The unending slavery of the lower caste peasant

First of all I express my heartfelt gratitude towards esteemed blogger and my dear friend Nishant Singh (better known as @sydbarett) for inspiring me to pen the review of this outstanding movie which was the maiden venture of now well-known filmmaker, J.P. Dutta. It’s a thought-provoking movie, baring the bitter truth of the slavery (Ghulami) of the downtrodden Indian poor peasant to the heartless Indian caste system as well as poverty. The poor peasant (mainly belonging to a lower caste in the discriminatory caste system) takes birth in a loan which had been taken by his ancestors and dies also in loan, leaving it for his next generation; his land and belongings are always under the threat of confiscation due to non-payment of the loan and worstly the honour of the ladies of his family is under constant threat from the lusty landlords, still enjoying the undesirable benefits of the feudalistic landownership system continuing for centuries in the rural India. On 15th August, 1947, our country got independence from the British but the poor peasants are still accurst to bear the brunt of the slavery of the mighty. Constitutional equality has not ensured actual equality of human-beings in several parts of India, still carrying the legacy of the feudal times.

Times have not changed since Mother India (1957) when a peasant is forced by the injustice to pick up the gun and become a rebel against the partisan system. The legal system and the society may call him a bandit or a dacoit but he, in his own eyes, is a rebel only, the rebel with a cause – the cause to change the system. But can the system be changed ? Not in the shorter term at least. And that’s why even three decades after Mother India, J.P. Dutta found the topic relevant and suitable to make a movie. He has not taken up just the issue of the poor peasant’s destiny of being always burdened with loan and losing his land to the loaners but also the issue of the condemnable caste system of India which crushes humanity in general and the souls of the victims in particular.Ghulami (1985) was the maiden directorial venture of J.P. Dutta whose story was written by his father, O.P. Dutta. He has presented the story of a well-educated and full of self-respect peasant (Dharmendra) who unfortunately finds himself on the lower rung of the ladder of the social structure because of his birth. The daughter of the supercilious landlord, though, possesses a different nature and outlook and she (Smita Patil) is a close friend of him. The police of the village, as usual, is sold out in the hands of the landlord (Om Shivpuri) and join hands with him and his arrogant and lustful sons (Bharat Kapoor and Mazhar Khan) to oppress and humiliate the already victimized by misusing the power of the uniform. A like-minded ex-serviceman (Mithun Chakraborty) joins hands with him and a lower-caste kind-hearted Hawaldar (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) also comes to his side after losing his son in a confrontation with the upper caste and rich mighties who don’t allow the lower caste grooms to ride a horse. The main protagonist has to become a bandit in the eyes of the law to save the land and the honour of the hundreds of peasants, leaving his pregnant wife (Reena Roy) behind. The husband of his friend (the landlord’s daughter) is a senior police officer (Nasiruddin Shah) who also becomes his enemy on personal level after knowing about his friendship with his wife. The violence-ridden climax underscores this harsh reality only that the rebels die, the cruel and unjust system doesn’t.I am a Rajasthani, well-acquainted with the deserts there and therefore I acknowledge with high appreciation, the skill of J.P. Dutta in capturing the area in the movie with finesse. The complete background and the milieu is highly realistic and impressive – the sand dunes, the Hawelis, the village lanes, the tattered houses of the poor and even the Police Chowki. The narrative is in complete synchronization with the milieu and nowhere does the movie render an air of being an imaginary story. Almost everything looks real. Still in several caste-system-ridden villages of Rajasthan, the lower caste grooms are not allowed to ride the horse and if anybody dares to do that, he is forced to come down to the ground without delay. Still in several villages, the lower caste people are not allowed to take the water from the wells and ponds earmarked for the upper caste ones. These soul-crushing phenomena have been shown by Dutta in a heart-piercing manner.

The narrative is spellbinding. Right from the very first frame to the very last frame, the movie is able to keep the viewer tied to his seat with his eyes glued to the screen. The screenplay swiftly moves from scene to scene and J.P. Dutta has demonstrated his better sense by keeping the movie completely free from meaningless comedy and unrealistic romance. The love-angles are touching, not titillating.The music of Laxmikant Pyarelal soothes the soul of the listener with the meaningful songs (only three) having been penned by Gulzar. The best one is definitely Jeehaal-e-Muskin Mukon Ba-Ranjish Bahaal-e-Hijra Bechaara Dil Hai (picturized on Mithun and his love-interest, Anita Raj). Mere Pee Ko Pawan is an underrated excellent song. The third one is Pee Le Pee Le which is also good to listen and better to watch.

The impressive, meaningful and touching dialogues are another highlight of this movie. ‘Thank you’ of Kulbhushan Kharbanda and ‘Koi Shaque’ of Mithun Chakraborty remain with the audience long after the movie is over. The production value is quite high and the cinematographer has marvelled not only in capturing the beauty of the rural Rajasthan but also in creating impact through shadows in certain scenes.

J.P. Dutta possesses the knack of extracting the best from his cast. All the main characters – Dharmendra, Mithun Chakraborty, Nasiruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda etc. have delivered their best. Leading ladies- Smita Patil, Reena Roy and Anita Raj also have done pretty well in their low-profile roles in this male-dominated movie. Supporting caste (Sulochana, Om Shivpuri, Bharat Kapoor, Mazhar Khan, Raza Murad etc.) has also done justice to the respective roles assigned. Except the over-the-top Anjan Shrivastav (the accountant of the landlord), all look flesh and blood human-beings.

Ghulami is an outstanding movie which was a box-office hit also. To understand the caste-ridden class-conflicts and related dynamics in rural India, this movie can be used just like a textbook. In the story of the mythological epic – Mahabharat, while all the other major warriors were called Maharathi; Karna, despite his valour and capabilities, was called Ardh-rathi because of his belonging to a lower caste. Some twenty years back, I had read an article in an English newspaper with the caption – ‘Ardh-rathi Karna died, the caste system still survives’. You, like me, will vouch for this statement after watching Ghulami.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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2 Responses to The unending slavery of the lower caste peasant

  1. I had seen the movie long time back. Had forgotten many details. Thanks to your article i was reminded of many scenes in the movie.

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