Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sorat No Saavaz (India, 1985)

The Gujarati film Sorat No Saavaz has a storyline that's well familiar from other regional South Asian films of its day: a roiling stew of crossed romances, solemn vows of honor, rape, revenge, fists-to-the-heavens melodrama, mustaches, dishBOOM, and, of course, lots of wearingly broad comic relief. Like the Telegu action films of K.S.R. Doss, or those of Punjabi superstar Sultan Rahi, it is not just unsubtle, but anti-subtle. In an early musical number, Sonal, the lover of Amar, our hero, sings, "My pot is new", while helpfully indicating her rear end, and playfully admonishes Amar not to break it. Later, when the evil bandit Joravar rapes Amar's crippled sister, the camera moves away from the crime to show us a pot breaking. The girl, as was and is depressingly common in these films, then takes her own life, and farther on down the road, when it is time for Joravar's comeuppance, Amar mercilessly beats him with her crutch, which he has been saving for the purpose.

Amar is played by Naresh Kanodia, one of Gujarati cinema's most beloved stars. Here Kanodia embodies a somewhat softer version of the righteous commoner hero commonly played by Sultan Rahi, but departs from Rahi in that he appears like he might have known joy at some point in his life. For one thing, he has a number of songs pictured on him, something that I have yet to see Rahi do in one of his films (Rahi typically just folds his arms grumpily and stands in for the tree that Anjuman would otherwise be frolicking around.) This being in touch with his tender side also allows Kanodia to indulge in a bit of peacock-ery, accompanying his blindingly white jodhpurs with a series of increasingly colorful, flouncy man blouses.

In Sorat No Saavaz, Kanodia's Amar stands at the center of a palaver born of lust, jealousy, and, at least in some cases, just plain old horniness. While he is in love with the village belle Sonal (she of the crockery-based euphemisms for virginity), Sonal is in turn coveted by Guman, the Queen's conniving administrator. Meanwhile, the Queen of the small kingdom in which Amar and Sonal live becomes smitten with Amar after seeing him win the kingdom's annual horse race. The Queen, it should be said, is a woman of appetites, as we see her, on more than one occasion, having her way with captive village men, whose exhausted bodies are then carted off by one of the Queen's hulking goons to be summarily tossed from a cliff into a nearby lake.

Fear not that a woman's possession of a libido will go unpunished, however. It is the classic fate of The Vamp that awaits the Queen, who realizes only too late the error of her "lusty nature", and has to suffer the full consequences for it despite her best efforts to make amends. What's interesting, though, is, for an Indian film, how frank Sorat No Saavaz is about those things that it chooses to be so suffocatingly conservative about. The Queen makes no attempts to be coy about her intentions toward Amar, telling the captive hero at one point -- via some oddly translated subtitles -- "Today I wish to play and enjoy with your body". Elsewhere, those scenes showing the aftermath of her forced liaisons with hapless villagers, while not explicit, are none too difficult to parse, either.

Though made in the 80s, Sorat No Saavaz should hit most of the sweet spots for those in love with the excesses of 1970s Bollywood. There is the classic "Everuhbody was-uh kung fu fighteeing" finale so essential to the best Masala films, with everyone and their mom joining in the climactic fray. Even the Queen sets aside her regal bearing to do some back flips and high kick some guys in the face. And then there is Amar's animal companion, a wonder bird by the name of "Sheru" (though, notably, not Sheroo; big difference) who, for the most part, is played by a life-sized puppet and is always ready to swoop down with talons at the ready whenever his master is in trouble.

If anything I have said about Sorat No Saavaz has indicated to you that it is at all intentionally thought provoking or engaging on a deeply emotional level, I apologize. It is neither. As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that you should take away from this is that it's the only Indian film I've seen that features what is essentially a female rapist, and that the hero has a life-sized puppet bird for a sidekick. That's a recommendation, by the way.


memsaab said...

I've wondered about venturing into Gujarati film. I'm an honorary Gujju after all. But I have been wary, afraid that it might be even more misogynistic than much of Hindi cinema is.

Todd said...

You and Freddy Mercury! (Who was half Gujarati, apparently.)

So far, I'd say these films are confusing in the same way that the old Telegu films are, in that they give voice to some stiflingly conservative ideas about gender roles, while at the same time presenting female characters who are noticeably stronger and more self determined than your typical Hindi film heroine. This is the industry that made an action star out of Aruna Irani, after all. I plan to delve further, and will, of course, dutifully report back on whatever I find.