WROTE an American theater critic: “To write theater reviews is worse than walking on eggs; it is to walk on live bodies and make them bleed. The critic’s comments may be far less harsh than those that are heard in every cocktail party in New York. But, while the party-goers only commit the venial sin of stabbing their fellow men in the back, and their victims will never find out who did it, the critic commits the unpardonable crime of striking right between the eyes and taking the responsibility in public. His victims know whom to hate, and receive abundant sympathy to their face from those who, behind their back, agree with the critic. I sometimes feel that theater reviewing is the art of making enemies and failing to influence people.”
Is this observation not very true in our own context? Does not the Indian film reviewer, who judges a picture from premises which are not always one with those of the box-office, have little or no influence on the average cinegoer? Does not the producer know this and is in no way anxious to humor the critic? If the critic’s verdict is “good,” well and good; if it isn’t, does it really matter? Is not the history of the Indian motion picture itself a verdict — and often against the critic? For the producer the only judge is the public who pay to see his film. In Producer-director V. Shantaram’s “Sehra,” I heard the public’s verdict as early as the interval. As I made my way out for a cup of tea, one whispered: “It’s a good film.” “I think so too,” added another. They are welcome to their opinion, so am I to mine.
The story is concerned with the love of two young people belonging to two warring clans. Vikram, the bravest of the men in one clan, falls in love with Angara, the tomboy daughter of the leader of the other clan. Their love is frowned upon by either side and strong efforts are made to keep them apart. Vikram, in disguise, visits Angara and is taken prisoner. But Angara dopes the warders (with drugs and dances) and helps Vikram to escape. Back in his camp, Vikram finds himself disowned by his own clan leader. Beaten and battered, he is left in the desert to die. Meanwhile. there appears another suitor for Angara’s hand– Mandal, a drunkard and rake. With the support of the rival clan, he wages war against Angara’s father. Angara, pained at the shedding of so much blood, agrees to marry Mandal. On the way to her husband’s home, Angara stumbles upon her lover dying of thirst. As she rushes to give him some water, Mandal plugs bullets into both of them.
A saga of tragic love, found in the literature of almost every nation, has been reduced to a saga of screen mediocrity. Except for Ullhas and Lalita Pawar, nobody swing themselves into the drama and nobody feels the role he or she is living. (No wonder, Mr. Shantaram has to focus his lens on the camels for inordinately long stretches to get over the tedium!) The words mouthed by the characters are either passionless or full of cliches, such as “All is fair in love and war” or “When the elephant walks, the dogs bark.” Blood flows freely, but its impact is less than that of an inkpot being upset.
To all this must also be added the unreality of the situation. The time and the locale where the drama is enacted is anybody’s guess. Judging from the petty principalities, fortresses and private wars that are waged, one would straightway put the time down to a bygone age. But the presence of a 1948 Buick and a jeep bring us nearer to today. From the sand-dunes and the cactuses one would imagine that the location is the desert region of Rajasthan, and yet now and again we chance upon such lakes and greenery that leave us puzzled. However, this hair-splitting is pointless; the location is the screen for all practical purposes!
A film producer, like any expressionistic dramatist, has the right to demand from his audience the willing suspension of their belief. He is free to mingle fantasy with realism; to appeal to the viewers’ imagination— but not to insult their intelligence. In “Sehra” there are certain scenes which are an affront to a discriminating cinegoer’s intelligence. But they are few, and discriminating, cinegoers fewer still, so let us forget about it.
Where acting goes, I have already spoken of Ullhas and Lalita Pawar. None of the rest impresses us. Sandhya as Angara looks pretty and acts briskly, but she does not touch the deepest recesses of our hearts. Prashant as Vikram fails very much in the manner in which Sandhya does. M. Rajan, as Mandal, brandishes his gun well and kills fast but does not create awe in the mind of the audience, while Manmohan Krishna as a clan chieftain just manages to climb over the hedge.
In production values, the movie is tolerably good. Krishnarao Vashirde’s photography is sensitive, though his camera lingers at times a little too long on particular shots. Hasrat Jaipuri’s lyrics are pleasant and Ramlal’s music acceptable. Kanu Desai’s art direction, Mangesh Desai’s audiography and Babu Vardam’s make-up are serviceable.
V. Shantaram’s “Sehra” feasts the eye but starves the mind.
Year – 1963
Language – Hindi
Country – India
Producer – Shantaram Production
Director – V. Shantaram
Music Director – Ramlal Hira Panna
Box-Office Status –
Cast – Prashant, Sandhya, Mumtaz, Ullhas, Manmohan Krishna, Baburao Pendharkar, K. Date, M. Rajan, Lalita Pawar, Babloo
Miscellaneous Information –