Blast from the past Friday Review

Kissaa Kursee Kaa (1978)

The recent creative skirmish between the makers of “Udta Punjab” and Central Board of Film Certification took one back to “Kissa Kursee Ka”, which faced the ire of the government of the day. Made during the Emergency period, the satire continues to ring a bell with its potent comment on political and moral corruption.

Watching the film, directed by Amrit Nahata, one realises not much has changed on the ground. The film suggests in a democracy, kingmakers wield more power than the king. Gopal (Raj Kiran) and Meera (Surekha Sikri) are two such Godwins, who discover a road side performer Gangaram (Manohar Singh) and catapult him to the position of the president of Jan Gan Desh, a symbol of democratic republic, for different reasons. Gangaram is a master of word play and it comes handy in luring the mute public personified by Janta (Shabana Azmi). Gopal and Meera mortgage Gangaram to a corporate house to fulfil their interests but don’t realise when their Gangu becomes a ghost out to bite his own creators.

Drawing from the elements of theatre, Nahata uses different classical dance forms, performed by Swapna Sundari, to anchor the narrative. Technical finesse is not his forte, but then this is not a film that you watch to discern how the mise-en-scene is laid out. You hope the director doesn’t hold his punches and Nahata goes all out to connect. Symbolism is liberally used to comment on real events. The small people’s car, Sanjay Gandhi’s dream project is the election symbol of Gangaram. At one stage when a businessman comes to invest in the project, Gangaram’s secretary introduces him as somebody who has learnt the technique of making the car in his mother’s womb. The mass sterilisation campaign, where people were paid to get operated during the Emergency takes the form of a rat killing exercise. In the corrupt set-up, the rats are killed only on paper and when Janta comes with the bodies of real rats, she is asked to submit proof of the process of their death and bring witnesses to confirm that she herself has killed them.

A master at shifting the poles, Gangaram has astutely learnt the lessons from Meera. He knows politics is the art of compromise and selling dreams to the public. So when a religious leader (Utpal Dutt) makes rat killing a religious issue, he brings him into his fold and shifts the blame on poverty and in the process of its removal replaces the slums with skyscrapers. When his opponents figure out his latest plot, he shifts the blame to Andher Nagari, a euphemism for Pakistan and describes war as a tournament to distract people’s attention. When Gangaram spouts, “hum gaali ka jawab goli se dena jante hain”, it underlines that things haven’t moved in the realpolitik since 1970s.

At the inauguration of a toy factory, he brings out miniatures of car, radio, television and gun and ensures Janta that one day she will have each one of those – a scene where farce and reality get intertwined beyond recognition. When Gopal develops conscience and decides to bring the opposition together, he discovers that the members of the council, a symbol for legislature, are open to switch sides for a price. From doling out posts to manipulating policies for corporate interests, the film touches upon most aspects that continue to make headlines.

Some of the film’s negatives were allegedly burnt but after the Emergency, Nahata, reshot the film and released it. By that time, the people’s anger has also subsided and the film didn’t make as much impact as it should have. Nahata felt hurt and perhaps it explains why most filmmakers stay away from making a political statement. A two-time Congress MP, Nahata walked out of the party during the Emergency and joined the Janata Party. A noted translator of Leftist literature, he made films like “Sant Gyaneshwar” and “Raaton Ka Raja” but history will remember Nahata as the director, who shook the biggest chair of the country.

The performances are largely over the top but thespian Manohar Singh stands out as a demagogue who has mastered his polemics. He brings his immense theatre experience to convey the transformation of a loud mouth street-side performer into a crafty politician who can wriggle out of any tight corner to remain glued to the chair. The scene where he literally holds on to the chair continues to tickle and disturb long after the film is over.

Genre: Political satire

Director: Amrit Nahata

Cast: Manohar Singh, Shabana Azmi, Utpal Dutt, Surekha Sikri, Raj Kiran, Katy Mirza

Music: Jaidev

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 5:49:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Kissaa-Kursee-Kaa-1978/article14427941.ece

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