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Bollywood’s agenda remains apolitically correct

Sunday 29 February 2004, by SHEDDE*Meenakshi

MUMBAI: There is no danger whatsoever that N. Chandra’s film Indira-A Tryst with Destiny on Mrs Gandhi can be used as fodder in the forthcoming elections.

The film is still at the script stage, hasn’t even scraped together a budget, and hopes to roll only by mid-2004.

Nonetheless, it is worth examining Indian political films and the relationship between our politicians and film stars.

We have had Gulzar’s marvellous Aandhi (the public insisted it was about Mrs G, he usually denied it) and his unflinching Hu Tu Tu starring Tabu, Mani Ratnam’s acclaimed Iruvar (The Duo, echoing the friendship of political rivals M G Ramachandran and Karunanidhi) and Kamal Hasan’s ambiguous Hey Ram !

There are the scarcely-stirring biopics, Shyam Benegal’s The Making of the Mahatma and Jabbar Patel’s Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar.

And although Bengali and Malayalam cinema -including the work of Mrinal Sen and Adoor Gopalakrishnan- has regularly engaged with political issues, mainstream cinema has not offered us much else on contemporary politics.

One of the finest recent films dealing with political ideology is Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi (A Thousand Dreams Such as These), that was recently showcased at the Berlin film festival.

It explores a love triangle set in the 1960s and ’70s that covers the Indira Gandhi years and their engagement with socialism, capitalism and subsequent disillusionment.

"At a time our love for our country is confused with jingoistic patriotism, I wanted to deal with a generation that was unhappy with the nation they inherited from their parents," says Mishra.

"My film is political, but it is more of an analysis rather than a manifesto,which is what some of Mrinal Sen’s work was." Mishra is convinced the film, produced by Pritish Nandy Communications, will find its audience.

"The audience that goes to see Jhankaar Beats or Chameli is in the mood for something different. Besides, this is a love story. In the ’90s, it was fashionable to be apolitical. But when you hear that someone like Bhupen Hazarika has joined the BJP, the younger generation is bound to react to the fall from grace of such people. The youngsters’ cynicism is certainly being provoked into political consciousness."

It is curious how the strategy of political leaders like MGR, Jayalalithaa and NTR, who effortlessly translated their screen charisma into political capital in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh has not been duplicated in north India.

Although Hema Malini, Vinod Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan et al campaign intermittently for political parties, none of them have genuine political clout.

Says N Chandra, "Southern film stars like Rajnikant are known to sponsor mass weddings of the poor. They are seen as genuine leaders and they fight injustice on the screen as well. Their private and political lives are closely connected."

Meanwhile, Chandra’s experience should underline the minefield that political films are. "Uttam Singh Pawar, the film’s producer, is a former Congress MP from Aurangabad, hoping to get a Congress ticket again. He wanted to make the film on Mrs Gandhi ever since the time he was (earlier) in the BJP," he points out.

Would it not compromise a director’s integrity, taking Congress money to make a film on a party leader?

"No, it is not a propaganda film," Chandra insists. "Today there are no ’isms’ left and no party has any moral ground. My film is about a leader who was decisive, a quality we lack today. We should be ashamed-we cannot even decide if we should send our children to St Lawrence or Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan."

See online : The Times of India


Pic: A scene from Sudhir Mishra’s Hazaron Khwahishen Aisi.

The Times of India, Sunday, February 29, 2004.

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