There was an era in Indian cinema when films were segregated as commercial and parallel films. With Arthouse Days, we revisit those ‘parallel films’ that were overshadowed by the glamorous outings.
Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh is a take on the caste discrimination in our society through the eyes of an idealistic lawyer. The film tells the story of Lahanya (Om Puri) who is undergoing trial for the murder of wife Nagi (Smita Patil). Puri’s Lahanya belongs to a lower caste and his case is being handled by an upper caste lawyer Bhaskar Kulkarni (Naseeruddin Shah). He is up against Amrish Puri’s Dusane in court, but outside of work, they share a respectful teacher-student camaraderie.
As the trial proceeds, Kulkarni discovers that there is more to this case than what he has been told. The first conversation he has with Lahanya implies that he believes him to be a hardened criminal. His line of questioning and his investigation changes as he learns more. Shah’s lawyer is an idealist, a label he does not take very kindly but, nevertheless, walks on that path with honesty.
Om Puri’s Lahanya is an innocent man, but through the run of the film, he chooses to stay quiet (except for a couple of flashback scenes). His eyes communicate his sorrow as he comes to terms with his tragic fate. He does not fight for his innocence because he has come to accept society’s unjust caste system. He is a tribal who earns a meagre living, but the society here isn’t kind to anyone who comes from this class.
Amrish Puri’s Dusane has set up a successful law practice, but since he also belongs to a lower caste, he is often subjected to abusive phone calls. He plays cards with the who’s who of the political circles but the staunch fundamentalists will never let him forget his roots.
As Govind Nihalani tells this story, he takes us deep into the world of corrupt and lecherous men with power who toy with the system as per their convenience. The rape and murder of Lahanya’s wife is pinned on him because he would never bow down to the diktats of the system. For those who committed this crime, this is an easy escape that kills two birds with one stone. They have no qualms about attacking those who want to fight for the truth, be it Lahanya’s lawyer, a social worker or an editor of a newspaper.
Writers Vijay Tendulkar and Satyadev Dubey say quite a lot without using many words. They let the silences talk and it is here that the actors shine. Om Puri’s actions towards the end of the film speak of his acceptance of truth as he fears for his sister.
Aakrosh is set in 1979, but the subject of the film is just as relevant today. It was only recently that director Anubhav Sinha made Article 15 on caste discrimination. The two films made almost 40 years apart talk about the same evil of society, but it appears that we haven’t come as far as we would have hoped for.
Aakrosh is streaming on Hotstar.
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