Buddha in a Traffic Jam
Cast: Anupam Kher, Arunoday Singh, Mahie Gill
Director: Vivek Agnihotri
MBA student Vikram Pandit (Arunoday Singh) has a plan for the upliftment of India’s oppressed tribals and the end of the ‘Naxal problem’: selling earthen pots they make to the world via a smartphone app. “Let’s cut out the middleman… Christie’s and eBay are ready to buy.” He thinks it’s genius. You know it sounds imbecilic.
Writer-director Vivek Agnihotri – the maker of such drivel as Zid, Chocolate, and Hate Story – thinks Buddha in a Traffic Jam is his piece de resistance. By the end of it, this too, appears just as amateur and laughable.
Watch: Trailer of Buddha In A Traffic Jam
What Buddha… is instead, is propaganda disguised as cinema. The film is divided into a dozen odd chapters. The prologue opens, if you’ll believe it, in 2000 BC. A tribal man in Bastar is chopping wood with an axe. The Iron Age dates back to around 1200 BC, but never mind that. Cut to 2014. A tribal man is still chopping wood. Historical veracity notwithstanding, the statement is a good one: little has changed for him. Except, he’s now caught in the cross-fire of the government-Naxalite fight.
Points for balanced opinion? If only.
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Agnihotri drops the charade quickly. Naxalites, he proposes, have infiltrated the government, the intelligentsia, schools, financial institutions, even “Bollywood”, like the HYDRA invaded SHIELD (Avengers, anyone?). They’re among us, greeting each other with hushed “Lal Salaam” instead of “Hail HYDRA”, waiting to strike, to unleash the evil, to take over. “Rrreeevoluuution,” screams a central character, less like a zealot, more like a rock musician on ecstasy.
Unfortunately, or, fortunately (depends on how you see it), Agnihotri’s skills as a director are so limited, he’s thoroughly unconvincing.
Judged purely as cinema, without political bias or naiveté, the writing and execution are insipid. The narrative has the flow and progression of a BuzzFeed listicle. Chapter numbers stand in for serial numbers. ‘10 conspiracy theories that prove Naxals are evil’. Punctuations come in the form of repetitive catalogue-ish shots of the ISB (Indian School of Business, Hyderabad) campus, where most of the film is shot.
Pandit is the central character, the titular Buddha. The genius who will save the world, one earthen pot at a time. Singh, who plays him, is mostly tolerable. The intermittent hamming and non-acting of the extras makes him look better. But the weight of the film, and a lion’s share of the lines, rests with Professor Batki (Anupam Kher). He’s the charismatic teacher the students rally around. The shepherd, or the Pied Piper, if you will. Kher, without surprise, is also the strongest actor. His decisions move the film along.
The other characters are drawn in sweeping generalisations: exhibit a) students who say “f**k” a lot; exhibit b) bored housewife running a potter’s club; exhibit c) corrupt Naxal leader, who’s also a chauvinist pig, and therefore must rip the front of a woman’s dress without rhyme or reason.
Good cinema must be convincing. Good propaganda even more so. Buddha… doesn't manage to be either. At one point, Pandit is delivering a speech on corruption, and how students can change it all. But how?, someone asks. His solution? “Do it by thinking it.”
Pandit is Agnihotri on screen, naturally; the film is “autobiographical”. They’re both utterly self-convinced. We are not.
Sarit Ray tweets as @saritray2001
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