From 'Gully Boy' to 'The Family Man': Making a political statement through the medium

Lasting impact: A still from “Article 15”
Special Arrangement

Lasting impact: A still from “Article 15” Special Arrangement  

While covering the Uttar Pradesh by-polls in October this year, one came across a branch of Aryavrata Bank in a village near Iglas town. Curious, as one had just watched “Leila”, the Netflix series set in a dystopian future when Indians live in Aryavrata, where the political class is obsessed with ‘purity’, one discovered that the bank was formed by the amalgamation of Gramin Bank of Aryavart and Allahabad UP Gramin Bank in April 2019.

At a time when a section of news channels are venturing into the realm of fiction, there are works of fiction that are showing a mirror to upheavals in Indian society. “Gully Boy”, “Leila”, “Article 15”, “The Family Man” are some of the films/ series released in 2019 that reflected who we are and where we are headed in no uncertain terms.

Dream vs social status

A still from “Gully Boy”

A still from “Gully Boy”  

Aptly named, Murad, the protagonist of “Gully Boy” reflects the aspirations of Indian youth who are living on the margins. Based on a real life story, it takes us into a Muslim household where the driver father of the aspiring rapper admonishes him for trying to dream beyond their status. “We are supposed to keep our head low and work,” he advises, but the boy doesn’t listen, and ultimately proves that his dream will decide his social status. Unlike, his predecessors like Salim in Saeed Mirza’s “Salim Langde Pe Mato Ro”, Murad doesn’t go the ‘underworld’ way.

The Zoya Akhtar film doesn’t blink at showing the problems that polygamy and patriarchy bring to families. There is an effervescent Safeena, sporting an abaya, who is more than just the love interest of Murad. A surgeon in the making, she deftly dissects into stereotypes that a conservative mindset perpetuates. In a heart-rending scene, Safeena shouts at her mother, “I wouldn’t have lied to you (about her friendship with Murad) if you had allowed me to lead a ‘normal’ life like my friends.”

For once, the Muslim in the film is not just a good friend or a terror accused or a bearded fellow out to prove his loyalty to his country. He is just like any other Indian trying to make the best use of his talent and opportunities but at the same time not shying away from looking within.

And yes, he might be marginalised in the political space, here he is leading the narrative with good box office results. They may have lost out in the Oscar race, Murad and Safeena will stay with us for a long time to come.

Dangers of purity

Lasting impact (Clockwise from extreme left) Stills from “Article 15”; Gully Boy; “Leila”

Lasting impact (Clockwise from extreme left) Stills from “Article 15”; Gully Boy; “Leila”  

Deepa Mehta’s “Leila” fills you with fear because the perceptive could watch the lines between fiction and reality blurring with a disconcerting frequency. For years, we have watched Hollywood generated dystopia from a distance, and chuckled. But watching Leila is disturbing because you could easily draw parallels with what is happening around you. Based on the Prayag Akbar’s book of the same name, on the surface, it is a mother’s search for her daughter but as the narrative unravels, we could gauge its political undertones. From the obsession for purity to hating the ‘other’ or for that matter water scarcity, one could easily join the dots. The violent detestation for mixed marriages becomes a brutal metaphor for the recent attacks on the plural character of the nation.

In an interview with this journalist, Huma Qureshi, who played the feisty mother said, the makers were only intending to be true to the source but then all “art was political.”

Critique of casteism

After “Mulk”, Anubhav Sinha, who seems to have hit a purple patch, came up with another hard-hitting statement on the state of Indian polity with “Article 15”. It denudes us of all our pretensions of being a state where everybody is equal before the law. Based on the Budaun rape case, the film is an indictment of everything that is wrong with our behaviour towards the Dalits.

Unlike “Mulk”, Sinha’s tone is a lot more subtle here. The journey of the superintendent of police Ayan Ranjan, from a Bob Dylan loving idealist to someone who decides to get literally into the muck, exposes all the stakeholders in the system. As a journalist, the most telling comment is when SHO Brahmadutt Singh feeds dogs with glucose biscuits before a local journalist enters to extract his pound of flesh.

In an interview with Friday Review, writer Girish Solanki described it as “a critique of casteism”. “Ayan is not a hero, and he is not shown as one. It is unfortunate if people felt that he emerges as a saviour, but he is actually quite clueless about the system and constantly relies on his partner (Aditi, played by Isha Talwar) for insights,” Solanki said.

On the surface, Amazon Prime’s “The Family Man” is a tale of a middle-class man secretly working as an intelligence officer but once the officer goes to the ground zero, he confronts disturbing realities such as lynching and demonising Muslims because of their identity or food habits. Co-director Krishna D.K. said they wanted to bring out the “texture of India” and break the James Bond hangover. “We drew from real stories from newspapers to build the narrative,” he said. The series, along with “Delhi Crime”, also shows how an upright, responsible and sensitive police officer can still navigate through a corrupt system.

A common feature among all these works is that in trying to expose the socio-political reality, they don’t compromise on the genre and the entertainment quotient in true sense of the term. While “Article 15” and “Leila” are taut thrillers, “The Family Man” strikes a neat balance between being a suspense thriller as well as an engaging family drama with dollops of self-deprecating humour. Similarly “Gully Boy” is taut and witty and makes incisive comments through rap.

Interestingly, in all of them, the lead actors have been cast against type. Ranveer Singh who is known for his ‘highly energetic’ characters plays a dormant volcano in “Gully Boy”. Huma Qureshi is the find of “Leila” and credits the series for her next big film with Zack Snyder. So is Shefali Chhaya in “Delhi Crime”. Ayushmann Khurana breaks his romantic boy image in “Article 15” and who would have thought Manoj Bajpayee would pull off a spy character with such élan.

However, if you thought the cycle of stereotypes has been reversed, you are mistaken. In the election year, cinema was used to blatantly push the political agenda with films such as “Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, “The Accidental Prime Minister”, and “The Tashkent Files”. Then there is always a “War” or a “Bard of Blood” ready to roll out the good Muslim, bad Muslim trope. In “Bard of Blood”, based on Bilal Siddiqui’s book, both the good Muslim (Sadiq Sheikh) and bad Muslim (Mullah Khalid) are shown indulging in un-Islamic activities. Sadiq loves his liquor and Mullah is a paedophile. When one asked Ribhu, he was evasive. “We were being true to the source,” he said.

The silver lining is mainstream Bollywood is not easily giving up on its plural character of society and is giving back to the divisive forces. In “Lukka Chhuppi”, a romantic comedy, the Muslim friend of the hero tells his father-in-law, a right-wing leader: ‘I’m simply a Muslim, not a monster.’

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 2:25:51 PM |

Next Story