sujata Mehta who arrives from University to take up a new teaching post to begin to challenge the status quo.
All around her she sense’s things are not quite as they should be. Insolent, lazy policemen…. petty corruption, a cowering public. She even notices her slimy husband trying to bribe the little girl across the street who happens to be a judge’s daughter. When she sees a little more than she can digest she turns to the local police force who happens to be headed by an old friend of hers.
The town is in the grip of this student leader turned Member of Local Assembly by the name of Kali. A man who dispenses justice from his own law courts within his ostentatious residence. Kali is the real law and order of this town until one woman decides to stand up against him. It doesn’t sound like anything novel at all, yet this film has a burning energy and it works not only as a gripping and forceful socio-political drama but also as a nerve jangling thriller. It is every bit a commercial Hindi movie complete with songs and outlandish fight scenes…. what elevates it is the gritty street level realism it is able to invoke as well as the sheer urgency and spiralling madness that it depicts in a community reeling from its own decay.
Nana Patekar is absolutely spellbinding in his few short scenes and displayed his fantastic ability to completely hold an audience in his spell. His screen presence has been unmatched in over recent years’ bar none. Rohini has a juicy role and does it justice and Sujata Mehta who has subsequently been unbearable in any of her movies, does a splendid job in the central role.
Credit mostly to N. Chandra for being able to produce a film of such intense raw energy that despite being “just an ordinary commercial movie” it is actually so much more. The scenes towards the end of the film when violence and corruption are spinning headlong towards doom are portrayed quite superbly. There is a fever, a frenetic and growing madness which Chandra is able to depict brilliantly and which provides the film with a unique level of passionate energy. The movie is also a wonderful slice of the type of issues that dominated life in the corruption riddled “democratic” 80’s in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Unfortunately, Pratighaat’s message and thus potency remains just as relevant today.