‘Thackeray’ review: Parochial politics

Blame the Free Press Journal for the rise and rise of Bal Thackeray. At least Abhijit Panse’s biographical film holds the newspaper responsible as the trigger for his political career. The news room, dominated by “South Indians”, where Thackeray was one of the only two Marathi employees, where he was treated like a worker rather than an artiste, where his cartoons didn’t like the owners, eventually forcing him to resign, also appears to have stoked his predisposition towards “apna aadmi (our people)” i.e. Marathi manoos.

Thackeray (Hindi/Marathi)
  • Director: Abhijit Panse
  • Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao
  • Run time: 120 minutes
  • Storyline: A biographical film on Bal Thackeray, the founder of Shiv Sena

As per the film, ‘Marathi manoos campaign’ kicked off an intense sensitivity and anger about Maharashtrians being “squeezed out” in their own homeland by the “annas”, the “Iranis”, the “Gujaratis”, the “Punjabis” and more. “Ghati ghatiya nahin hai (The man from the Ghats is not some cheapster that you can take for granted)”, thunders Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Thackeray. While we might be critical about Siddiqui choosing to play Thackeray after being Manto, he is magnetic, at the top of his game in delivering what he is expected to, that terrible prosthetic nose notwithstanding.

So the tiger roars on. Thackeray talks about how it is better to be a gunda (a criminal) than a jhandu (a moron to put it politely); he talks about how the Marathis had been welcoming outsiders with folded hands but will now break those of the visitors/guests; he talks about how power doesn’t quite emanate from the inches your chest measures (foresight about 56, is it?) but how agile your brain is. He makes a mockery of the South Indians: “Baja pungi, hata lungi (slang demeaning the mundu-veshti wearers, roughly translates as sound the bugle and get rid of the lungi-clad South Indians).

The terrible, incendiary language of the film is stitched to the figure it centres on. There is no apology or regret for the sectarian politics, hate speech and provocative talk; in fact it’s articulated with immense impunity, cussedness and arrogance on screen. Fire has to be lit to wipe away darkness. Violence will be unleashed if his writ is not followed. Democracy is anti-people. The bier of his men killed in riots is symbolic of the coffin of democracy itself. The nation deserves a Hitler. The contradictions also accumulate: Javed Miandad will be welcomed with snacks and tea but Pakistani team won’t be allowed to play in his state. Eid will be celebrated with gusto but Muslims will also have to participate in the Shiv Jayanti functions with as much vigour.

It’s a one-man show. The film portrays Thackeray as this fiery, fearsome, larger than life figure whose writ runs large and unquestioningly in Maharashtra. He can incite violence and also curb it, he can bring down the law and order machinery and also restore it. The film is not just a justification but a no holds barred celebration of the ruthlessness.

The token soft, sympathetic side on display then feels utterly superfluous--saving the “besahara” (helpless) doodhwala (milkman) from his own men, letting a Muslim do namaaz in his living room in Matoshree. Thackeray’s fight is not against the religion but against the sinners, he says; desh for him is before rajya (country before state) and 80% of his party work is about social work than politics.

Between Thackeray’s followers who will rationalise everything about him and find the film charismatic and the detractors who will find it unconvincing and abhorrent, lies a hagiography in continuum. The sequel to Thackeray, it seems, will soon be upon us.

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Printable version | May 5, 2021 10:46:38 PM |

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