The Inconvenience of Truth
Does the concept of an honest reel politician really exist? One wonders if we hate our real politicians more because our reel politicians have taught us just that over a period of time. Someone famously mused that every society deserves the films it makes and so, in essence, the general depiction of politicians in Hindi cinema as corrupt, amoral and spineless creatures isn't off the mark. Ever since one can recall Hindi films have hated netas with great passion. The onscreen politician is always someone who schemes, plots and whose soul is irreparable.
Mere Apne (1971) depicted the unrest amongst the youth of the day but it's the image politicians who exploit the disenchanted students and play them like monkeys that stays long after the film ends. This unique breed of netas, one of them is even called Shri Anokhelal, are nothing less than smiling assassins who go about the whole process as simply as replacing a fused blub.
By the time the 1980s arrived the filmmakers were convinced that the audiences might not accept any shade besides black for an onscreen politician. The good statesmen were there to counter the bad ones but were usually bumped off midway so that the angry young men could get angrier before finally settling the score.
Made almost a decade and a half after Mere Apne Rahul Rawail's Arjun (1985) once again showed the politician manipulating the youth. The disillusionment with the system was at an all-time high and so was the edginess of the youth brigade. In Arjun Shivkumar Chowgule (Anupam Kher) a do-gooder upstart politician still believes in the good of people and inspires the idealist Arjun (Sunny Deol) to fight the ills of society, which unsurprisingly, were credited to the opposition. Of course, Arjun realizes that Chowgule was the bigger evil who played on his naiveté but that's after much ado. For a while before it trudges to its climax Arjun showed the possibility of a shareef neta but once you saw the other side you were convinced that an honest politician is just like Santa Claus. While Arjun was a success at the box-office, Bhrastachar (1989) where Kher almost reprised Chowgule and played a similar character called Purshottam tanked. It's surprising that Ramesh Sippy would cast Kher in a role that just about everyone in the audience knew would play out.
The only time a politician is upright in Hindi films is when they play the lead. Banned during the Emergency when it first released as it was rumored to mirror the life of Indira Gandhi, Gulzar's Aandhi (1975) had at its helm a well-established politician Aarti (Suchitra Sen) who is reunited with her estranged husband JK (Sanjeev Kumar) during campaigning. She refuses to indulge in mudslinging like her opponents who exploit her closeness with her separated husband and even wins the elections by fair play.
In Nayak (2001) a cameraman doubling up as a TV journalist ends up becoming the Chief Minster of a state for a day. Shivaji Rao's (Anil Kapoor) clean image wins millions of hearts; he stands for election and becomes a regular politician who remains upright for pretty much the entire screen time. In the end when Shivaji retorts to the same dirty tactics, Bansal (Paresh Rawal), his secretary absolves him by suggesting that the evil done once to end a bigger ill isn't wrong.
Filmmakers believe that life is what inspires cinema and in this case many famous reel politicians are modeled on the real ones. Bhrastachar's Purshottam was fashioned on the flavor of the season V.P Singh, who dislodged Rajiv Gandhi and became the Prime Minsiter. In Narshima (1991) Om Puri's Baapji donned Bal Thackeray's trademark shades and the hairdo and even though the villain looked eerily similar it never troubled the Shiv Sena supremo. A few years later when Mani Ratnam's Bombay (1995) showed a Bal Thackeray like character regretting the violence during the riots, netaji not only got miffed but tried delaying the film's release for it wasn't truthful enough as he never grieved anything. Chand Bujh Gaya (2005) had the Gujarat riots as the backdrop and a villain, Pratap Singh, who looked so much like Narendra Modi, he even played the Chief Minister, that it had the Censors and the BJP fuming.
Many would argue that this rather extreme notion of a politician only being corrupt much like the abject belief that drives most Madhur Bhandarkar scripts of prostitutes basically being good girls with heart of gold forced into selling their bodies, beggars being nice people stuck with a never ending streak of bad fortune, cops being soulless freaks with zero compassion unless portrayed by a major star- too simplistic and escapist? Could be. But then isn't our cinema mostly that?
Gautam Chintamani is an award-winning writer/filmmaker with over a decade of experience across print and electronic mediums.
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