CHAPTER 4: REVENGE
He loads his gun and starts for the hunt. The starting of this sequence has a beautifully shot image that looks as though a mosque is burning. In actuality, the setting behind it burns. This shot aptly sums up the rest of the sequence. The Muslim settlements start burning. Old men are killed. Innocents try to feign their religion just in order to survive. Young ones kill their elders to save their skin. Negotiations go on in vain. Amidst all this, a frenzied Saket Ram is searching for his prey. His spectacles are broken, as if to say his view and reasoning have taken a blow. He limps, he is blood stained, but looks are far from important at this moment.
Another Hindu concept running parallel in the film is the rights and duties of the male of the species. As a man, one has to protect his wife from evil which is in essence the responsibility of masculinity. As a man who was helpless in saving his wife from the clutches of evil, Saket is hurt by his impotence and uselessness. Thus, he is determined to justify his masculinity and is out to slay the violators.
He comes across Altaf’s shop. He tries to shoot at it and realized that it is a fruitless effort. After a moment, he sees Altaf himself tries to flee from the Hindu occupied area. Altaf too sees Saket and tries to reason even though he knows it is futile. Saket finishes the formalities, but also kills an innocent old man who tries to stop him. Everything is now trivial to Saket who carries on into the streets. He sees a young man killing an elder Muslim. When he approaches him, the young man prostrated and salutes. Saket is disgusted but fires only towards the sky. The boy escapes and Saket approaches the dying old man to finish the formalities. But as he shoots, he finds the pistol empty and starts to reload. The old man calls mutters that Saket has been sent by God to save him and summons someone from inside. Upon noticing movement from inside, Saket leaves the old man alone and enters the house. He looks up as if expecting a man, but is taken aback when he sees a small blind girl holding her doll. She murmurs “Grandpa, I’m very scared”. He is shocked and even goes blank. All he wants to do now is to get away from that place. He avoids touching that girl and hurries out of that place. It’s vintage Kamal all over this scene.
As he hurries out of the place, he comes across a group of Hindu fanatics. He points his pistol at their leader who reciprocates. He notices the Upanayanam, the holy thread on Saket’s chest and realizes that Saket is a friend not a foe. He introduces himself to Saket in the traditional Hindu salute:
“Abhivadaye vishwamitra aagamarshana kaushika, triyashreya pravaranvitha kaushika gothra, aapasthambha sutra, yajusshakha adhyayee, Shriram Abhyankar sharma nama aham asmibhu”
(Of Kaushik, son of Vishwamitra…Of Kaushik, thrice blessed…Of Kaushik, the high priest of Yajur Veda… Of Kaushik, I bear my lineage. I am Shri Ram Abhyankar.)
He is Shriram Abhyankar (Atul Kulkarni), the pivotal character in the film. He realizes that pistols are luxuries and his opponent is indeed a man of higher class. He shows his own holy thread and hands over a newspaper to Saket and says
“Vande Mataram Bandhu, Would you like to hunt with us? I edit this news paper. This has my address on it. Come and meet me. We have a lot to do. “.
As Saket leaves, Shriram stops him to say:
“Don’t go like this. People won’t know what you are. Good Hunting”
He puts the holy Tilak on Saket’s forehead, as Saket leaves the scene with the newspaper. Saket runs to escape the madness. He notices that the madness is not confined to the Hindus and Muslims alone. He witnesses a group of Sikhs slay a young Muslim lad. He runs from the scene.
Soon, dawn breaks. There are eagles all over the city praying on the corpses while municipality workers race against them to gather the corpses. It is like peace after a storm. Saket strolls and avoids the eyes of the police. He observes civilians trying to identify the corpses of their dear ones.
As Saket steps off the street, he notices an elephant standing alone. On a second sight he notices the mahout dead and lying besides it. The elephant is helpless without its master. It shakes him. It reminds him of his own situation. So far, he has been under the care of his wife who is the only person he needs to answer to. She has been his only master. After she is slain, Saket is helpless and is only as good as the orphaned elephant. He breaks down.
He dodders to the address that Abhyankar gave him and finds that even the police is there. He tries to hide when suddenly, he feels someone calling him. It is Shriram Abhyankar, hiding among the ruins in the backyard of the building. He calls Saket over and informs him that the police is looking for him. Both of them walk away from the building. As they escape from the area, Saket finds that Abhyankar too, is a Tanjore Maratha Brahmin and hence speaks Tamil. This is a long shot that spans around 70 seconds. Delighted, Shriram asks if he had a good time “hunting” the day before. Saket is bewildered and explains that he was never like that and he was always a peace loving person. It was the murder of the wife that pushed him to this limit. Abhyankar interrupts him to tell Saket about a similar happening to his sister. He adds by telling that nobody naturally intends to kill but it is the circumstances that push one to the drastic limits.
He then asks Saket to point out who is responsible for all this loss. He asks him:
“Is it Bengal premier Suhrawardy? No. Is it Barrister Mohammad Ali Jinnah? No. There is only one man my friend. Barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. From the beginning, in the name of Khilafat movement and such stuff, he has nurtured the young green plant to make it a tree.”
The last line occurs once more in the film where it is clearer about its clauses. Saket tries to leave the place when Abhyankar stops him to ask where he is going. Saket says that he is going to surrender himself to the police. Abhyankar retorts by saying that no one is fit to punish them. They are on their own. They strike up a conversation as Abhyankar tries to escape the police by getting on a tram. Abhyankar speaks as Saket watches a dog inside the stomach of a slaughtered cow. This shot is reminiscent of the shot of the dog carrying the severed arm in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), both dealing with war torn cities.
Abhyankar: “If killing is wrong, then so is war. So is it wrong to fight in an army during the war.”
Saket: “But I’m not a soldier. I’m a civilian.”
Abhyankar:”This is a civil war, brother. And now, we are all soldiers.”
Abhyankar hands over a covered book to Saket and asks him to read without revealing it to anyone. As he indicated that this banned book is by Veer Savarkar, who was himself, a staunch Hindu activist, police spot Abhyankar and try to catch him. He bids adieu to Saket and escapes by jumping into the Ganges. Saket watches on.
Saket decides to vacate his Calcutta house and packs up. He is unable to see the helpers manhandling the piano during the packing. The piano that has so far signified his relationship with his wife is now dangling for its life. Saket is unable to bear this and asks the taxi driver to leave the place. As the taxi starts to take Saket out of Calcutta, the piano falls onto the ground and breaks. Aparna is dead and gone.
As he leaves the city he notices the elephant from the previous scene going on a rampage with the stick that is used to pacify it. As if carrying a weapon, the creature is out of control and is on the loose. He again sees himself in the elephant and believes that his own madness and the outing with his weapon in the recent past are because of the murder of his mahout. As the screen fades, we hear the Tamil holy passage “Padham kondu nadathum vazhkkai” being played. It translates to:
On foot my life proceeds without a mahout.
Nor goad to pierce and direct me about.
Like a demented rogue elephant I roam.
O! Lord of Sriranga praised in the four Vedas since times unknown.
Unto thee I surrender.
The bridged audio plays on as the visuals transport us to the temples of South of India.
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