With ‘MSG: The Messenger of God’, Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda’s head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (47) seems to redefine what a ‘saint’ should do, but the movie in fact is only the logical next step for a controversial sect head seeking to overawe.
He may claim that it is only an attempt to connect with his “70% youth following”, but this latest trick from his bag is aimed as much at his disciples as at his detractors. The added flavour of patriotism points further in that direction.
LIKE ANY OTHER
Started in 1948 by an ascetic named Mastana Baluchistani, the sect was hardly known outside the region overlapping the Punjab-Haryana-Rajasthan border for decades. Though the dera now reportedly boasts of over 4 crore followers and around 50 ashrams across the country, even the reign of Mastana’s successor Shah Satnam Singh was unremarkable in times before court cases and religious gurus became synonymous in popular imagination.
After taking the ‘gaddi’ (seat of power) in 1990 at the age of 23, Ram Rahim, too, was yet another baba in the dera-filled spiritual space of northern India. The movie title ‘MSG’ captures the names of the three gurus — Mastana, Satnam, Gurmeet.
The turn in his fate came at the turn of the millennium. In 2002, he was accused of rape in an anonymous letter to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Then came accusations of murder, and those cases remain in court. Recent allegations include castration of followers in the name of nirvana and also that he forced people to commit suicide.
The modern and larger-than-life change in his manner and style — graduating to modified cars, custom-made bikes, rainbow-coloured T-shirts and gaudy costumes — coincided with the controversies, the biggest of which came in 2007 when he allegedly dressed up as Guru Gobind Singh, igniting fresh protests from Sikh groups who already were opposed to him over his alleged misuse of religion. That case was later quashed by the court upon the police’s request.
Over the years, he presented himself as a social reformer, gaining plaudits for his work in the fields of cleanliness drives and blood donation. Now, his website lists him as an expert at almost all possible human endeavours, ranging from singing trance and rock to making scientific inventions.
“For instance, Guruji sang a song called ‘Chocolate’ in a live concert, suspended 30 ft above the ground, from a crane that was moving throughout,” says the website. Other “miracles” include curing cancer and getting someone’s eyesight back.
So much so that even his enemies call him ‘guru-ji’ in the trailer of his movie.
SHOWBIZ STRATEGY, AND SEQUEL
Before the movie, his showbiz career was limited to music albums, for which he wrote, composed and sang songs in a mish-mash of Hindi-Punjabi and some broken English. Since 2012, he claims to have released half a dozen albums, the most popular one titled ‘Highway Love Charger’.
Apart from the usual ‘naam charcha’ or discourse, he now holds concerts that are called ‘Ru-ba-Ru Nights’, and has already scored a century on that count. YouTube stands testimony to how popular he is, though a large chunk of the viewership comes from those who are fascinated, even revolted, by his outlandish antics.
The strategy, the dera head says, is to package a spiritual message in a modern wrapper. At the heart of the message, though, remains showcasing his power to mobilise the youth with an image that pitches him as a godman, if no god. Reverse psychology is at play to when he uses the suffix Insan or ‘human being’ with his name like his followers.
Furthering the larger-than-life persona that helps him grab imaginations much beyond his domain, the movie is a logical progression for the dera head. It is being released in several languages.
So convinced is Ram Rahim with his strategy that shooting for a sequel is almost complete too, and that won’t be the last in the series.
PADDING IT WITH PATRIOTISM
Marrying religious discourse with a nationalistic agenda is the added tinge in this strategy. In one of the dialogues in the movie trailer, he says “Humein maarna apne aap ko maarne ke barabar hai,” that killing him would amount to killing one’s self. The counter-defensive tone is apparent. Then, he carries the Tricolour through several scenes, including a song, “Jiyeinge marenge, mar mitenge, desh ke liye”, claiming that he will live and die for the country.
His backing for the “nationalistic” Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dera’s first such open declaration of support, follows the same trajectory — placing himself as a spiritual superman who carries religion and patriotism as his superpowers. The movie is just another layer to the screen behind which the real Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh appears to be concealed.