After summer, winter and monsoon, this year Bollywood has added election season to its schedule. A look at the films that have politics woven into their script
Election fever has gripped the country and Bollywood is coming up with a series of films, directly or indirectly dealing with the political process.
In the past, filmmakers and distributors timed a film’s release according to the election schedule. In 2009, Anurag Kashyap’s much-delayed Gulal and Nandita Das’ underplayed Firaaq surprised us with their direct approach . Similarly in 2004, Mani Ratnam’s Yuva coincided with the electoral process. But this time the efforts seem more deliberate, concerted with satire as the dominant leitmotif.
The trend started on a shallow note last week when Youngistan , a film on the life of a young boy who is thrust with the responsibility to lead the nation seemed like a half-hearted effort to enter into the political territory without letting go of the romantic track. It turned out to be a story of a dove among hawks where none appeared anywhere close to reality. Similarly, Atul Agnihotri’s O Teri tried to rejig Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron in the season of scams but ended up killing the masterpiece.
Politics often comes in the form of a parable in Hindi films and this week we had Girish Malik’s Jal , a film based on water crisis in the Kutch region of Gujarat. However, lead actor Purab Kohli denies the film has anything to do with politics. “ It is a progressive film which will make urban India realise the importance of water conservation . And the way it is shot, it will augment tourism in the Kutch region.” However, director Nitesh Tiwari claims that he is not holding back as he pits a friendly ghost against a politician in an election in the much-awaited Bhoothnath Returns . The Amitabh Bachchan-starrer will see Bhoothnath taking on a corrupt politician played by Boman Irani at the hustings. It gives an impression that we have a reached a stage where only a bhoot can outwit a politician. “It is an entertaining film where election provides the backdrop. At another level it is a satire that gives vent to the common man’s angst. You will laugh at many situations but at the same time feel that the issue is serious,” says Nitesh. However, he says the release date is not deliberate. “When we started writing the elections were not on our minds but along the way we revisited our characters so that our stance remains neutral.” Does it mean dilution? “No. It is an extremely harsh take on the current state of affairs from the people’s point of view,” promises Nitesh.
Meanwhile, veteran director Kundan Shah is going one shade darker in P Se PM Tak , where political compulsions ensure that a sex worker becomes the chief minister. “It is a political satire and we will come up with the release date in the next 10 days,” says Shah.
Though crucial to capture the current state of affairs in the country, films with political undertones have been a risky proposition. Recently The Lego Movie was criticised in a section of the American press for pushing an anti-capitalist agenda among kids. In India, things take a violent form as Santosh Sivan recently discovered when Inam , his film on the civil war in Sri Lanka, was taken out of theatres in Tamil Nadu because of protests by some Tamil groups. This is not something new as Gulzar will tell you. His Aandhi was allegedly stalled by the Congress and propped up by the Janata Party. He will be returning to the turnstiles as a presenter for Vijay Raaz’s film Kya Dilli Kya Lahore next month. Director Feroz Khan, whose Dekh Tamasha Dekh is also scheduled to release this month, says filmmakers are soft targets for fringe groups and that’s why filmmakers often refrain from direct engagement. “In the ’70s and ’80s filmmakers had to deal only with the government but now every political party has a constitutional face and a reactionary face. A group of 20 people is enough to bring a film out of theatres.”
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that writers and filmmakers push to protect the space for their freedom of expression, for their right to be critical and irreverent, and resist the pressure and anticipated threats from fundamentalists of all hues. If we bend now, they will soon make us crawl,” says Anjum Rajabali, who has been consistently scripting mainstream films around social-political themes. Rajabali picks Aakrosh as his favourite political film and goes on to add, “I have never had to deliberately shy away from tackling political themes in a more direct way. There have been reactions of course, but mostly out of apprehension before the release.”
Says Feroz: “To me the last real political film that emerged from Hindi cinema with nuances and layers was New Delhi Times . If done well satire is the most direct and powerful tool to comment on the socio-political scenario. But we often reduce it to idiocy. My film raises the question whether identity is more important than humanity. I haven’t pulled any punches.”
On the critique of Satyagraha , based on Anna Hazare movement and rise of Aam Aadmi Party, Rajabali says, “Frankly, a clear critique of the Hazare movement, and the threat of an apolitical narcissism was in fact the reason for doing that script. However, along the way, because of differing interpretations of that movement, some ambivalence crept in. So, it isn’t too far off the mark when people read Hazare into it!” On soft pedalling and dilution of content, he feels, “This dilution is also a generational thing. The audience (as well as filmmakers) today don’t seem to concern themselves much with politics, barring some knee-jerk wish for change, without the labour of reflecting on the implications of their choices. But, of late we are seeing many more political scripts coming from young people.”