Massey Sahib – 1985, Hindi

-Manjula Jonnalagadda

“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” ― Chinua Achebe

          Massey Sahib is a film written and directed by Pradeep Kishan based on the novel Mister Johnson by Joyce Cary. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in the independent section. The film won the Best Actor Award for Raghubir Yadav at the 11th International Film Festival of India.

          Pradeep Kishan started his film making career with Massey Sahib. He made two other films: In Which Anne Gives To Those Ones, and Electric Moon. He is also a naturalist and has bpublished two books.

          Joyce Cary worked in Nigeria as a District Officer. His experience provided the backdrop to his works including Mister Johnson. The novel represents the colonial view of Nigerians. Nobel prize winner Chinua Achebe once said this novel firmed up his determination to become a writer to better represent Nigerians.

          The film is set in the year 1929, the era of British India. The film opens with Massey Sahib scrambling to reach the church on time. He sees Saila, a woman who herds goats. After the service he follows her to her home to learn more about her. Massey works as a typist at the local government office. He is in a lot of debt. As a result his job is in trouble. His manager is replaced by a new manager named Charles Adams. 

          Adams is interested in building a road to improve the economy, but does not have funds to do so. Massey suggests a way to cook the books to make the project go ahead. Massey promises to pay 75 rupees to Saila’s family for their permission to marry her. Massey steals the documents of a local landlord in exchange for a bribe to pay off his debts. Adams takes time off to get married. Adams’s replacement finds out about the accounting issues and fires Massey. Sometime later Adams returns and so does Massey. How Massey’s corrupt ways bring his downfall forms the rest of the story.

          The film totally revolves around Massey and his escapades. Massey wants to be British. He dresses like them, and is christian like the British. As a brown person he is not one of them. He has an infectious personality that spreads joy. He lives his life large and is in huge debt, the only way he tries to get out is by being corrupt.

          Another important character is Adams. He is interested in building a road, and he hates office work. Adams is grateful to Massey for helping to build the road. His relationship with his wife is rife because he is always on the road, rarely at his home base. Adams tries to save Massey, but is unsuccessful.

          The women characters do not have much of a role in the film. Massey’s wife does not do much except take care of the child. We do not know what is going on in her mind. Adam’s wife is unhappy about her life in the tents.

          The film differs in more than one way from the novel. Mister Johnson is a pretty incompetent worker, Massey is pretty competent at his work. The film does not go into the details of how Massey gets into debt, the novel does. In the novel the Nigerian characters are cardboard, but they are more fleshed out in the film. Pradeep Kishan’s script is very good!

          This is the debut film of Raghubir Yadav who played Massey. He is a wonderful actor. Unfortunately he started acting in films after the parallel cinema died. He deserves more love! He is fantastic in the role of Massey. He played the complex character who is both innocent and corrupt with ease. 

          The writer Arundhati Roy made her acting debut as Saila in this film. She didn’t have much of a role, but pretty impressive. Rest of the cast is pretty good as well.

          Background score by Vanraj Bhatia is good! There is one song written and composed by Raghubir Yadav which is good!

          Watch this fantastic film to see Raghubir Yadav in his excellent debut.


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