Suhaag
India 1979
Directed by Manmohan Desai.


Nirupa Roy is the archetypical long-suffering mother, deified by her children, in countless movies. She reprises her role once again here. She has given birth to twins, but the wicked father (Amjad Khan) won't even recognize them as his own. Her uncle has a heart attack and dies when he hears this, leaving her without a household to stay in. A seemingly kind man takes her and her children to the city, where she discovers he is selling her to a brothel. When the police raid the brothel, he escapes, using one of the babies as a human shield. She raises her remaining boy, Kishan (Shashi Kapoor) to be honest and upright, and he becomes an officer. Her other son, Amit (Amitabh Bachchan) is raised on abuse and alcohol on the street by a Fagin-type crook. So begins this epic action picture in which the wounds opened when their lives began are at last healed, through the most wildly implausible circumstances imaginable.

Mass movies are dominated by cliche. Whether it is a buddy cop film, a war film, a western, a romance; there are standard conventions that both define the genre, make it easy recognizable and comfortable to its audience, and leave it vulnerable to imitation and repetitiveness. In one respect, all movies of a specific type (say, the romance between the quirky, irrepressible girl and the boring, coming-out-of-his shell and learning to love life guy) are simply remakes of one another, with different actors, taking place in different seasons or countries, containing slightly different incidents. Some films transcend the cliche and are so successful they create new ones. Others wallow in cliche and are dreadfully dull. But there are a select few that do not transcend the cliche, but rather embrace it; they become the perfect embodyment of all that is good about the cliche, bring it to life, and make you thrilled that someone, at last, has gotten it right.

Such is the case with SUHAAG. All the standards of Indian cinema are here: Two brothers, separated at birth, fighting when they meet, becoming best friends later, fighting against their mother's nemesis, a generational battle between good and evil. Or then again, perhaps he isn't evil, he is their father after all. Even the most disreputable villain in the picture at one point begs for the life of his son (who is an adult, with one eye missing, caused by a woman fighting him off of an attempted rape). He will do anything for his son's safety. And, once safe, he quickly reverts to diabolical mode. Their father seems to be won over to the side of good several times, but it is a ruse. Or is it? Such is his performance that he really does look conflicted and a little heartbroken, but more than willing to still be a scumbag.

SUHAAG underscores one of the real pleasures of Indian cinema. There is room for redemption. In Hollywood films, the villain almost always has to be killed. Capturing is not good enough -- we don't believe in our own legal system enough to justify it. No, he must be killed -- and preferrably, not by the hero. A fall from a large building usually does the trick. Now, while there are plenty of villains who deserve and get a nasty death in Indian films, there are also some who, in the end, may not have been the total crooks you might have initially assumed them to be, or may be every bit as crooked as you thought but have the capacity for redemption. For their part, heroes have the capacity for forgiveness. And indeed, the villain usually gets away with perpetrating his criminal acts for so long because mercy is sometimes sympathetically granted, sometimes to good effect, sometimes to ill.

But I was writing about SUHAAG. Amitabh is great as the street urchin, grown up to be a drunk. He raises money for the local temple, and yearns to marry a local prostitute. For her part, naturally, she is never forced to have sex with anyone as a prostitute, for his part, he takes to liquor only because he "didn't have anyone who loved me enough to beat me when I came home smelling of liquor."

There is nothing new in SUHAAG, but there is plenty to like. The cast is among the best and at the top of its game. It is not a movie to be seen so much as to be experienced.

Rating: Highly Recommended (Highly Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on December 14, 2004.


Comments

Dude...cant belive you gave this one 4 stars!!!

Posted by: Srinivas at March 6, 2007 08:28 AM
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