The biggest movie of the century so far doesn’t star a Khan. Although it is a love story, it’s not a traditional romance. It has a couple of catchy songs, but I have never heard them being sung. It stars Ameesha Patel (and no its not Kaho na.. pyar hai). Final hint, and we will all know which film it is: its most famous supporting star is a Hand pump. Yup, it was Gadar: Ek Prem Katha from 2001.
A story of Sikh-Muslim romance that had a solid grounding in a family, had a great, almost superhuman hero, recreated a past era, was the most expensive film till date, was about the hero overcoming great odds not for revenge but for love, and most of all, it evoked passionate nationalism. It makes you wonder why it took so long for Bahubali to recreate that formula. Bahubali 2(Hindi) is on the track ro break Gadar’s record soon. All versions combined it has already earned more than 1000 Crores, creating a new benchmark. Bollywood is all about repeating a successful formula. Why did it take a Telugu film’s dubbed version to recreate that success?
Bollywood has embraced another, narrower formula. It comes with lower risk, even if it lowers the rewards in more ways than one. Bollywood has been trying to go global, following the path of the other hits of 2001. Lagaan with its Oscar ambitions, and Dil Chahta Hai with its metropolitan, English speaking appeal. These are the paths Indian cinema has tread since then.
We have films about romances of a jet setting generation that could as easily be based in London or Paris as in Mumbai, but hardly ever in, say, Dhulia or Bilaspur, let alone in rural India. Then we have the small scale “spectacles” like Jodha Akbar, Ram-Leela or Bajirao Mastani, which ignore all the realities of India, put on a veneer of an era, but look as if the maker forget to infuse anything like the soul of India, past or present.
That doesn’t seem to be an accident to me. Ever since Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge started smashing overseas records, and Bollywood started to make an entry in Top Ten Charts overseas, the lure of easy money has led our makers down an alien path. They are now catering to an audience that barely understands India. This audience has no real connection, apart from an occasional visit. It doesn’t speak Hindi very well, and doesn’t understand flowery language. Nuances of cultural aspects of India are lost to them, and will only confuse them.
So tradition is limited to a distorted Karwa Chauth or a Holi borrowed more from Silsila than the streets of Banaras. Even the venerable Muslim social is a thing of bygone era in this quest to cater to everyone at the same time. Karan Johar felt comfortable shifting the “desi” part of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil from Lahore to Lucknow, and few even noticed. (Why it was based in Lahore is a topic for another day). Cultural references of today’s Hindi films are limited to talking about other Bollywod films, sometimes old films of the same “hero”. The cult of the star overshadows all else. It is not a coincidence that, not adjusted for inflation, all but one of the biggest hits have starred a Khan or another. When the content is good, like in Dangal or Sultan, the film reaches the top, but even decidedly subpar films like Kick and Dhoom 3 find a place in all time top 10, stamped with the brand of one Khan or another.
Bahubali 2 is the odd one out in this group. Prabhas, even after Bahubali (2015) is a relatively unknown entity for most of the Hindi speaking audience, and Rajamouli is a name only a select few would even have heard. What propelled Bahubali 2 then to reach and surpass all the carefully concocted brews of the Mumbai film industry? Heart and soul. No one can deny the Bahubali films wear their hearts on their sleeves. They deal with the most basic, but most profound, emotions of love, greed, compassion, jealousy and loyalty. But more than that they deal with the most basic conflict of the soul: between good and evil. In the modern, villain-less world of Hindi films, all decisions are relative, morality is boring, and decisions are only about what makes the hero, or the heroine, happy. Morality is so 20th century, the characters seem to drawl, but they miss the point of making a connection.
The soul is all about making choices. For most, if not nearly all, of us these choices are rooted in the tales we hear. I have often heard that for every moral dilemma you face, Mahabharat has the moral & immoral choices and their consequences spelled out for you. The culture, the mythology, the heroes and villains give us roots. The Bahubali films build on these values. Remember first heroic act of the hero in both the films. In the first one he lifted the Shivalingam to help his mother fulfill her sacred vow, and in the second he fights and subdues an elephant to help his mother fulfill her sacred vow. This combination of the dutiful and loving son, the devoted mother, and the sacred can never be expected in a Bollywood film of today. Of course it helped that that soul was delivered with a huge dose of the spectacular, but even that is something the Hindi films of late have been underperforming on. Ambition has been hamstrung by a lack of confidence. Ambition requires risk, not a calculation of “safe” bets to reach the 100 or the 200 crore “club”.
The very essence of clubs is elitism. Even though it is a story of royalty, Bahubali films totally eschew that. Instead they focus on the heroes as the heroes of the masses, happy to live amongst the masses and work for the masses. The elites sometimes can’t “get” what makes this special. This spills over beyond Bollywood as when they are left totally bewildered when a mass leader arises. The wine sipping back room manipulators are taken by a surprise, much like Bhallaldev’s father was in Bahubali.
Bahubali is a spectacular technical achievement. It is a tribute to the hard work of Rajamouli, Prabhas and many many more, but it is not about them. Bahubali is a film about the Indian masses. How rooted they are in their lives, how attached they are to their roots, what they think their heroes ought to be, and what ambition they seem to seek from those who sell them dreams. The dream industry needs to dream bigger and smaller at the same time. Are they up to the challenge?
(Lot of these ideas have been liberally borrowed from conversations with Irfan Khan, one of my gurus on films)
There was a species native to Indian towns and cities when I was growing up. It was a kind of young male that gathered in streets, usually around a source of sustenance like a tea or tobacco dispenser. This was more commonly found in the vicinity of a collection of “prey”, such as a girl’s school or college. In addition to making howling noises and making girls miserable, this group would occasionally attack one of the prey. This is an endangered species in most places now, including Central India where I live, but obviously not in the land stretching from Bihar to Haryana. The “alpha males”, the guys in power, have used these herds for their purposes for a long time and have subjugated women using what can only be called terror tactics.
Fear of attacks has imprisoned women, and limited not only their choices, but the progress of the areas as a whole. Female foeticide and violence against women are but manifestations of this subjugation of women. The solution has to come from policing these herds.
What is the right punishment for these herds? Throwing them in prison and clogging the already clogged justice system is counterproductive. We need law enforcement, not a criminal crackdown.
Rounding up is often good enough. Maybe just a show of intent will be enough. Some humiliation will also go a long way, just parade them in the eyes of the media and ask them to apologise to the girls they have been harassing. If these things persist even for a few months, none of the young guys will be permanently harmed, and hundreds of thousands will be dissuaded. Its quite simple, really. So whats the problem with what the “Anti Romeo Squads” are doing in UP?
The guy ordering it is the problem. The media, and the self appointed elites, have decided that Yogi Adityanath is bad. Nothing he does could be right, especially for the “weaker sections”, which includes women. A religious guy, especially an ascetic, a Sanyasi, has to be misogynist.
The “Anti Romeo Squads” in UP are not a random move. BJP campaigned on it. And the people gave a massive mandate to the party. So this probably is something the people of UP really want. So what reason could these crooks conjure up to oppose this? This is “Moral Policing” they say.
Moral Police, the real one, like in countries like the Saudi Arabia and Iran, is a force meant to control women. It is used to enforce religious dictate and whims of the Mullahs. It is a tool to imprison the women, and to ensure that any blame of any attack on a woman falls squarely to the woman. The Anti-Romeo Squads are targeting men. It aims to make it easier for women to move around freely. It aims to make women safer. This is the exact opposite of what the real Moral Police wants to do. Does the media not understand this?
Of course they do. They understand too well that Anti Romeo Squads are police enforcing laws, not “Moral Police” enforcing codes of behaviour. Its just a longstanding mission of theirs to equate Indian Right with the worst of religious nuts. Words like Hindu Taliban, Saffron Terror, Rabid Hindu Nationalism etc are all part of the same narrative. They will empathise with those who run illegal slaughterhouses with barbaric conditions for the cattle. They will empathise with the slain terrorist’s headmaster father. They will empathise with the “poor young men” who are not even allowed to ogle and molest young girls. Even if there is an they have the words of of their Samajwadi patron: “Ladke hain, ġalti ho jati hai”.
We have to stand up now. The media has clearly shown that there are no depths it will fall to in order to make the Right look bad. This also shows, however, that there is not much genuine ammunition for the media. It has to resort to more and more outlandish comparisons. For anyone who has been following the news this is eerily reminiscent of the campaign against a certain CM of Gujarat.
Anti Romeo squads are not tools of fascism and moral policing. They are tools of women’s liberation in the real sense. They have a potential to make women safer, but the self proclaimed liberals are more interested in complaining than in women’s safety.
Remember when Nationalistic Congress Party was formed? It was a creation of Sharad Pawar and P A Sangama as a revolt from Soniya Gandhi. In one stroke, congress lost its most popular leaders of Maharashra and of North East. Congress has never been as strong in Maharashtra ever since. This is not just a story of clash of ambitions, its a deeper issue. This split is at the root of why congress is in dire straits, and why it can’t recover in foreseeable future.
It started with Indira. Her elevation to leadership was neither easy, nor uncontroversial. There were much bigger, stronger stalwarts with a claim. The biggest contender after Shastriji’s death was Morarji Desai, representing the Right wing of congress. He lost the internal political fight but agreed to become the Deputy PM and Finance minister under Indira. He left when Indira nationalised all banks and stalled credit growth for decades. Similarly, Kamraj, one of the biggest contender for the post of Prime Minister twice, remained King Maker and kept Congress on top in Tamilnadu for decades. He was also seen as a threat by Indira and a split was forced. Thus was Indian National Congress converted to Indira Congress, and Congress lost leaders such as Virendra Patil, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, Biju Patnaik, Ashoka Patel and many more during Indira reign.
Indira worked tirelessly to cut any leader that posed a threat, but that was a time of few other alternatives, and new mass leaders kept emerging within Congress. Rajiv tried to continue this and arrest the popularity of the guy who was getting more and more popular: VP Singh. We know how that turned out, though. V P Singh won, and Janta Dal started a new wave of socialism + casteism + appeasement that continues to the day.
There was a different period after Rajiv Gandhi’s demise, though. Congress, for a few years, was not run like a fiefdom. There was dissent, there was genuine competition for power, and in power was the greatest Congress PM in my opinion. P V Narsimha Rao was no mass leader, though. He relied on many others to get votes for him, and it didn’t work out. Not that congress had a dearth of leaders at the time. There were leaders such as Pawar, Mamta Banerjee, V C Shukla, S M Krishna, and many more, but they couldn’t, or wouldn’t ensure a victory for the party. In the years when India was ruled by the likes of Devegowda and Gujral, the “loyalists” in congress succeeded in what they wanted: bringing Sonia Gandhi to head the party. As soon as the drama of humiliation of Sitaram Kesari and Namsimha Rao started, it was clear that congress was returning to the feudal structure it felt most comfortable in.
This was the phase of an exodus of leaders from the party. NCP, Trinamool were formed in West and East. In central India, stooges such as Digvijay gained power at the expense of mass leaders. When Chhattisgarh was formed, V C Shukla was, at the last minute, replaced by Ajit Jogi as CM on the orders of “High Command”. Since then, Congress has not won even a single election in Chhattisgarh despite the less than stellar local leadership of BJP. And as soon as Jogi started getting some mass base, even he was forced out of leadership here. In Odisha, Biju Patnaik’s son rules, challenged only by BJP. In state after another, an absence of genuine leaders is shrinking congress to the anti BJP votes. In states with a strong regional party, it loses even that vote. Congress is the most rapidly shrinking force in Indian politics today.
This is the story of congress. A family paranoid about holding its grip on power and a coterie of political nobodies that cling to the leadership in order to stay close to power. Do people like Sanjay Jha and Manishankar Aiyar have any support anywhere? Is Chambaram the best congress can do in TN? The height of propping up a puppet was when Manmohan Singh was made the Prime Minister despite his obvious inability to win even a single Lok Sabha election. Popularity got you a kick in this party, bootlicking got you promoted.
The best news for Congress today is from Punjab, but you will see little celebration of that. The fact is Captain Amrinder Singh was one of the first major politicians to openly ask for a change of leadership at the top. It was desperation that led the leadership to not only let him remain in the party, but also give him autonomy in how to run his state’s campaign. He has produced a spectacular victory despite/ due to no Rahul Gandhi campaign in Punjab. Once there were such leaders in every nook and corner of India who knew their region like the back of their hand, and won elections for the party. Now the congress has jokes like Raj Babbar running their UP campaign.
This decline is not an accident. Nor is it just a matter of Rahul Gandhi not being popular, or eligible for a leadership role in any way. This is a deep malaise in congress that leads to an aspiration for feudal power structure and a disregard for the people. Remember, most BJP leaders didn’t want Narendra Modi either, but the party structure made sure the most popular leader rises to the top. When you replace structure with dynasty worship, you get leaders who are openly called Pappu.
Its not great for Indian democracy to be saddled with only a single national party, but thats the legacy the bootlickers of congress are going to leave.
We have all heard of the recent case of a Muslim girl Suhana Sayed who was harassed for singing a Hindu devotional song in a singing show. it sounds really appalling. Rafi saab was one of the best Bhajan singers of his time, and Yesudas has created the gold standard for so many devotional compositions. Is this country going to dogs that people can’t even sing songs of another religion? Will someone protest against a hindu singing a Qawwali next? Well, not so much. All the “harassment” and “trolling” by Muslims was a myth. GO to any YouTube page of her singing and you see a large number of Muslims supporting her, raising their voices in her support. Bt these people are absent from any media reports. All that has happened is that a group of people on some obscure page abused her. Thats it. I’m sure such people existed even when Rafi saab sung Man Tadpat Hari Darsan Ko (composed by Naushad and written by Shakeel Badayuni, incidentally). They now have a voice, thanks to social media, and thats a good thing. What is not so good is them being blown out of all proportion and made into a monster that doesn’t exist.
This is not an isolated case. The case of Gurmeher was similar. A couple of serious threats, at least one of which was fake, were blown out of all proportion to make it seem like locusts have descended on her and made her life a nightmare where she may be assaulted at any point. There was a lot of disagreement to her, and not all articulated in the best possible way, but the attention she received only exacerbated the attacks as many saw her being shielded from criticism.
We all know this happens and we shrug it off. Just the corrupt media doing its TRP crazy thing. But then it starts hurting people. It already has started hurting people. The terrorist killed in the Lucknow encounter is part of an Indian jehadi group. Last year some guys from that organisation were actually arrested and interrogated. When asked about motive, many said they were motivated by the “atrocities” on Muslims in India. This is not even just after 2014. They have been radicalised for long before that.
Now I understand that there might well be genuine grievances of communities. Where the blame for the relative lack of development of Muslims is a topic that can be debated at another time, but whoever you blame, we can be agree that there is no large scale violence specifically against Muslims. At least not to the scale that requires an armed insurgency.
So where did these guys get these ideas? Just look at any TV host, any screaming headline. “Intolerance, Radical Nationalism, Extreme Nationalism, Attack On Minorities, Are Muslims Safe in Modi’s India?” A narrative has been created to make it seem like the state is an active party in a conflict and Hindus and Muslims are at loggerheads, fighting for survival. If you are not with one of these “secular” leaders that media has anointed, you are a rabid nationalist, communal scum. And because so many people are, evidently, in support of PM Modi and what he’s trying to do, that must mean that India is an intolerant nation that has no place for Muslims. Rajdeep Sardesai, unfortunately a prominent journalist of the nation, has crossed an even lower threshold of journalism. he recently wrote that invoking Vikaas is a communal agenda and PM asking votes on the basis of hope and development is also communal.
In this atmosphere, is it any longer a mystery why a small number of Muslim youth think India in general is their enemy? The narrative is such that even a moderate may start feeling threatened. I have seen this happen. Those who didn’t like Modi before he was elected are seeing the boogeyman of “suppression” everywhere. There is no rational reason that I can think of. I can cite statistics till i get red in the face, but we have to remember that fear is not a thought, its an emotion. So is anger.
The media understands that. The media plays on our emotion. They are now storytellers, not custodians of truth. They exacerbate our emotions of hurt, betrayal, unfairness, and aim to make us angry. They create a monster out of the few idiots who trolled a girl for singing the “wrong” devotional song. They create a monster out of the politicians that make irresponsible statements. Then they pitch these monsters against each other and watch with glee as we all divide ourselves to fight the monster we feel threatened by the most. The media sits in a corner eating its TRP popcorn, slurping their ideology soda. When this fight gets ugly, as it sometimes does, it brings out its Told You So megaphone and starts exaggerating how divided we are even more.
If you think thats sad, think how sad it is that we fall for this again and again.
I have never been a fan of Trump. I was stunned when he won. Ever since I have been trying to understand why he won. Where did I go wrong. But hell, I’m a foreigner, and have only an outsider’s perspective. I’m not too hard on myself. Its not as if I thought there was no Modi wave in May ’14.
But the broad majority of “respected” journalists in India did think there was no Modi wave. And everyone in US thought Trump would surely lose. There was talk of this being historic landslide for Hillary. Obituaries of Republican party were being discussed with ill-concealed glee. Headlines of “Madam President” were ready for print. What must be happening in their heads? What kind of introspection must they be undergoing? Read a few headlines and judge for yourself. “Shock and unease as Trump rises to power”, “Anti Trump protests spread across the country”, “A time to keep fighting”, “The populist fury that may damage global prosperity”, “How Hillary handles pain”, “Not my president”, “Trump won. Here’s how to fight back”, “Trump’s win is a reminder of the incredible, unbeatable, power of racism”, “White women sold out sisterhood by voting for Trump”, “Its not melodramatic to fear for our safety after this election”, “There’s a simple reason people don’t like Hillary. She’s a woman”
No sign of introspection. Also no report of Trump victory parties, just of protests. Surely some celebration must be happening too! No reports from the point of view of trump supporters. Not even a pretense to look neutral. Just blatant opposition and disgust. Assumptions of racism, sexism, and bigotry. And then they wonder why they are losing money and why people don’t trust them. Twitter is even worse. The cries of sexism and racism ignore all reality and impartiality.
These “journalists” hardly ever see anything wrong with Clinton and Obama. I like certain things about Obama, but many of his policies have been a dosaster. Obamacare, his healthcare plan, is failing. The average healthcare premiums rose by 25% this year. But when that news came out, all the media headlines were about worrying that Republicans would take advantage of this news. No attempt to question Obama or to ask Clinton how she will fix it. Trump, frankly, has no alternative to Obamacare. he just says he will scrap it and bring something better. Media makes lots of jokes about it. But what is Hillary’s plan? Nothing. Rather its exactly the same. She says she will make it better. And she gets a pass. She also gets a pass on all the complaints about corruption. Not just because she’s a woman and they want a woman president, and not just because press has deep ties to the Clinton machine, but because its a world view they are unwilling to challenge.
Indian media is the same. Any deviation from the standard centre-left monopoly on “opinion” and “intellectualism” is always dismissed. The media remains closed to new perspectives. American media is now talking about regulating social media. Social media is taking more of a role of being a source of information for people. Media wants Facebook to control what narratives spread there. Basically preventing anything they don’t like. The people who claim to be on the side of the marginalized are the first to demonize the common people if they speak anything but official narrative.
And thats why, media folks, you are dinosaurs. Traditional media is dead. It just hasn’t fully realized it yet.
But sometimes being an underdog has nothing to do with ability. You just weren’t given the same chances. Like in Lal Rang. It is about people in a mufassil town with no money, who are happy if they get to be lab technicians. But they want more. The central character whom the movie follows is no hero. There are no heroes in the film, really. But first, the theme.
The rarest colour of comedy in Bollywood is Black. When you are laughing but whats happening is neither light, not happy. You still laugh because, well, because it is clever. Remember Jane Bhi Do Yaaron? Its a tragedy that you can’t stop laughing at.
Lal Rang has hardly any joy. It has a dark red theme, and it is about an issue. It is about the buying and selling of blood in Haryana about a decade ago. There was a huge scandal and many lives were destroyed because the “donors” sold too much of their blood, and their blood carried several problems way too often. Already sounds like a boring, preachy movie, doesn’t it?
It isn’t. It never preaches, it just shows what happens. and it helps that it has a great actor at its heart. Randeep Hooda is the kingpin of the operation that steals, buys and sells blood. He manages a network of thieves, professional donors, lab technicians, and doctors, but he does it with ease, with a laugh and a kind word, he says that even when he has to beat up people, he’s never angry, he does it with affection. Hooda is a powerhouse. His energy keeps the film afloat and makes it almost possible to forgive everyone for their crimes.
Almost. Because you know that as you are following these guys, in the background are blood shortages, and a market full of desperate people being fleeced in their hour of need. There are no heroes in the film.
But there are no monsters either. The guys are all too human, preoccupied with impressing girls, and fighting for their love. Ordinary people. This is the most human look at crime I can remember in recent times. It is brutal, gripping, dark, but funny at the same time.
And it is going to get totally and utterly overlooked. “Major” critics like Masand have not even seen it fit to review the film. The excellent music is not playing anywhere. There is no talk of Randeep Hooda winning awards, even though he deserves them all for this film. This film, with a newish director, no item song, no brand name star, and a basis in reality is the ultimate underdog. Not because its not good, but because the system is stacked against it. The Janta is not pulled into cinema because of raw quality. Even Badlapur and NH 10 needed stars to succeed.
So this is the underdog I want to support. Not trash like Fan, this is the kind of cinema we deserve, and we should fight for. Lets do that, lets just watch the film and fight for cinema’s underdogs.