Pulp Patriotism

Another film has made it big. After Hum Apke Hai Kaun, Rangeela and Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, it is Hindustani, now unfolding into an all-India craze. What is the undercurrent that makes them tick?

It is said that cinema in India reflects the popular perception of current affairs of the country. But there is yet another facet to the popular cinema. It also reveals the machinations of the ruling classes to deflect and modify the thinking process of the masses. At times channelising their despair, romanticising it, so as not to let it become a serious threat to the well-entrenched system.

Hindustani, the film, reveals many insights in this regard. The film depicts all-pervasive corruption. Government corridors, ministries, police, health departments - are flooded with the corrupt. Bribes are offered and accepted without a wink. To secure a government job, a young man in the film is willing to stoop down to any level to keep his masters happy.

The film hits the bullseye - the middle classes who are the silent spectators-cum-participants and sufferers of the consequences of corruption in public offices. The choice of Road Transport Office is significant. Owning a vehicle, at least a two-wheeler, is one of the criteria for being part of the middle classes in India. Surely a member of this class has had an encounter with the RTO, if not any other government office.

Hindustani is the story of an old man of the earlier generation, who dreamt of living with certain values. The world around him has changed and overtaken him. Senapathy (literally commander of an army), the hero of the film, is an INA veteran who gets caught and returns to his village following his release after Independence.

He becomes a prosperous farmer. His children, a son and a daughter, do not listen to him. They forge his signature to draw money from the bank. The money was required as a bribe to acquire a job for the boy. Senapathy refuses to give the bribe. The son leaves for Bombay and gets a broker's job at the RTO.

The daughter gets burnt in a cooking gas cylinder explosion. He runs from pillar to post to get his daughter treated. At the government hospital the doctor demands money, if not given, he wouldn't treat without an FIR. At the police station the inspector demands money for an FIR. If not paid, he insists on a report from Village Secretary. Village Secretary wants money. Senapathy is aghast. His daughter dies without treatment. He is broken. He collapses within. His thought is directed at the root cause of his predicament. Giving bribe and accepting bribe is the cause - he reasons. He takes upon himself to cleanse the system of all bribe takers. Being a farmer, he wants to deweed his farm (the nation) - a noble cause. His skill in Kalari, an ancient martial art, is used to fatal effect. One after another, his victims fall. Ministers, treasury officers, secretaries etc., the government and the police are appalled. CBI is pressed into service. A ding-dong battle ensues between "Hindustani" and the CBI chief.

Senapathy pursues his mission. He telecasts the killing of a corrupt doctor nationwide. Of course, all his doings are dramatic, like a true Bollywood hero. The climax comes when his son is injecting alcohol into a corpse, to save himself. The son had issued an FC to a bus, which turns turtle killing school children. Senapathy is after his own corrupt son even as the CBI is chasing him. "Hindustani" survives the ordeal having completed his mission.

There is a striking parallel with the Indian scene today. The commonman is under tremendous pressure to revise his conceptions about politics, politicians and national priorities. The hope of his miserable condition improving is getting shattered day after day. Scams unfold with regular monotony, exposing the loot of the national wealth. Bribes, kickbacks, scams are the order of the day. There is everything in Senapathy - the hero of Hindustani - to identify with the commonman living today.

In a scenario like this, there is a serious threat to the ruling classes, if masses get mobilised to resurrect lost values in public life. Therefore we find a section unleashing pulp patriotism to divert people's attention. In our TV we find - Bharat hai hamara, hum hai Sahara; Mile sur mera tumhara and a lot of PK Mishra kitsch. The film industry has donned the mantle of Boy Scouts patriotism. Long ago, Shiv Sena-BJP gave a code of conduct to Bollywood. What is interesting is that since this code, Bollywood is not producing as many block-busters as before. Hence, the limelight has shifted down South.

Nayakan, Roja, Bombay, Humse Hai Muqabla have smashed all-India records. All these were in Tamil, and then made into Hindi, to net superprofits. Each film has an all-India theme and an issue. They reveal pulp nationalism in full measure. Look to the cryptologist hero of Roja, dousing a burning flag by rolling over it on the ground. Look to pulp secularism in Bombay trying to unify two communities by unleashing middle class sentimentality. And now comes Hindustani - in which a freedom fighter is shown to have a self-righteous patriotic neurosis.

Hindustani is a drama of the elite sections of the society, underlined by the "Blue Cross" connection of Manisha Koirala in the film. Though corruption is manifest all over, i.e systemic, the simplistic solution suggested is to pluck all the weeds. The director carefully controls the action/drama. Mass action or group initiative/activism is never shown or hinted at. In a scene where a cobbler's wife (Aruna Irani) is humiliated at the Treasury Office, other women in similar plight gather around her. The surge, the push of the crowd is shown. Not an inch forward there after and no stone flies. The next move by the mob is carefully curbed by the director.

The director has built a parallel contemporary reality in the film. To save the system from overall collapse, we see one wing of the state (judiciary) displaying "activism". The message intended is clear. That there is still hope. One arm of the state can take upon itself the task of cleansing the whole of unwanted weeds. In the film too, police, government, RTO etc. are full of corruption. But CBI is full of impeccable officers. India has seen too much of cleansing these decades. We have had national cleansing - clean government, Mr. Clean prime ministers etc. It is significant that Hindustani opens with a gigantic cleaning machine doing its job, gobbling every speck of dirt and dust.

The film Hindustani is technically superb. It has very good photography. Long shots and deep focus really make for an artwork. The computer graphics are very good. In future, any Bollywood movie has to have digital graphics. Such is the effect.

The music is by AR Rehman. He is credited with much talent. But what crass commercialism can do to talent is clearly seen in this film. He has tried to weave a kaleidoscope of tunes and sounds. But here it has turned out to be a Khichri. The tunes are a straight lift from earlier Hindi film songs, heavy metal and acid rock. You can count plagiarized tunes and sounds in a sequence.

The dances in the films have a touch of the postmodern about them: they are choreographed without any relevance to the theme of the film or the songs. Ever since Michael Jackson broke his way to stardom in Moonwalk, the Indian film viewer has the misfortune of seeing his/her heroes baffooning breakdance. Except for one song, Maya Maschindra, which has its own storyline and digigraphics, none of the songs bear a semblance of creativity. It is again PK Mishra who has 'coined' the words for the socalled songs.

With such qualities Hindustani should have otherwise been a damp squib. In such a film, "Hindustani" (the hero) could only be a comicstrip hero like Spiderman, ever defending righteousness in a vile world. It should be a comicstrip world where there are readymade villains to get plucked like weeds. That's why Hindustani (Hero) survives a burning inferno. Stage is set for a sequel - the return of the "Hindustani".

Ever since Kamal Hasan's name was proposed for Oscar in Nayakan, he seems to have taken this idea to his head. In Oscars (foreign film category), the wide reach of a film is the main criteria for awards. Hence his films are dubbed in as many languages as possible. Hence the pan-Indian nationalism. Kamal has to choose all-India issues like urban violence, slum lords, patriotism, frustration of middle classes etc.

The film bares one fact: the Indian state is the true inheritor of the British. Indian government has uptodate information of all radicals and terrorists, past and present. And CBI still classifies INA veterans as terrorists. Eulogising INA soldiers as patriots is one thing, and classifying and monitoring them as terrorists is different. There the movie stumbles upon the real world of "Hindustani".

-VSS Shastry