Kondura: Sage From the Sea

We all love to watch movies; country, language, genre, or the team involved not necessarily a hindrance. Most of these movies are famous, or well-known due to one factor or the other. As we graduate in our process, we tend to endeavour for more ‘qualitatively fulfilling’ movies, and that’s where the director or the genre plays an important part in our selection. Some movies, which were once our favourite, subsequently turn out to be an embarrassment to own up. Some movies, on the other hand, which were beyond our comprehension at one point, subsequently turn out to be the most liked as we ‘grow-up’.

However, there are certain movies that we have not much heard of, or for that matter, they have not been so well-known, but we hazard to try them out on the merit of the team involved behind that ‘creation’. I chanced upon one such movie while doing my usual round of DVD-compilation some time back. Honestly, I had not even heard of the movie, but looking at the name of the director – Shyam Benegal, and the cast – Anant Nag, Smita Patil, Amrish Puri and Pt. Satyadev Dubey, I picked it up immediately, and let me tell you, I am glad I watched it, sooner than later. In fact, the DVD-cover boasts of the enviable rating of 9.1/10 on IMDb. I don’t know whether it’s a matter to be boasted of, or it’s a sorry situation of the general awareness about such a gem that led to such a declaration, but either way, it just convinced me all the more to add it in my ‘collection’.

The movie I am talking about is Kondura: Sage From the Sea. The censor-certificate of the movie gives the ‘passing’ date of December 1977, but I doubt whether it had a mainstream release, or whether it just lay unnoticed, to be revived on the DVD segment. The movie was simultaneously made in Telugu as well, Anugraham, and apparently had a wider release in Andhra Pradesh, thanks mainly due to Vanisri, a well-known actress in Telugu films, and having a sizeable fan-following of her own. It must have helped that the story was based in the interior coastal belt of AP, and most of the supporting actors were local.

The film is based on a Marathi novel of the same name. Apparently, Benegal wanted to adapt it into a Marathi film, but was forced to shift the story to the Eastern Coast for three reasons: the market for Marathi films was shrinking rapidly, Benegal was not sure whether he would get either the funding or the audience for the Marathi film, and last but not the least, he got a willing producer of Telugu films, and he didn’t want to wait any further on the project.

The story was adapted for screen by Benegal and Girish Karnad, and the Kannadiga actor Anant Nag was an obvious choice to play the complex character of the main protagonist, Parashuram, since Benegal was highly impressed with a his nuanced method-acting, and had already worked with him in earlier films like Ankur, Bhumka and Manthan. The choice of Smita Patil as one of the central characters was an obvious one for Benegal, but he decided to cast Vanisri as Anusuya, the silently-suffering wife of Parashuram mainly because she would lend some authenticity to the rural coastal-Andhra setting of the film.

The story revolves around a young Brahmin, Parashuram, newly married, and living with his widowed mother, elder brother with wife and two children in their old ancestral house. The film is smartly set up with a background story being thought of by Parashuram, as it opens with him walking maniacally towards the sea-shore, and muttering to himself how he will show to his family, especially his elder brother that he is not a wastrel, and that they all will miss him once he doesn’t return by evening. He also observes that spending most of the time in the house, cooped-up with his wife, is quite natural and his family should not make a fuss out of it. It is also revealed that he doesn’t have much financial-contribution to the family, but it’s only a matter of time before he thinks he will start doing something for them. He also realises that his absence will put his wife in a very precarious situation in the family, and he has all the sympathies for her, but he observes that with time she will also reconcile to the fact.

It is during this time that he hears the call of Kondura, the mythical Sage from the Sea (Amrish Puri with his booming voice and dressed in a bare-minimum ‘langot’), who gives him the onus of ridding the village of all the sins floating around, anoints him as the guardian of the village, and gives him a dried herb as a boon, which has the properties of aborting any expecting-mother’s womb. The only condition put by Kondura is for Parashuram to observe celibacy for his remaining life, or else the boon will lose its effect. Not exactly sure what he is supposed to do to rid the village of the sins, he returns home, much to the chagrin of his brother, even contemplating on his way back whether it’s a boon or a curse in disguise, since he cannot think of physically staying away from his wife, being in such close proximity with her.

Grudgingly, he sleeps out alone during the night, trying to avoid the questioning and pleading eyes of his wife, and deciding to put the boon to test the next morning. Through various religious signals, including one in which he sees the Goddess in the form of his wife, he is convinced of the boon, and starts taking it seriously. In order to rebuild the depleted village temple, as his first step towards being the guardian of the village to rid it of all the sins, he approaches the village Zamindar, Bhairavmurty, (Shekhar Chatterjee, with the dubbed voice of Amrish Puri), who is a womaniser and as cruel as it gets. He doesn’t have any children from his wife (played by Sulbha Deshpande), and stays with his mentally-challenged nephew Venu (Vasu) and his young but poor wife Parvati (Smita Patil). Villagers are quite sure that Bhairavmurty has his evil eyes on his daughter-in-law as well, but that doesn’t deter him from either eyeing any woman in his vicinity or even ill-treating his wife, nephew or other villagers. Only Parvati has the guts to stand up against him, which obviously doesn’t go down quite well with him.

Bhairavmurty grants the monetary benefit for the reconstruction of the temple, more out of his fear to incur the wrath of Kondura or the Goddess, but as a means to reduce his burden of sins as well as avoid being the topic-of-gossip among the villagers. Since Parashuram is convinced of the powers bestowed on him, and the fact that he managed to get the money out of the Zamindar, where no one else had been successful till date, the villagers soon anoint him the title of ‘sage’ and even his family members now start paying him obeisance. It has, by now, become a common knowledge that he has been ordered to observe celibacy, and Parashuram is now burdened by the creation of his own image to not being able to do something that he was so wishful of all the time. Among all the villagers, it’s only the old schoolmaster (Pt. Satyadev Dubey) who is not convinced of the extraordinary powers that Parashuram has apparently been bestowed with.

Soon, it becomes known that Parvati is expecting, and with each day, villagers are more than convinced that it is Bhairavmurty’s child, and not his nephew’s. Upon confronted by Parashuram, Bhairavmurty doesn’t wish to clarify on the issue (pun intended), which leaves him in no doubt as to what Kondura wanted him to do with the herb given to him long ago. In a closed-door ritual, Parashuram convinces Parvati to consume the concoction prepared with the herb, now convinced that he has achieved in ridding the village of all the sins, something that he was ordained to do. However, much to his chagrin and embarrassment, the Zamindar soon makes the revelation that it was indeed his nephew’s child and he didn’t want someone else’s child to be his natural successor after his death, hence he coerced Parashuram into believing that it was his sin.

It dawns on Parashuram as to how he was a mere pawn in the hands of the scheming Zamindar, and burdened by the truth of having led people to wrongly believe in his supernatural powers, while he had been nothing but an imbecile fool all along, he decides to undo the impact of boon/curse of Kondura by doing one thing that he had strictly been asked not to do. He decides to break his celibacy in order to break the spell of the herb on innocent Parvati, much to the protest of his wife, who is still unaware of the reason why her pious husband has decided to suddenly turn into a monster. How this act leads to the tragic ending that the film culminates in forms the rest of the story.

Saying anything more would be killing the surprise element of the movie, but suffice it to say that I was rendered speechless for quite some time even after the film ended, so powerful was the message ingrained. Any discussion on the film would be incomplete without mentioning the theme song Tum Var Ho, Ya Shraap Ho, Punya-phal Ho, Ya Paap Ho… sung brilliantly by Bhupinder, set to the tune by the king of art film-music, Vanraj Bhatia. A special mention must also be made of Vanisri, playing the quietly suffering wife, hurt that her marital life is not what she had dreamt of or used to be, but still holding onto the faith that has been instilled in her by her husband. She has hardly spoken a few lines in the entire film, but she has emoted so brilliantly with her eyes and body language, especially when the Zamindar makes his lusty advances towards her, and the way she tries to protect her dignity by pulling her dupatta tightly over her already well-covered body.

In a strange and uncanny way, the film reminded me of another masterpiece almost on the same lines, Debshishu, specially the sequence of forced conjugation with one’s own wife to undo/redo a mistake that was committed by the protagonist. Those who have watched Debshishu will be able to correlate to the situation that I am trying to link, without divulging much about the story itself. Coincidentally, Smita Patil was in both the movies, though in Debshishu, she was the main protagonist’s wife, unlike in Kondura, where she is an important, but secondary character.

Those who have not watched it please do so, and those who have, revisit the classic, if you can.


  1. Ajay Nair says:

    This is why we believe that there should be a forum to discuss movies, especially like this one which unfortunately i am unaware of again….In years when some souls search in google or any other search engine, we will be proud to see MAM as maybe the only top site giving out such a detailed information…Thank you Jhasaab again…


    1. satyendrajha says:

      thanks Ajay, yes, Kondura is probably one of the few least known films of Shyam-babu, but a masterpiece nonetheless. u must catch it on DVD, now its quite easily available on Eagle.

      and yes, we all must endeavour to make MAM one of the places where quality cinema is discussed.


  2. Thank you for this. Shyam Babu has indeed made a wide variety of films.


  3. Shailesh says:

    I had seen Kondura on DD during my school days in the 80s. However i wanted to see the film again and i bought a DVD. My entire family watched the film. Though the film is interesting in every bit, everything feels authentic including the characters, the scenario, the village, the music, the suspense. However the ending is tragic and confusing with respect to the following points:
    1) Parashuram meets “Kondura” at the start of the film and then disappears. Is the script writer trying to convey that God exists or is he trying to portray Parashuram’s mental thoughts?
    2) Parashuram sees the Godess in his wife’s form late at Night in the temple. Again what is the writer trying to convey? God exists or again its Parashuram’s thought
    3) The landlord Bhairavmurthy tries to fool Parashuram

    What is the script writer trying to convey??? is not clear at all and i personally feel the ending shows Hindu religion in bad light. Don’t we need to be extremely careful with sentiments of people in India?


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