Chakra is a 1981 Hindi film directed by Rabindra (Robin) Dharmaraj. The film tells the story of a migrant family that takes refuge in the slums of Dharavi and is slowly sucked into the seedy underbelly of Bombay. Starring Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Ranjit Choudhury, Chakra was the only full-length feature film made by Rabindra Dharmaraj before his death in 1982.
- Smita Patil – Amma
- Naseeruddin Shah – Lukka
- Kulbhushan Kharbanda – Anna
- Ranjit Choudhury – Benwa
- Rohini Hattangadi – Laxmi
- Salim Ghouse – Raghu
- Anjali Paigankar – Chenna
- Alka Kubal – Amli
- Direction – Rabindra Dharmaraj
- Story – Jaywant Dalvi
- Music – Hridaynath Mangeshkar
- Cinematography – Barun Mukherjee
- Production – Pradeep Kapoor
Amma and her son Benwa arrive in the slums of Bombay after fleeing their village in Karnataka. Her husband murdered a moneylender who had tried to molest her and was later shot dead while trying to steal to build a hut.
In Dharavi, Amma has a relationship with a vain pimp and a petty criminal Lukka, while having a steady relationship with Anna, a truck driver, who provides for her and Benwa. The cheap flamboyance of Lukka catches Benwa’s fancy and he becomes a role model of the latter. Benwa grows up and takes up work polishing shoes. However, like Lukka and many others, he too starts going on the path of crime. Lukka is soon banished from Bombay by the police.
Anna gets Benwa married to a young girl Amli. Amma meanwhile becomes pregnant. Though not clear about who the father of the child is, she chooses to let Anna know that he is the father, as he has a better probability of taking care of her family.
Lukka reappears after a long absence, ravaged by drug abuse and diseases. A mere shadow of his colourful past, he is now disillusioned with the life of crime. However, there are not many choices and he resumes his trade in illicit liquor and other criminal activities. He does not want Benwa to take the same path as his, however Benwa is now beyond redemption.
A police raid happens on Lukka’s liquor den and he is injured in the melee. When a chemist refuses to give him medicines unless he pays for those, he grabs some medicines and flees to take refuge in Amma’s hut, chased by the police. The policemen arrest him and Benwa from the slum, beating them mercilessly in the process. Amma gets injured in the scuffle as well and has a miscarriage. Soon, bulldozers arrive in Dharavi and demolish the slum, causing an exodus of the people whose homes have been destroyed. The film ends with Benwa and Amli moving to a shanty in another slum, to continue the Chakra of their miserable lives.
Rabindra Dharmaraj, the make of Chakra, was an ardent follower of Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and his love for realism is evident in the treatment of the film. Chakra predates Salam Bombay and makes no attempt to glorify poverty. In fact, its attempt to show realistically the life in a slum of Bombay strips any attempt to romanticize anything all it. The treatment is very ‘it-is-what-it-is’ and the plot has been kept deliberately linear because apparently there are not as many twists in real life as Bollywood wants us to believe.
The performances in the film are noteworthy, not surprising going by the awards this film won for best acting. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is earnest in his role as Anna, a truck driver who acts as a pivot in the lives of Amma and Benwa. Naseeruddin Shah gets an important role as the goonda with swag and shines effortlessly. The transformation from his earlier flamboyant self to the hopeless wreck reduced to nothing by the police beating is one of the fine points of this film. Ranjit Chowdhary is versatile in his role as a confused adolescent sidekick of Lukka and is the easiest to emphasize with.
However, if there is one person who this film truly belongs to, it is Smita Patil. Fiesty, Strong and sufficiently manipulative She is the central character of this film, who in all the filth and misery, finds some happiness while maintaining her sense of self, with her usual mastery of seeming as if she were born into the role.
It was not an easy character to play, but she carries the film on her shoulders in a performance that is remembered even today.
“And the prima donna for playing the role of the oppressed with her beauty-amidst dirt looks and her dark expressive eyes, which can project the hopeless exploitation of a thousand years and a raw promiscuous sexuality without a blink, is Smita Patil.”
– Aroon Poorie, India Today
- Chakra was the first and last feature film made by Rabindra Dharmaraj before his untimely demise in 1982, even before the public screening of the film.
- A poster of the film is featured in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron (1983) during the night sequence at the flyover.
- Chakra was the debut of Alka Kubal as an actress. She later gained prominence in the Marathi cinema in the 1980s and 90s.
Awards and Recognition
- National Film Awards (1981) – Best Actress (Smita Patil)
- Locarno International Film Festival (1981) – Best Director (Rabindra Dharmaraj)
- Filmfare Awards (1982) – Best Actor (Naseeruddin Shah), Best Actress (Smita Patil), Best Art Direction (Bansi Chandragupta)