Sathyu’s repertoire: it’s not hot air
Allen J. Mendonca
A warm sunny day, last year at the University of Philadelphia. In an auditorium on campus, a bunch of students have just finished viewing M S Sathyu’s critically acclaimed film Garm Hawa. Then, as the grey-bearded film-maker takes the stage to answer questions. a young woman bursts into tears.
Sathyu is immediately at her side. He leads her by the hand, even as she sobs loudly, to the lobby “Your film touched me, moved me she says, on calming down.
“It’s a compliment I’ll always cherish,” says Mysore Srinivas Sathyanarayan, who is so often mistaken at airports and elsewhere for that other creative genius Maqbool Fida Husain a.k.a. McBull.
Ironic really, for Garm Hawa has been a millstone around Sathyu’s neck, just like mainstream Sholay has been likewise for Ramesh Sippy
“Perhaps I peaked early,” explains Sathyu. “Satyajit Ray never bettered Pather Panchali.”
Sathyu studied at the Maharajah’s and Philomena’s in Mysore and then went on to Yuvarajah’s for his intermediate in 1948. “I was fond of science and geology but Mysore didn’t have that combination, so I moved to Bangalore and studied Chemistry, Botany and Geology for my degree at the Central College. By then I had already fallen in love with theatre and was busy doing plays in Kannada and English. I could paint and sketch and loved building the sets.”
But cinema changed everything. 'There was nothing to beat watching movies...There in the darkened hail, my imagination leapt, my emotions soared.”
So off he went to Bombay “From 1952 to 1956,1 worked backstage in theatre, learning its language. One day film-maker Chetan Anand asked me to assist him in a Buddhist period film -Anjali, celebrating 2500 years of Buddhism.” Here, for the first time, Sathyu marvelled at the directorial art.
More films with Anand, and Sathyu got bored with the pressures of commercial cinema. “I moved to Delhi in 1959 and joined Hindustani Theatre. Then came the Chinese aggression of 1962 and I had no job. So I joined The Patriot and helped design the masthead and even made pages.”
In 1963 Anand asked for him. “I packed my bags and went to Bombay where Chetan was all set to make Haqeeqat. Balraj Sahni, Dharmendra, Vijay Anand, and Sanjay Khan was making his debut. I was the art director. We shot in Ladakh, but we did'nt obtain permission to enter some key areas, so I recreated the Himalayas in a studio. The movie won me the Filmfare Award in 1964.”
Sathyu then plunged into the hurly-burly of ad flicks. “I did the first commercial on Coca Cola, Fanta....then Binny’s. Charminar, Berkeley” Well into the 60s. He had also married the hugely talented Shama Zaidi, daughter of the founder of the Hindustani Theatre. In 1969 he directed Ghalib, based on a script by Shama. He also made documentaries on Gubbi Veeranna and eye surgeon M C Modi and co-directed Black Mountain for the Children’s Film Society “It was an IndoRussian venture and we shot at Kakankotte at the spot where the Kabii reservoir now stands. The most challenging film was Ek Tha Chotu Ek Tha Motu for the CES “that was wholly in mime.”
In between all these, he also found time to direct and produce plays for the Indian Peoples Theatre Association (IPTA). (Incidentally Sathyu’s splendid production of Safdar Hashmi and Habib Tanvir’s Moteram Ka Satyagrah, starring Anjan Srivastava, Sudhir Pande and others is being staged in Mumbai this week).
In 1973, Shama wrote a script on the plight of Muslims in India, post partition, based on a story by Ismat Chugtai. “I knew I had to turn this into a movie. Kaifi Azmi wrote the lyrics and dialogue and I began shooting Garm Hawa in Urdu with Balraj Sahni, A K Hangal, Jalal Agha and Gita -Siddharth Kak’s wife.” It bagged the National Award in 1974, was invited to the competitive section at Cannes and was the Indian entry for the Oscars.
The movie was a polemic on the tragedy of Partition. It ran into problems with the Censor Board for eight months, and was premiered in Bangalore by M Bhaktavatsala at Sagar and Sangeeth. Before that it had its world premier in Paris. Parallel cinema had a new star.
At the Regal in Mumbai, Sathyu was all set for a fund-raising screening for one of Vijay Merchant’s charities. “Maharashtra Governor Vijaylakshmi Pandit was to inaugurate the screening. On the eve of the show, a man named Bal Thackeray threatened to burn down the theatre. I arranged a special show for him and his supporters at the Blaze, a small theatre close to Regal. At the end of the show Thackeray asked, “Where is the director ? This is exactly what we want to tell the Muslims, become part of the mainstream
The movie began making the rounds. “Indira Gandhi and Inder Gujral requested me not to screen it in UP as mid-term elections were around the corner and trouble-causers could incite violence.”
“L K Advani was the editor of The Observer and he wrote an editorial saying ‘Sathyu got the money to make the film from Pakistan.’ Many years later when I met Advani, then the I&B minister, he apologised claiming he had been misinformed ‘I saw the film and regretted what I had written.”’
More films followed Kanneshwara Rama, 1976; Chitegu Chinte, 1979; Bara, 1981 and its dubbed version Sookha, 1983; Kahan Kahan Se Guzar Gaya, 1986; Galige, 1995.
Television serials and tele-films including the latest Kotta based on a novel by former chief minister M Veerappa Moily. “I’m looking for somebody who can come up with Rs 60-75 lakh for a movie I wish to make on reservations,” he says.
Late last year he founded Cinema Ityadi, a non-linear editing studio in Malleswaram 17th Cross.
There’s never a dull moment for Sathyu. On Friday, he kept darting into battery shops looking for a 6 volt battery for his vintage car.
The man’s amazing.