Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If Elected, I Promise To: Voting in Bollywood

In Anurag Kashyap's edgy Gulaal, a college election takes on epic importance. Hanging in balance is not just the lakhs that can be siphoned off from the college festival fund but how the winner would impact the separatist movement for Rajputana.
Pitting the volatile Ransa (Abhimanyu Singh in a short but brilliant role) against the steely Kiran (Ayesha Mohan), the entire build-up and conduct of the election is played at hurtling pace. The campaigning, the brutal - and abrupt - murder of a candidate, fishing out of a replacement and finally, the subtle rigging to swing the results. All these are paced breathtakingly and filmed in a jagged, realistic style.

Equally jagged are the edges of Omkara - where no election is actually shown but the undercurrent of power-broking politicians, their muscle-men, the boisterous celebrations, the sharp sloganeering are all represent the colours of UP elections like very few films in recent times.

To go back a few decades, Aandhi still remains an iconic film depicting Indian elections in a partly realistic, partly air-brushed glory. With the strand of white in her black hair, Suchitra Sen will always be the on-screen Indira Gandhi despite hectic clarifications that the character was based on Orissa Chief Minister, Nandini Satpathy.
An initially Bohemian daughter of an established and overbearing politician fell in love and married a hotelier. Unable to take the pressure of her father's political ambitions and being a wife, she walked out of the marriage and the town. She came back several years later to fight an election and rekindled her love for the estranged husband. All hell broke loose as her rivals started to dig up skeletons and scandals around this 'affair'.
People tend to remember this film, only for the absolutely stupendous soundtrack but the entire electoral process is reasonably well-sketched - including a satirical song on politicians returning to constituencies every five years. What a pity it was the weakest song of the album!

It may have been the elections for only a village cooperative, but Shyam Benegal infused it with the emotion that normally gets associated with elections in India. Manthan saw the upper-caste Sarpanch (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) getting pitted against lower-caste Naseeruddin Shah in an election to manage their milk cooperative. Such an unequal battle was catalysed by the modern-thinking Dr Rao (Girish Karnad, playing Dr Verghese Kurien's role) and given the social churning that was brought about, the Sarpanch lost this first election he contested (having won the previous ones uncontested).
I remember a beautiful scene after the results are declared where boisterous celebrations break out among the lower castes after the results are announced and Kulbhushan Kharbanda corners Girish Karnad in an ante-room. He pleads Karnad to go back and say that it was the Sarpanch who had won, immediately after which he would resign the post. He could do without the post, he said, but not live with the ignominy of losing to an Untouchable.

In recent times, one of the most politically charged films has been Yuva. Set in the volatile politics of Bengal, the only jarring note is one Bengali politician (Om Puri as Prosenjit Bhattacharya) speaking in a comic Bengali accent while the heroic activist (Ajay Devgan as Michael Mukherjee) and his cohorts spoke in perfect Hindi.
But the Bengal countryside, the rural elections, the strong-arm tactics of the ruling party and the idealism of college theories are brought about vividly. After a maze of depressing violence and machinations by the villains, when the three young men walked into the West Bengal assembly to become three spots of blue denim in a sea of white dhoti-kurta, one did feel a frisson of happiness at the obviously unrealistic situation.
When I first saw the film, I wondered why was it so obviously set in Calcutta? Then I realised, where else?

Two of the most satisfying election films - for me, at least - are Coolie and Inquilaab. Needless to say, they were also the most unrealistic. But then, if you want realism, you might as well go and watch Bigg Boss. Also, the elections were only a small part of the overall package of the two films in true tradition of all Amitabh films of the early-80s (where everything, except Amitabh himself, was a small part of the overall package).
Coolie released in 1982, when Amitabh Bachchan had no stated ambitions of entering politics. Inquilaab released in 1984/5, when he was already in politics or at least, had announced his intentions. But in both films, he metamorphoses into a Messiah for the Masses who wins in a landslide (but, of course!) and promises salvation for the unwashed millions. I have often wondered that the political entries of Amitabh in both films are so unconnected to the initial storylines, they may well have been written half-way through the shooting. Or maybe, on the morning of the shoot!
In Coolie, Iqbal goes from a porter to a trade unionist (for other porters) to organiser of strikes to an election candidate - who then gets blackmailed to almost withdraw by villains (who have kidnapped his mother).
In Inquilaab, the transformation is even more dramatic. Amarnath starts off as a blackmarketer of tickets. He becomes a police officer. He is promoted to ACP in 3 minutes. He kills a dreaded smuggler - Khoya Khoya Attachi - after which he is made the leader of Garibon Ka Party. He wins the elections in a landslide to become the Chief Minister. Whew!
What he does at his first Cabinet meeting is something I dare not repeat.

As an aside, it would be cute to mention a film called Chatpat Chunmun - which I saw one afternoon several years ago on Doordarshan. It was the story of a little girl, Chunmun, who was constantly being ignored - and bullied - by four boys in the neighbourhood. When they boys decide to hold an election to choose their leader, Chunmun is expected to cast the deciding vote (since each of the four boys would vote for himself). How Chunmun converts this voting into a coup for herself forms the basis of a very enjoyable film (at least for the kid that I was then).
Produced by the National Centre of Films for Young People, the film was narrated as a flashback of a lady and the voice-over was done by the body's then-Chairperson, Jaya Bachchan.

One recent film I missed was Chintuji. Rishi Kapoor played a movie star, who arrived at his ancestral village to contest the elections and got embroiled in many complications. By all accounts, it was a cute film that poked fun at two of India's holiest cows - film stars and politicians.

Also, two very interesting films on contemporary politics are coming up - Prakash Jha's Rajniti and Ramgopal Verma's Rann.
The first one has Katrina Kaif playing the young widow of the scion of a political family. She has gone hoarse trying to explain that the role is not based on the life of Sonia Gandhi but her point would have been a little easier to digest if she hadn't worn those cotton saris and styled her hair a little differently.
In what could be his redemption from the debacle of Agyaat, Darling and Aag, RGV has crafted a film on how media changes the equation in present-day politics. Starring Amitabh Bachchan as the idealistic media baron and Paresh Rawal as the unscrupulous PM-in-waiting, the acidic anthem and the fantastic ensemble cast has me waiting for it, quite breathlessly.

The election scene is sure hotting up!

* * * * * * * * * *

So, why this sudden voting-related post?
That is - dear reader - to entice you to go to this page and politely ask you to vote. Given the quality of the other nominees, I cannot possibly ask you to vote for me. But indeed, you should vote.
Already, there has been a promise of a National Bloggers Employment Guarantee Scheme. Also, of a Rum Rajya. Not to mention, promises of a stray television for votes!
Coming from the eastern part of the country, all I can offer - in established traditions of my state - is a B2B day (Bandh to Blog), where the Monday or Friday contiguous to the Republic Day weekend will be declared a national holiday for everyone to stay at home and blog! And next year, we will have a billion nominees for Indibloggies.

Till then, vote for me!
There, I said it. I was lying about voting for the more worthy nominees!


Chriz said...

haha.. all of us are into campaigning.. good..

congrats for getting into the top 12..

all the best..

( am there too )

Rimi said...

"Given the quality of the other nominees, I cannot possibly ask you to vote for me. But indeed, you should vote. "

Ki oshombhob baaje kotha. In fact, I think eta amader--the lot that voted for you without reading this post even--ekebare direct insult. Most miffed.

Diptakirti Chaudhuri said...

@Rimi: Hya, ekebarey bajey (ebong mithye) katha.
Tai last liney lojjar matha kheye bolei felechhi!

uttoransen said...

congrats, good to see you nominated, ami bhebe chente vote debo,
keep up the good work,

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't relevant to the topic, but I have to say I love your blog! Its witty, irreverent, pop culture meets high culture...

Never stop writing.

Sourav said...

Great writing, keep it up. While reading I remembered another recent film with great election masala - "Welcome to Sajjanpur". The satire is so matter of fact that it is irresistible.

Arjun said...

A good chronicle of elections in Hindi movies! Good going...