Cult classics

Why no one can ever deny having watched ‘Sooryavansham’

The 1999 family drama, starring Amitabh Bachchan, has amassed a cult following through its relentless television reruns.

You have either watched Sooryavansham or are too cool to admit it. The determination with which the 1999 production has been repeatedly telecast on television channel Sony Max has spawned its own set of memes and trolls.

A family drama starring Amitabh Bachchan in a dual role, Sooryavansham was released at a time when the actor was trying to reinvent himself. After the success of Mukul S Anand’s Khuda Gawah in 1992, Bachchan decided to take a break from films. But his comeback release Mrityudaata (1997) flopped. Major Saab (1998) and Lal Baadshah (1999) too did not propel Bachchan back into superstardom.

Directed by E VV Satyanarayana, Sooryavansham is a remake of the Tamil blockbuster Suryavamsam (1997), starring Sarath Kumar and Devayani. Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh (Amitabh Bachchan) and his son Heera Singh (Bachchan again) don’t see eye to eye. Pratap Singh is the head of the local panchayat. Heera is an uneducated young man who has no calling in life.

Radha (Soundarya) falls in love with Heera and marries him against the wishes of their families. Heera is thrown out of his house. Radha and Heera work hard to prove themselves. Soon Heera is the head of a transport company and his wife becomes the district collector. Pratap Singh realises his folly and welcomes them back into his family in the end.

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Sooryavansham (1999).

Sooryavansham is by no means a great movie, especially given Bachchan’s illustrious career, which is filled with such gems as Zanjeer (1973), Abhimaan (1973), Sholay (1975), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Don (1978), Silsila (1981) and Agneepath (1990). The movie did not have a healthy theatrical run, but it has since amassed a cult following since its relentless reruns on television. Everyone has seen it, but no one remembers why. Sooryavansham is the kind of melodramatic entertainer that redeems itself by appearing on the idiot box, which is overflowing with inane content that is mostly unwatchable.

Could the film’s small-screen popularity have something to do with the Sony channel’s repeated broadcasts? Or is it because Sooryavansham is the kind of wholesome entertainer that brings the family together?

In May 2015, on the sixteenth anniversary of the film, Bachchan tweeted, “Many still watch this film repeatedly. It has a personal connect with many!”

Amitabh Bachchan as Heera in Sooryavansham (1999).
Amitabh Bachchan as Heera in Sooryavansham (1999).

The story is hardly unusual, and the father-son conflict has been a common subject of several Bachchan starrers. In Deewar (1975), Bachchan’s character Vijay has to live with the shame of having the words “Mera baap chor hai” (My father is a thief) tattooed on his forearm. As a result, Vijay neglects his education and turns into a hardened criminal. In Trishul (1978) and Shakti (1982), Bachchan plays characters who rebel against their fathers.

In Sooryavansham, the opposite idea is explored. Bhanu Pratap is ashamed of his uneducated son, who has to prove his mettle. The lack of an emotional bond between the two men gives the story its domestic resonance. The movie is redeemed by Bachchan’s sound and fury as the old man and his meek turn as the young man. Sooryavansham also has enough tearjerker moments to keep families glued to their television set over a weekend sit-down dinner.

Bachchan was 56 years old during the making of Sooryavansham. The fight sequences are brief, and the song and dance routine is kept to a minimum. Apart from Bachchan’s commanding presence as the patriarchy, the raillery between Kader Khan and Anupam Kher, in supporting roles for comic relief, keeps the drama from sagging.

Rekha dubbed for the voices of Soundarya and Jayasudha, who played Heera’s mother, in the Hindi version. Rekha and Bachchan had never worked together after Silsila. Sooryavansham gives moviegoers the cheap thrill of hearing her in double roles – as Bachchan’s wife and mother. It’s one more excuse to connect so many of the dots that fans love to form at the movies.

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