In the 1980s, just when Indian national media were busy hounding the police force for its use of excessive force and brutality, came Govind Nihlani’s National Award-winning film Ardh Satya (1983). What made it different was its unbiased realistic look at the complexities in a policeman’s life and career. Instead of taking either a critical or a glorified view of the policemen taking law into their hands, Ardh Satya tried to probe deeper into the reasons driving them to commit such acts.
Famous playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s hard-hitting and yet sensitive story revolved round the trials and tribulations in the life of Anant Welankar (Om Puri) – a young, upright police sub-inspector. Welankar has been practically forced into this police-job by his policeman father (Amrish Puri) – an abusive man, who has always dictated his terms to his family. Despite resenting his father, Welankar bows in to his wish. He takes up his police-duty sincerely and seriously. But after a failed bid to nab a powerful political goon Rama Shetty (Sadashiv Amrapurkar), he starts getting disillusioned about the very ideals of the law-and-order system. He finds himself trapped in a quagmire full of corruption, politicization and apathy.
His sympathetic boss Inspector Hyder Ali (Shafi Inamdar) advises him not to take these things to heart but Welankar simply cannot cope up with the frustration building within himself. Excessive drinking and violent outbursts start becoming his second nature. Even his girl-friend (Smita Patil) is not successful in turning things around. During a custodial interrogation, a drunk and violent Welankar-(frustrated at being wrongly denied a police medal), ends up killing a suspect. He is suspended, pending an official inquiry. To save his job, he is now forced to approach Rama Shetty- (now an elected municipal member!) and finds himself pleading before that despicable criminal to use his political clout to bail him out. How far can Welankar continue in this downward spiral?
Cinematographer-turned-director Nihlani uses his camera-skills to great effect and the film, has some very imaginatively captured close-ups, action-sequences and real location-scenes. He also extracts very natural and realistic performances from all his cast members but the definite standouts are Sadhashiv Amrapurkar and Om Puri. If Puri delivers a convincing and disturbing performance as a sincere policeman driven to drinks, despair and desperation by an insensitive and inefficient system; then Amrapurkar’s Rama Shetty is as notable for his subtle, menacing portrayal.