Govind Nihlani’s Aakrosh is till date one of the most influential and superlative pieces of work ever to have come out of Bollywood. The greatness of Aakrosh lies not on its dramatics but its simplicity and its power to draw a class divide and portray subjugation in such detailed and straightforward manner. From what I learn from my research, this is a film written by the noted playwright Vijay Tendulkar, who had earlier written Shyam Benegal’s Nishant (1974) and went to write Govind Nihalani’s next surprise breakaway hit, Ardh Satya (1983). His work was based on a news item that was run on the seventh page of a local newspaper. The item talked about an episode similar to what we see in the film. The film is a hard hitting portrayal of the sorry states of the Adivasi men and women who end up on the wrong side of either the wealth predicament or the class divide.
The film starts with the Lahnya Bhiku (Om Puri) performing the last rites on his dead wife. It is learned that he has murdered his wife as she refused to do his will. Bhaskar Kulkarni (Naseeruddin Shah) is his defense attorney in the court while Dusane (Amrish Puri) is the government Lawyer fighting against him. As the proceedings begin, Bhaskar is dumb struck by Bhiku’s total silence. No matter what he is asked or what he is charged with, Bhiku remains silent. Even after being asked multiple times on different occasions he remains quite. Bhaskar gets discouraged at first and wants to leave the case but Dusane, who was also his senior and a close associate encourages him and makes him stay. Revitalized and inspired, Bhaskar goes after the case with renewed vigor. However, his new found energy brings a world of trouble for him. On the contrary it beings no help whatsoever for the case. Not even Bhiku’s family is willing to help him. They are not even ready to speak with him. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative.
Aakrosh is an engrossing affair. The film is so tightly written and so very immersive that its runtime will feel breezy even on multiple views. Throughout the run time, I was waiting for Bhiku to open his mouth. I felt that the big twist of the film would be him opening his mouth but the film totally took me by surprise. Right from the beginning you have a feeling that all his not what it seems to be. As the story progresses, the truth is shown by some dream sequences and flashbacks mostly from Bhiku’s perspective. There are some subtle references to what might have happened that is shown in the lecherous acts and behaviors of the men who might have been involved. The class divides are shown in an authentic manner. Amrish Puri plays a powerful lawyer who is from a lower cast and even though he finds himself sitting in the Officer’s club with the imminent men of the club, he receives threats almost every day sighting his class as a means of abuse.
When a reported tries to put the truth in the newspaper, he is badly beaten up. A social worker, he is trying to arrange the Adivasis is made an example of. The lawyer who is fighting Bhiku’s case is often threatened and chased after. All this happens as the court case is unfolding. Throughout the runtime of the film, the perpetrators are never for once threatened or in any sort of problem. Their actions guide and almost dictate Bhiku’s life but at the same time they are shown enjoying and living their life the way they want to. This delves a blow on the whole system and also makes us stand up and take notice. This isn’t a feel good film but it sure is an eye opener.
In a poignant scene of the film, Bhiku is shown hacking his sister to death when he realizes that after the death of his father, she is left unprotected and that the men who were responsible for the violation and death of his wife will now turn their lustful eyes to her. He doesn’t speak a word for most part of the film but in this climatic scene he is shown screaming and screaming looking towards the sky. This is the second time he is shown speaking after one scene in between where he is shown trying to convince his wife to stay away from her employers who are trying to devour her. His outburst comes as a wakeup call after a film that dwells most of its time showing us the atrocities on the downtrodden and the amount of control that the privileged have on their lives.
Naseeruddin Shah is superlative as the lawyer Bhaskar. Aakrosh is one of the films that made a name out of him. His act is so natural and thought-provoking that you cannot help but follow in his footsteps. Amrish Puri as Dusane is great. He knows his limitations and he remains within those limitations strictly. The final discussion between him and Naseeruddin Shah is one of the highlights of the film. It just goes on to show the depth that even the privileged Adivasi’s have leapt into. Om Puri is a revelation. He doesn’t speak 20 words throughout the film and yet is the most effective actor in the whole film. He emotes through his eyes and you can tell his feelings with just one look at him. Smita Patil is there just for a scene and she does well in that scene.
The film is extremely well directed. Govind Nihlani is one of my favorite Hindi director and Aakrosh is a film which further instills that faith. With films like this Ardh Satya and Droh Kaal he carved a niche for himself and helped to establish an identity of Bollywood side by side with the obnoxious and cheap commercial cinema with which the world has come to know Indian Cinema. Aakrosh is a burning example of how an intriguing story, good performances and deft direction can elevate and make a story that is very much one dimensional into an interesting and gripping film. From the beginning to the end, the plot of Aakrosh is fairly simple. We know and we understand that Bhiku is not the murderer and that he is a victim but still there is a sense of discovery and understanding in every scene of the film.
Aakrosh is one of the great films of our times. It must be watched and re-watched to understand the power and finesse of Indian cinema and it’s reach that far supersedes the 100-crore club of today and the song and dance routines of the yesteryears.
Rating : 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)