Satyam Shivam Sundaram

Classic theme, souped-up package. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; what is seen is changed by the feelings of the viewer. You may look, but do you see? Do I love you because you're beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you? Etc. Like with yesterday's Chak De India, there's nothing particularly novel about what's going on here, but the movie certainly presents its ideas in engaging (and sometimes really weird) ways. Like Kaddele, I'm not quite sure what to say about this movie. It's both very familiar and completely strange. The visuals are strong, often really helpful to the story or message and always interesting.

If you don't know the movie, there are probably two things that you've heard about it. One, Zeenat Aman wears little clothing, and what she does wear is either almost transparent or very tight. Totally true. I'm not quite sure what to make of this - on the one hand, sexing up the already uber-babe Zeenat seems redundant and cheap when the message is "beauty is internal," but on the other, not looking like the rest of the village girls suits her because she's always been overlooked and mistreated, perhaps left to wear extra-thin fabrics or to play in the fields dressed however she likes.

Two, there is a totally trippy picturization. Also true. If you want to see a slide show from said song, "Chanchal Sheetal Nirmal Komal," skip to the bottom of the page.

[spoilers ahead - but you can still watch the slide show of the fun song by going all the way to the bottom]

Utter arse and very often wet Ranjeev (Shashi Kapoor) has some kind of pathological fear of ugliness.

Rupa (Zeenat) is an unlucky (so everyone tells her) village girl with a sweet voice and quick wit but a burned face.

They fall for each other fast, him without seeing her scar, and get married despite her protestations that he hasn't seen her entirely yet. When the veil comes off, Ranjeev has a freakout unlike anything I've seen,

locking his wife up at home and mentally dissociating her from his darling - and completely imaginary - perfect Rupa. While Ranjeev veers further and further away from reality, even with the advice and pleas of his wife and friends, Rupa sneaks out of the house and continues to meet with him for waterfall frolicking - he thinks she's the original Rupa, the girl he thought she was before he saw her entire face, and she plays along while figuring out how to put her life back together. In between the romps and snogs

more tragedies occur. Rupa bides her time and chooses her words carefully, and with some good timing/intervention by god/nature, everything comes out in the wash. I don't want to give anything more away, so let's just say that there's plenty of opportunity to yell "You go girl!" in the last twenty minutes of the movie (yay Zeenat!).

The major weakness of the movie is that we never get any explanation for what exactly his problem is - there's no mention of childhood trauma involving seeing a rotting corpse or anything like that. Yet when he looks at Rupa's burn scars, he sees this.

He does tell us that he lives alone and as such he is free to exist in a dream world that is much more pleasant than the real world. You know, 'cause all of us single folks are off our rockers with a tenuous concept of reality. Anyhoo. Despite being an engineer, it seems he has very little grasp of emotional and interpersonal structures. (Oh wait, that's the stereotype, isn't it?) We're left to just think he's the Jerky J. Jerkamo of the century. He tells Rupa of his sad plight, at which point Filmi Geek, my watching companion, commented " His plight is he's stupid."His change of heart at the end of the film isn't really explained either, but that's okay, because 1) I was expecting it and 2) it signified a return to the good and just order of things. And I will say this: when he finally redeems himself, it sounds wholehearted and pure, with clean, simple words (yay writers!) and clean, simple delivery (yay Shashi!).

[spoilers over]

Okay, now for the good stuff. I can't describe it. Just watch. You might want a drink first.


Subhadeep said…
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ggop said…
That's Raj Kapoor for you - he made his heroines look slutty and proclaimed they look "innocent". He did the same in Ram Teri Ganga Maili. The whole industry went gaga over him but I never cared much for most of his later work. Then again I didn't care for The GodFather or Pulp Fiction either :-)

His movies did have offbeat themes but boy aren't many of them a drag to watch?

Just a bit of movie trivia - when Zeenat signed on for SSS, it was the beginning of a rift with Dev Anand who gave her a big launch in Hare Rama Hare Krishna..
AR said…
Oh lord, Beth, I don't know when I've laughed so much! I'm with Ggop, Kapoor's later movies, starting with the ones he filmed in color, began to slip and slide down and down the scale until it began to feel positively soft porn-y. But that particular sequence... the trippy one hahahah .... i think you can find its genesis in an older movie he made. It was either Aag or Aah or Aan - i can never apply the right name to the right movie out of those three but there's a dream sequence with apsaras (hindu version of houris that Zeenat is portraying) that's all hellfire and damnation and positively surrealist.

*small voice* But I still love Shashi Kapoor * end small voice*
Keith said…
re: That picture. Sashi looks like he got a dose of Dracula.
Daddy's Girl said…
For me the best thing about SSS was its music - I loved the songs and (for the most part) the way they were used in the movie. I guess what RK was trying to do was interesting (especially with some of the really striking visuals, and the spiritual and societal themes explored in the film), but I just felt it lacked coherence or cohesion or something...
And Shashi's redemption scene at the end was a bit WTH? It didn't ring true for me at all, in the context of the character and the storyline. I would definitely have ended the film differently (in my script, Rupa would've left him). But all said and done, I think SSS is an interesting watch, at least for its 'different-ness' from its contemporaries.
Huzzah! I'm so pleased; I just found your blog and Filmi Geek. Happy days! Shashi AND Shah Rukh? Very happy days. And I laughed at this review, truly wunderbar.
alienvoord said…
wow! they're like on a different planet or something. That's awesome. Gotta see this.
Anarchivist said…
This movie is at the top of my Netflix queue. I've chosen it as my Shashi 101, and couldn't help peeking at your screenshots. I can't wait!
Anonymous said…
hi beth,
i hrd bout this film since child hood bout how zeenat had little to problem is with the storyline RAJKapoor doesnt explain why rajeev is averse to ugliness;or why nobody in the village tells him bout rupas reality;the story should have been tighter;the Chemistry b/w the lead pair is lacking.sadly it didnt do any thing for me.....
but love shashi in any form;))))
Desultoryreij said…
Very amusing review and beautiful screencaps to go along with them, Beth! Did you take them, yourself?
anon - That is a major problem, definitely, especially because it is such a major factor (if not the major factor) in the action. But hear hear for Shashi! :)

Desultoryeij - Thanks! I did :) But I think I've lost most of them in various hard drive woes over the years :(
Anonymous said…
for all you great puritans of the good world, here comes an eduacating review by sir philip lutgendorf:-

Ironically, Raj Kapoor’s extended meditation on the contingency of beauty and desire was much criticized for its “vulgarity” and “exploitation” of women’s bodies. It unfolds, in fact, like an Indian folktale costumed by Fredericks of Hollywood. Set in the imaginary Madhya Desa beloved of Bollywood, where feathered tribals gyrate erotically to celebrate the opening of a dam that will bring them prosperity and progress, it displays bevies of village belles who are low on both modesty and blouse-pieces, and a tragic heroine who cannot afford even the latter. The aptly-named Rupa (“lovely form or appearance,” played by Zeenat Aman) has a beautiful body and voice, but half her face is disfigured by scars from a childhood cooking accident, and she is scorned by the villagers as “unlucky” and unmarriageable. Enter Rajiv, a handsome, nattily-dressed engineer from the city (Shashi Kapoor), who “hates ugliness” but falls in love with Rupa by hearing her singing, and then by seeing only the half of her face that she unveils. Reasoning that the relationship can have no future, Rupa permits herself the fantasied satisfaction of being wooed by Rajiv, but is horrified when he asks her father for her hand. The ceremony transpires with Rajiv still ignorant of Rupa’s scars, until the inevitable wedding-night unveiling.

It is here that a folktale logic takes over, since Rajiv doesn’t merely reject his disfigured bride, but accuses her, over the denials of the whole wedding party, of being an evil substitute for the “beautiful” woman he wooed. Fleeing his bedroom, he rushes to the waterfall where he and Rupa used to meet. In time, Rupa herself, unable to surrender either of their fantasies, repairs there with her former half-veiling to begin a passionate “adulterous” affair with the very husband who despises and rejects her by day. Though the situation is dreamlike, the emotional power of Aman’s sorrowful heroine—forced to split herself into two in order to preserve a man’s illusions—is very real, and infects even a torrid lovemaking scene. Predictably, Rajiv’s bride, though ostensibly trapped in an “uncomsummated” marriage, is found to be pregnant—the kind of conundrum that, in a folktale, calls for a deus ex machina. Kapoor obliges by making the heavens literally open in a flood of near-Biblical proportions, underscoring the film’s underlying association of women with nature and men with civilization and artifice—a theme that, like the Shakuntala motif of the unrecognized and rejected woodland bride, resonates through a number of Kapoor films. Though the director’s climactic vision strains the limits of his special effects budget, everyone who isn’t drowned ends up, in a ruined Krishna temple, mud-spattered but clear-sighted—able to face “truth” and recognize true beauty.

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