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Film / Satya

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Satya (lit. Truth, though it is also a Protagonist Title) is a 1998 gangster drama directed by Ram Gopal Varma and written by Anurag Kashyap and Saurabh Shukla, and the first film in Varma's Thematic Series called the Gangster Trilogy, followed by Company and D. Considered by many to be one of the greatest Indian films of all time, it tells the story of the eponymous immigrant (JD Chakravarthy) into Mumbai and his foray into the Mumbai underworld, befriending local goon Bhiku Mhatre (Manoj Bajpayee), finding love with his neighbor Vidya (Urmila Matondkar), and getting tied up into the machinations of bigger gangsters and politicians.

Proposed by its director as "put[ting] Howard Roark in the Mumbai underworld", and made on a budget of just ₹20 million (~$485,000 by 1998 exchange rates), Satya became a massive success, earning about 7-8 times its budget at the box office and serving as a Star-Making Role for most of the actors working in it - of the main cast, only Matondkar had been a major name prior - as well as its team, especially its writers and director. Satya's bleak, unglamorous and realistic portrayal of the Mumbai underworld, as well as Bajpayee's iconic performance as Bhiku Mhatre, have given it a lasting legacy, influencing almost every Indian gangster film released after it.


Satya contains examples of:

  • Cowboy Cop: Inspector Khandilkar, who thinks that the best solution to the Mumbai underworld is to "encounter" them.
  • Death Glare: Satya gives a few, most noticeably to Jagga after the latter throws a drink in his face, and to Pakya when he tries to extort him.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Satya and Vidya, of course, but also Mhatre and his family. Bhiku's wife seems to genuinely love the man, and he dotes on his children.
  • Giggling Villain: Mhatre tends to be laughing a lot of the time, though not to Laughing Mad levels, and is overall much more expressive than the more stoic Satya.
  • Mysterious Past: The audience is told barely anything about Satya's life prior to coming to Mumbai. Mhatre's question on where he comes from gets a response of "does it matter?". He tells Vidya he is an orphan, but beyond that, he might have as well sprung up from the ground near the railway station at the start.
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  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Satya gets the chance at revenge against Jagga, the man who threw whiskey in his face, sent his goons to extort money from him, had him beat up when he refused, disrespected him by rubbing his legs on his face, and threw him in jail on false charges of pimping. When Mhatre gives him a gun and takes him to the restaurant where Jagga hangs out, Satya, having (presumably) never killed a man before, takes seconds to walk out, shoot Jagga in the head and walk back out.
  • The Stoic: Satya. JD gives Satya almost a perennial Kubrick Stare in almost every moment where he isn't with Vidya. It helps play him off against the much more emotional Mhatre.
  • Vice City: Mumbai, of course. Satya is one of the codifiers for Mumbai's presentation in more recent crime films, shown both as a land of immense opportunity, and of a Wretched Hive of extreme inequality.
  • Villain Protagonist: Satya is an unrepetant gangster who commits various crimes throughout the film.