Or, the story of Batman’s, and Christopher Nolan’s, right turn and its implications in the current political scenario.
Among all the superheroes that the American comic book tradition has produced, there is no doubt that Batman is the most complex creation in the way it deconstructs a corrupt capitalist system to expose its various contradictions. The super hero has no magical powers here but has to rely on his wit, intuition and shrewd ways. From the 1940s to this decade he has been part of America’s subconscious and negotiated his society from the McCarthy era to the recent Occupy Wall Street agitations.
Watching Dark Knight Rises, the movie looks more like an exhausted Christopher Nolan’s last encounter with this legend, rather than a robust investigation of the modern American socio-economic crises that all audiences were eagerly waiting for. There is utter confusion in the narrative order, leaving us wondering as to what was Wayne alias Batman doing confronting Bane who is the real hero of the underdogs in Gotham City. It is Bane who gets to Gordon’s letter which suppresses all the crucial information about the corruption in the city and who decides to arouse the people quite like the way the young intelligentsia stood up in September 2011 for the rights of the 99 per cent against the crooked stock market racketeers on Wall Street, representing the one per cent. Why did Nolan decide to suddenly convert a revolutionary Bane into a terrorist as he storms into the stock exchange, shooting people and even decamping with all the booty in a pen drive? The real Occupy Wall Street movement was very much a civilised one, purely there to create media awareness. Worse, Nolan regresses further and paints Bane and his men as scum out of a medieval period, conducting inquisitions and handing out executions.
Has Nolan forgotten the story or were his arms being twisted by Hollywood studio powers which can be more monstrous than the Wayne enterprise? What happened to the earlier story which informed us that Wayne and Bane are both students of the same guru, sharing the same faith and compassion? Why is Wayne fighting Bane when he should be getting his own organisation disinfected? Have eight years of incubation made Wayne so unintelligent that he does not know that he is sleeping with his worst enemy? And what is the deep well in Jodhpur with all its crazy inmates symbolise amidst all this confusion?
How do we, as Indians, revisit this superhero myth in our own context? Like in the American system, we also have the affluent as heads of mega institutions who present themselves as benevolent as Wayne, Alfred the butler and Fox, the scientist. The world knows that their organisations are flush with slush funds, corrupt deals and criminals but these three prefer to stay silent, blind and deaf. But when the poor and deprived take up agency to alert the media and themselves about the same story of corruption, the system falls apart. Often, an unexpected, unreal vigilante emerges, takes the steam out of the anger and diffuses an imminent revolution by converting a large social issue into a personality conflict. Cut to India.
The large economic crises in America and Europe hit India early 2011 and the rot in our system gets exposed as scams open up one after another. The ‘honest’ powerful parliamentarians at the top remain silent, deaf and blind and we see an angry old man taking centre stage in Delhi, exposing the corrupt and powerful. Was Anna Hazare the ‘Bane’ or the ‘Batman’ of our system? Film stars who joined his cause even claimed that they have been saying the same thing in their films, albeit as mythical vigilantes. An entire nation wore caps emblazoned ‘I am Anna’ and hallucinated of conducting inquisitions against the scamsters. While old retired left wingers acclaimed the movement as the coming of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’, a section of the intelligentsia dismissed him as crazy, disorganised, apolitical and even senile. But so are Bane and Batman and everything counter-cultural. Anything which contests a system has to essentially possess a dominant non-rational position, a kola-veri (the desire to kill) at least to start with. Do I see the strange coincidence of the Anna Hazare movement and the monstrous popularity of this Tamil song? Early in the film, Selena, the cat-woman, whispers into Wayne’s ears “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches. Because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us.”
Sad but true. Months later when Anna launched another agitation there were few followers and when he announced his recent ‘fast unto death’ there were even fewer takers. The corrupt and powerful continued to live large-sized. Team Anna is disbanded and a ‘real’ dream is finally over to remind us that vigilantism can never be a ‘real’ alternative. So, was Dark Knight Rises also another vigilante dream amidst a disoriented space with a lot of witty one-liners merely to keep one’s interest in fantasy alive?
K. Hariharan is Director, L.V. Prasad Film & TV Academy.