Don’t stop believing: ‘Satyakam’, ‘Newton’, and the importance of the upright public servant

Directors Hrishikesh Mukherjee and Amit Masurkar provide contrasting and yet similar accounts of what it means to be honest and duty-bound in India.

Munshi Premchand’s short story Panch Parmeshwar is the story of two close friends, Jumman Sheikh and Algu Chowdhary. Algu is called upon to perform duty as a sarpanch in a dispute involving Jumman and his old aunt. Much to everyone’s surprise, Algu rules in favour of Jumman’s aunt. Jumman is angry at this betrayal and vows to take revenge. He gets an opportunity when it is his turn to mediate between Algu and Samjhu Sahu.

As soon as he assumes the sarpanch’s seat, Jumman realises the importance of his position. Thus transformed, he ends up giving a fair decision that favours Algu. Panch Parmeshwar is a remarkable tale of how ordinary people can draw upon their inner sense of fair play, justice, righteousness and devotion to duty when put to the test.

Panch Parmeshwar has echoes in two movies about idealistic public servants – Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam (1969) and Amit Masurkar’s Newton (2017). Mukherjee’s film is based on Narayan Sanyal’s Bengali novel Satyakam, and it stood out among the mainstream films of that decade. Satyapriya (Dharmendra) is a civil engineer who sets out, degree in hand, with a dream to build the nation. His woes begin almost immediately.

Satyapriya is shown as obdurate and unflinching in his devotion to the straight and narrow path, and he has no inclination to return the romantic overtures of Ranjana (Sharmila Tagore). When Ranjana is sexually assaulted by his employer, Satyapriya marries her in a fit of remorse. However, guilt haunts him, and there is no romance in the marriage.

The plot is tragic, and the viewer’s heart keeps sinking at every turn in the tale. Fleeting redemption comes only towards Satyakam’s final dying moments, when he is able to convert Ranjana to his case.

Satyakam (1969).

Satyakam was co-written by Bimal Dutta and Rajinder Singh Bedi. The narrative was linear and Satyapriya’s characterisation was severe. Dharmendra did full justice to the role of a flawed hero. The villains are easily identifiable – powerful individuals who exploit the Licence Raj to make money. Bedi’s sarcastic line about Satyapriya, “Yeh aadmi bahut hi badmaash aur paaji hai, rishvat vagerah nahin khaata (This man is a scoundrel, he doesn’t take any bribes),” indicates the changing mindset of 1960s India.

Although despair looms large over Satyakam, there is also the glimmer of hope that even if there is one Satyapriya amongst us, Indians may yet survive and prosper. Perhaps Satyapriya was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s idea of a Gandhian, one who never wavers from his duty even at the cost of neglecting his family responsibilities.

The titular hero of Newton (played by Rajkummar Rao) is equally unflinching in his devotion to duty – though what exactly is his duty, whether he can correctly comprehend it, and whether he is able to fulfil it, is subject to the viewer’s interpretation.

Unlike Satyapriya, who is Raja Harishchandra and Yudhishtra rolled into one, unassuming Newton is yet to obtain mythical proportions. He is an ordinary man and is more likely to invest in human relationships, and this aspect of his personality may yet save him from annihilation.

Newton is a Gandhian who also follows Ambedkar (the latter’s picture adorns the wall in his room). Newton may have stood up to his parents against child marriage and dowry, but he would perhaps not be averse to getting married. Satyapriya is a loner; Newton takes his team along, whether it is the local recruit Malko (Anjali Patil) or the old hand Loknath (Raghubir Yadav).

Newton faces a complex situation in his very first job. It’s not enough for Newton to act as presiding officer of an election in a Chhattisgarh village. He has to understand for himself what a “free and fair election” means. He is pitted against the paramilitary officer Aatma Singh (Pankaj Tripathi), who is also diligently performing his duty.

Satyapriya has to fight the easily identifiable enemy of the state; Newton must face the defenders of the state who do not share his world view. In one of the early sequences in Newton, his trainer tells the character that his problem is that he carries a visible chip on his shoulder. Newton seems convinced that he is the only honest person around, and in this respect, he is as flawed as Satyapriya.

Newton (2017).

Another big difference is that Newton is naive but a quick learner and waits for the right opportunity to gain the upper hand. Satyapriya represents every honest public servant who loses his or her life while fighting corrupt forces (such as Satyendra Dubey) because they don’t know how to play the game by the rules. Newton survives because he uses his wits.

We need more such heroes, flawed and weak as they may be. We need sincere young men and women who understand what public service means. We need to believe that a weakling can take on the might of the state to defend constitutional values and protect the interests of fellow Indians. We need to believe that an ordinary upper division clerk in a government office can turn into a “Panch Parmeshwar” when the occasion so demands; a public servant who believes in an India where there is space for everybody. We need to believe in the Newton residing inside each one of us, even those of us in public service who have become cynical and who have long abandoned idealism for realism.

We let Satyapriya die. Newton must live.

(Nirupama Kotru is a civil servant. Her batch recently completed 25 years in service. The views are her own.)

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Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.


2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.