Updated: February 3, 2021 10:22:45 am
India’s greatest Test triumph in Australia last month shares more than a mere thread with Bollywood’s iconic gangster film of 1998, Satya.
Common to the two epic sagas is the deadpan protagonist with glassy eyes, a heavy beard and cleverly-concealed ruthlessness.
There’s a lot of Satya in Rahane, and a bit of Satya in the Indian dressing room too. The uncanny mirroring of the two casts of characters is less of happenstance and more of life imitating art.
Look for that trendsetting 90s hit on YouTube first and follow it up by revisiting the Gabba chase to marvel at the real-reel similarity.
The frame of Ajinkya Rahane sitting expressionless in the dugout, orchestrating the coup as an ever-fluctuating gripping drama unfolds around him, has gravitas. With better cinematic composition and some haunting background music thrown in for good measure, it could well be Satya sitting with Chander, Bapu, Kallu Mama in some run-down Mumbai chawl mentally moving the pieces to snatch some rival gang’s citadel at Bhandup or Antop Hill.
In Brisbane that day, next to Rahane sat Rohit Sharma, his deputy. The two men from Mumbai go back a long way. Though, it didn’t matter during those tense hours. It was no time to recall their junior days or crack some in-joke. They seemed like strangers sharing a park bench. Once in a while, they would exchange glances or a few words. These fleeting interactions would end with Rahane breaking into an inscrutable smirk.
If the Aussies were keeping an eye on the skipper, looking for clues to guess India’s game plan, they were wasting their time. Rahane doesn’t allow fear, anxiety or even joy to well out. Even when India eventually won, Rahane held his pose, and his poise. In his The Times, London column the next day, Michael Atherton would write: “Rahane stood calmly and received the moment like a man who had just accepted a pair of socks for his birthday”.
Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya – the title role played by JD Chakravarthy – too was marble-faced. It’s a story about the meteoric rise, and the sharp fall, of a young man who one fine day ventured into Mumbai but subsequently got waylaid deep inside the city’s brutal underworld. During the 2-hour-40-something-minutes crime caper, the outsider-turned-insider would face humiliation, make friends, have fall-outs and fall in love too. But Satya, while dealing with fear, anxiety and joy, would never break the good old mafia motto made popular by the Corleones – Never let anyone know what you’re thinking.
At Brisbane, till tea, Rahane’s poker face masterfully hid the team’s collective secret – the desperate desire to win.
The other day during The Indian Express Idea Exchange interaction, Rahane was asked if hiding emotions was a habit he developed over the years and he said: “I think it comes naturally to me.” It does and an oft-repeated maidan tale that gets repeated, spiced by the extra-masala sachet after every narration, proves it. Even as a teen, he was a boy of few words and fewer emotions.
While turning up for his first club, Dombivili’s Young Star CC as a 13-year-old, he once got hit on the helmet by a pacer with a nasty reputation. The helmet broke; the blow to the head would instantly open the tear ducts and moisten the eyes. If Mumbai’s oral tradition of narrating cricketing yarns is to be believed, the young Rahane didn’t heed the general concern of his teammates or the coach’s suggestion to return to the tent. “Mai khelega (I’ll play)” is what he is believed to have said with a straight face. He did, and how.
The maidan Shoaib Akhtar was hit for five fours in that over. There was no sledging, no histrionics, not even a pumped fist. That permanent serene blank look didn’t leave his face. It still hasn’t.
Meanwhile, grapevine has it that the bowler, a waiter at a nearby bar, still regales regular drunks with tales about hitting India’s vice-captain on the helmet, conveniently skipping the bit about those five fours.
Satya too had a bar connection. His first job in the city that never sleeps – Satya too couldn’t avoid that cliche – was waiting tables at a dance bar. It would end with an ugly face-off with the local don’s bag man. As the ‘drink’ that Satya made couldn’t match the expectations of Bhai’s sidekick, it would end on his face. Satya didn’t blink, he merely stared. Later in the movie, he would pump multiple bullets in the chest of the man who insulted him.
Ram Gopal Varma, in his book Guns and Thighs, says he was not sure about Satya, the lead whose back story isn’t part of the movie. “All in all, every character in Satya had a reference point. But the chief protagonist’s character was the most unclear in my head … I was confused between whether he had a criminal streak or he was just a normal guy who became that way.”
Boy next door
Rahane has a back story. Maybe, the makers of Satya would like to hear. Born in a middle-class family in a Mumbai suburb, Rahane continued to stay at his modest 650 square feet 2BHK even after playing IPL for years as an India player. Painfully shy and reluctant to be in the spotlight, he was very different from contemporaries like Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja.
He wasn’t a prodigy, didn’t make it to the U-19 World Cup and his first international stint didn’t go well. He was on drinks duty for 14 Test matches before getting into the playing XI again. From a three-format player, he now plays just Test matches. Till last year, he wasn’t even a regular in the playing XI. Even in IPL, the once-upon-a- time captain these days can be warming the bench. He has been through cricket’s tough grind. He is a hardened pro who is at peace with himself. Convinced about his own class, he doesn’t allow setbacks or stray opinions to trigger self-doubts. The world said he was good but those selecting the squad of 15 or the playing XI didn’t think so.
But then he got his chance. He got Melbourne, Sydney and finally Brisbane. He grabbed the opportunity. Fear of failure was too familiar an emotion to bother him.
Watch him bat on the final day at the Gabba. His 22-ball 24 had a lofted six off Nathan Lyon. At that stage, India could have even lost the Test and the series, but Rahane the batsman or the captain was unperturbed. He knew what he was doing. That day at Gabba, he showed that rare trait that every Bhai worth his salt aspires to avail. Like Satya, Rahane showed “daring”.
Brothers in arms
Satya’s mentor and gang leader in the movie is Bhiku Mhatre – Manoj Bajpai giving a powerhouse performance. In the true tradition of mobster movies, the two have contrasting characters. Satya was Michael to Bhiku’s Sonny.
If Kohli was in the dugout that day at Brisbane, his face would have been a kaleidoscope of human emotions, his facial muscles realigning after every ball. Bajpai has said playing laughing-one-moment-manic-the-next Don was a tightrope walk. The demand to operate at a high note and simultaneously maintain high intensity, pushes one dangerously close to every actor’s ultimate dread –hamming. Kohli, too, treads that fine line.
As the stand-in skipper Rahane vacates the hot seat for Kohli for the England series, this cricketing parallel with Ram Gopal’s masterful creation goes beyond the Rahane-Satya doppelganger. Many have said that Rahane’s emergence as an inspirational captain could possibly trigger a leadership tussle. They are worried that Rahane, the leader, would become redundant once Kohli takes over. With their captaincy approach so diametrically different, they work on different templates. Maybe, this was true in the past but not now.
After his Melbourne hundred and the Brisbane chase, Rahane’s voice in the dressing room can’t be ignored. The wise-captain-to-vice-captain switch is nothing more than a minor phonetic tweak. Will the sprouting of this new power centre in the Indian camp, that also has IPL’s most winning skipper Rohit Sharma, result in an ego tussle?
Not necessarily, Satya offers hope. It’s well-etched characters and their specific usefulness to the gang points to a culture that encourages an ensemble and not a single-star system.
It also shows that assorted men with mismatched temperaments can forge a sturdy partnership. Satya’s restrained aggression balanced Bhiku’s impulsive risk-taking.
If the violence and deaths are weeded out from the script and the tragic end, dictated by crime-never-pays compulsion, changed, Satya could well be an enduring buddy movie.
The film’s most memorable scene shows the Kohli-Rahane partnership has potential to make the world nervous.
So there is Bhiku perched on a cliff after wiping out all opposition talking to the Mumbai sea. After a bout of his maniacal laugh, he shouts: “Mumbai ka king kaun (Who is the king of Mumbai) … Bhiku Mhatre”. As for Satya, unmindful of the king’s histrionics, he sits on another rock, at a lower height closer to the waves, plotting the gang’s next move.
Put the two in a stadium, make them wear whites and it could be Kohli letting out a war cry after the fall of a key wicket and Rahane somewhere in the background shining the ball, plotting the gang’s next kill.
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