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Satya (1998) — A Game Changer in Gangster Movies

July 3, 2023 | By

Satya, the gritty crime thriller that plumbed the depths of the Mumbai mafiadom, completes 25 years today. Let us delve into the captivating story, talented star cast, release date, achievements, and our short review of this iconic film.


Satya (1998) poster

Satya (1998) poster

Satya, arguably Ram Gopal Varma’s most talked about film, showcased a gripping and realistic portrayal of the Mumbai underworld, creating iconic characters like Bhiku Mhatre, Satya and Kallu Mama. The talented Manoj Bajpayee exploded on the screen as the irrepressible Bhiku Mhatre, giving the archetypal gangster a human side.

This 1998 release was a game changer, spinning off a genre of gangster films around the turn of the century.

A Gangster Story That Sparked a Trend

Satya revolves around the life of Satya (played by J.D. Chakravarthy), a young man who moves to Mumbai with the hope of making a fresh start. However, he is soon dragged into Mumbai’s dark and dangerous world of organised crime. The film brilliantly captures the rise of Satya as he navigates the complex web of gangsters, corrupt politicians, and law enforcement. He meets and befriends Bhiku Mhatre in jail, who takes him under his wings. The quiet Satya, who stays in a chawl, falls in love with his pretty neighbour Vidya (Urmila Matondkar), an aspiring singer, who brings him the much-needed relief from the vicious vortex of the underworld. She, of course, is not aware of what he does for a living.

Mhatre’s wife, Pyari (Shefali Chhaya), is another character who sets the screen on fire in Satya. Her chemistry with her hyper-energetic husband, who has to spend quite a bit of time in and out of jail, is hilarious and adorable at the same time, especially the way in which she switches from being a livid wife to a giggling lover in moments. Kallu Mama (Saurabh Shukla), the rolly-polly but powerful boss of the gang looks like a caricature but gives you the chills with his cold and unrelenting bent towards crime.

Satya’s ability to suppress his emotions and approach his crime assignments with a clinical attitude helps him rise quickly up the ranks in the gang. He reveals his humane side only with Vidya.

Bhiku Mhatre, the garrulous, temperamental gangster and the silent and simmering Satya are as different as chalk and cheese and yet they formed a solid friendship. Chakravarthy as Satya plays the character to near perfection, letting his smouldering eyes do the talking.

Satya’s Songs Caught the Public Imagination

The music composed by Vishal Bhardwaj became popular too. Gulzar’s turbo-charged E goli maar bheje mein, dhishkiaaaooon (sung by Mano), became an oft-quoted line and Sapne mein milti hai (sung by Asha Bhosle and Suresh Wadkar) became known for its electrifying, gawky dance sequence between Bhiku Mhatre and Pyari. Sandeep Chowta composed the background score, released on the Venus Worldwide Entertainment label on 3 July 1998. The album has six tracks, including one instrumental.

The film’s gripping narrative, sharp editing and unromanticised look at the underbelly of Mumbai’s mafia world created a new benchmark in cinema. The action scenes were well-crafted, concise and impactful. The narrative took a little time to pick up but then kept a steady pace.

Satya highlighted the harsh realities of life in the underworld, the fragility of relationships, and the choices one must make to survive. And, of course, it marked the arrival of Manoj Bajpayee, who became one of the most admired actors in Indian cinema. Remember his roar on the seashore? “Mumbai ka king kaun?… Bhiku Mhatre!”

Star Cast

Chakravarty as Satya and Urmila Matondkar as Vidya

Chakravarthy as Satya and Urmila Matondkar as Vidya

 The talented star cast of the movie and stellar performances by all the leading people greatly impacted the audiences, making this film still memorable. The star cast of the film includes.

  • D. Chakravarthy as Satya
  • Urmila Matondkar as Vidya
  • Paresh Rawal as Police Commissioner Amod Shukla
  • Manoj Bajpayee as Bhiku Mhatre
  • Saurabh Shukla as Kallu Mama
  • Govind Namdeo as Thakurdas Jhawle aka ‘Bhau’
  • Makrand Deshpande as Advocate Chandrakant Mule
  • Shefali Shah as Pyari Mhatre

Release Date: July 3, 1998


Bhiku Mhatre and Satya

Manoj Bajpayee as Bhiku Mhatre created an iconic character

Satya got a great response at the box-office and went on to become a trendsetter. Today, the film enjoys a cult status.

As Manoj Bajpayee observed in an interview to Hindustan Times: ““There is an industry pre-Satya and an industry post Satya. You can actually see that difference very clearly. It has completely changed the way the industry looked at cinema and theatre actors. It’s remarkable in the manner that it has given confidence to the new talents in every department. This is the magic that Satya has created. A young mind sitting in Lucknow or Patna could dream of coming to Mumbai and telling his/her story.”

Satya was also honoured with many awards and nominations, including six National Film Awards and several Filmfare Awards. Ram Gopal Varma’s direction, Saurabh Shukla’s screenplay, and Manoj Bajpayee’s portrayal of Bhiku Mhatre received widespread appreciation. The stark cinematography by Gerard Hooper and the added further depth to the film.

(Pictures courtesy: Internet)

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Editor in Chief, Learning and Creativity; Consulting Editor, Silhouette Magazine. A former business journalist, Antara writes extensively on the changing trends of music, direction and filmmaking in cinema. Her articles aim to provide well-researched information on the legends of cinema for the movie and music enthusiast. She is also the Founder-Editor of Blue Pencil, a New Delhi-based publishing house. She edited and published Incomparable Sachin Dev Burman, the biography of SD Burman written by HQ Chowdhury. She has co-authored a chapter on Hemant Kumar's Bengali music in the acclaimed book The Unforgettable Music of Hemant Kumar, written by Manek Premchand. Her articles have also been published in and Antara is Editor-Creative Director of Wisitech InfoSolutions Pvt. Ltd.
All Posts of Antara Nanda Mondal

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One thought on “Satya (1998) — A Game Changer in Gangster Movies

  • Rajan NS

    This film was hailed by all and earned critical acclaim. RGV produced and directed many films with a tilt towards the darker side of society and one of his earliest Telugu films ‘Siva’ (1989) was a gripping and somewhat startling depiction of violence. The basic theme of his early films was to create awareness of the ills in society and why it took such violence and shake ups to remedy that.
    ‘Satya’ the film that Antara has reviewed here, marking its Silver jubilee year, also ranks in the same category of Verma’s films. Chakri a very accomplished actor, made his debut with ‘Siva’ and went on to act in many successful films in Telugu and Hindi. RGV, who began with a bang, unfortunately began to dabble later in films that were perhaps avoidable.
    Antara has presented a neat, insightful and very well written review of a much appreciated film.


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