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BLAST FROM THE PAST

Sati Shakti 1964

Photo: Courtesy www.chitraloka.com

FAR AHEAD For its times, Sati Shakti is even shot well. A scene with Rajkumar and Sahukar Janaki

Sati Shakti 1964

Rajkumar, M.V. Rajamma, Ashwath, Sahukar Janaki, Narasimha Raju

For fans of the rhetoric, “Sati Shakti” is surely a not-to-be-missed film. Unfortunately, the film came much before the era of sound-tracks getting popular. Else, it would have remained in public memory. Story, screenplay, dialogues and d irection is by Kanagal Prabhakar Shastry. The erudite film maker, well-versed in Sanskrit, uses Kannada that is highly Sanskritised and relies heavily on rhyme and metre, but never sounds contrived. His remarkable lines take you back to the film again and yet again, not just for its flourish, but also for its grand insights into philosophy, essence of religion and politics.

However, “Sati Shakti” is also a film that can be straightaway dismissed in two lines: a cock-and-bull story of gods, lesser gods and the hapless humankind. It is also as a film that in very certain terms upholds as well as reinstates the greatness of Veerashaivism. But the film is more than that.

At the outset, the film appears like a strong reinforcement of Shakespeare’s lines: “We are but flies to wanton gods, they kill us for their sport.” But surprisingly, the film contests the karma theory that is so deeply embedded in the Hindu philosophy, with man finally winning over the Gods.

With its broad modern, progressive outlook, the manner in which the film portrays Veerashaivism has very strong shades of the liberal-humanism dimension, the way the Vachanakaras propounded it. The character of Annappa guru bears striking resemblance to the radical-revolutionary Vachanakara poets of the 12th century. In fact, one even finds him Chomskian in his abiding faith in the power of intellect vis-À-vis muscle power. The film does rely heavily on terms like “Bharatha Stree Dharma” which could easily lead one to believe that the attitude is a regressive-suppressive one, but it redeems itself by making enormous philosophical leaps, bestowing the women with perceptions, astonishing. Some of the best lines in the film, in fact, is given to Pampavathi (M.V. Rajamma), the leading lady of the film, who is not only the King Virupaksha’s consort, but his intellectual companion too. This farmer’s daughter is also someone who plays a crucial role in matters of the State. Despite resting on mythology, the film, was no doubt far ahead of its times.

It is rather surprising how books on Kannada film don’t discuss this film at all, not even as a post-Unification film that whips up Kannada pride and values. It was also that juncture when major Kannada movements were taking shape in the State and its undercurrents are evident in the film. Befitting the emotions of the times, Karnataka is referred to as “Kannada nation” and not as mere “Kannada land” in the entire film.

The film works intensely in its subtexts. It’s deep understanding of religion and politics opens up the multiple layers. In fact, it works brilliantly through its contrasts: opulent living and barren intellect, body and soul, man and demon, god and man, authority and affection. The characters of the two brothers Raktaksha and Virupaksha (both played by Rajkumar), the occultist and his satwika visionary king, work well as ego and alter ego.

The film has outstanding music by T.G. Lingappa. The slow and soothing lullaby “Pavadisu Paalaksha” in Malkauns is surely the best. “Jaari biddiye O Jaana” in Kedar is a brilliant composition: it works completely on syncopation like the verses in a qawwalli. Janaki’s rendition is liltingly memorable. Of course, “Maatege migilada devarilla” is everyone’s hummable favourite.

Each time you watch the film it throws up new readings: when you watch it now you cannot isolate it from Karnataka politics today: the heady mix of religion and politics that it has come to be.

Remembered for: Outstanding music and brilliant rhetoric

DEEPA GANESH

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