“Maruti Kamble cha kay jhala?” Translated from Marathi, it would mean, “What happened to Maruti Kamble?”
This question about a missing Army officer lingered on in the minds of people who have watched playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s masterpiece Saamna, made 40 years ago in which Nilu Phule played the quintessential villain to the hilt, depicting all that had started to go wrong with the then nascent and successful sugar cooperative movement in Maharashtra. The histrionics of Dr Sriram Lagoo, Mohan Agashe and Smita Patil carried the film through. But above all, it was the strength of the script of Vijay Tendulkar that prevented the movie from being relegated to old reel cans and kept it alive for 40 years. That’s a statement from the director of the film, Jabbar Patel, himself.
The movie’s shelf life was for all to see at its 40th anniversary celebrated in the city, when the 151-minute movie was screened recently.
The screening was also a tribute to the vision and farsight of Tendulkar, who could four decades ago sense the peculiarities of the system and the plight of have nots as it would take shape decades in future.
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The main protagonist of Saamna is an inveterate drunkard, and yet valiant “Master” (Sriram Lagoo) challenging a corrupt, sugarcane lobby chairman and friend-turned-foe Hindurao Dhonde Patil (Nilu Phule). Master takes on Patil to learn about the fate of Maruti Kamble (Mohan Agashe), a villager who had earlier challenged Patil. Kamble just disappears from the scene. No one knows what happened to Kamble and hence the poser, “Maruti Kamble cha kay jhala?”
Director Jabbar Patel gives the vision of Tendulkar full credit for the movie clinging on to the collective consciousness of Marathi film buffs.
“Saamna not out 40 is a celebration of Vijay Tendulkar’s script. When I see a 20-year-old relating to characters from the movie today, I feel proud of being associated with the project. When the world saw the success of the co-operative movement in Western Maharashtra, Tendulkar saw the beginning of grassroot corruption, which he feared would spread across the state. And it has become a reality today,” said Jabbar Patel about his debut movie.
Maruti Kamble, Patel says, was a metaphor used by Tendulkar to channel the voices of those who were exploited by a corrupt system. And in the past 40 years, the exploitation has widened its net. “Not only Dalits, but economically weaker sections, minorities, and women have also become Maruti Kambles today. And the disparity between them and the corrupt is worrisome,” he adds. Asked how different would the movie have been had it been written and shot today, Patel, the director of Sinhasan (1979) and Umbartha (1982), replies, “Some scripts are timeless. They can’t be confined to a specific period. Saamna is one of them.”
Patel said, “The movie was made on a shoestring budget of Rs 2.25 lakh. Producer Ramdas Phutane, who was a primary schoolteacher at the time, had borrowed money to finance the film. The movie initially didn’t do good business. It was an entry at the 25th Berlin Film Festival. Thereafter, it became a hit with the masses.” Distributors who were reluctant earlier, took interest after its acknowledgement in the Berlin Festival in 1975. Patel said, “Some theatres like Plaza and Prabhat in Pune, Parvati in Kolhapur used Saamna as a buffer between two movie releases. Whenever there was an ample space between two releases, they used to run Saamna. A total of 28 shows (Four daily) took place a week and the theatre used to be houseful.”
Songs of Saamna, ‘Sakhya re ghayal mi harini’, ‘Kunachya khandyawar kunache ojhe’, ‘Sakhya chala bagamadi’ are as popular as the movie. “I must give due credit to the musicians, stellar performances of actors like Lagoo and Phule and other technicians. But I also believe that nothing would’ve worked, had the script not been strong. All I had to was put the camera in the right place and everything else just fell in place,” the director concluded.