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.
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.