There have been a lot of years, and Ram Gopal Varma has directed a lot more films now,l to pile up, but for me 'Satya' remains his most iconic piece. A gritty and surrealistically dark portraiture of Mumbai Underworld, this film is an authentic representation of the gangsters, there lives and the cultural insights which revolve around them. In a way, this is an international cinema masterstroke, with a screenplay so exceptional that it's ultimately torturous (in a great sense of word). I think at the time of it's release it was so difficult viewing that it was ultimately ahead of its time, but one thing was clear: it echoed brave narrative sound, which no one would repeat, not even it's thrilling writer Anurag Kashyap, and not it's director RGV, who then resorted to making trashy low-budget cinema.
The performances are the greatest thing about this compelling film: no two questions that the cinematography by Mazhar Kamran and Gerard Hooper, who did the best work in their career in this film, was made of discomfortingly effective shots, but the terse identities of the people in the scene is what stages this drama even more frequently. Manoj Bajpayee gave one of his most memorable performances as 'Bambai Ka Raaja' Bhiku Mhatre, and his emotional dynamics with Shefali Shah's Mrs. Mhatre were quiet interesting. But the quiet dignity which JD Chakravarthy brought as Satya, the underdog who fell into the trap of gangsterism made him the best character and the best actor of this film. Urmila Matondkar as the ambitious singer Vidya was powerful, and the sequence in which she is killed, was solidly shot and gut-wrenching.
Makarand Deshpande as the lawyer in the house of gangsters brings in some thought, and Govind Namdev as the politician-with-underworld-roots Bhau Thakurdas shall make you ponder about the world we are living in. The last shot especially, where the message of peace is delivered finally, makes me quiet till date. Vishal Bharadwaj's music: oh! It's genuine and genius both.
But this isn't flawless cinema. The love story between Satya and Vidya looks like a mismatch even when the couple is married: it's awfully banal and does a misstep to the film because the director handles it with great measures of irresponsibility. Although all the action sequences in there own way are competent, not all of them work. But despite these bad decisions, "Satya" still remains a class in the uncomfortable. Although 'Parinda' came nine years ago with more solidity, it's just unmistakable that this RGV film remains a work of originality made with passion. Don't skip it.