Life?s a stage

Published on Mar 29, 2006 04:30 AM IST

For many years now, almost everyone in India has known that getting justice from the police and courts in this country is a taxing task.

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None | BySamrat Choudhury

For many years now, almost everyone in India has known that getting justice from the police and courts in this country is a taxing task. For decades we’ve seen expressions of this cynicism manifest itself as anger on the big screen.

Flashback to Bollywood of the Seventies, when the Angry Young Man made his debut. Amitabh Bachchan became India’s biggest star, playing a good man bringing rough justice to the powerful evil. The resonance it found among ordinary folks made it a formula in the film industry. In the films, the heroes succeeded where the police and courts failed. They upheld justice.

No such thing, of course, happened in the real world. The acid of corruption continued to seep into our institutions until they became disfigured and dysfunctional. The cynicism in people grew. Cinema showed us that too — the villains now were no longer Mogambo-like figures. They were not smugglers; they weren’t caricatures of criminals. They were corrupt policemen and politicians. And the hero was no longer the good guy who handed over the defeated villains to the cops. The hero was a tortured, often flawed character himself: he was Nana Patekar in Prahaar, willing to kill at the least provocation. He was Sunny Deol in Ghayal, drunk, violent, brutal. He was Manoj Bajpai in Shool, unreasonable and furious. It was art imitating life.

Then life began to imitate art. The Jessica Lall case happened. The story so far has played out like a Bollywood script. Spoilt brat son of minister allegedly shoots pretty girl in front of over a hundred people. Minister father exerts his influence. Soon no one wants to be witness because who wants to spend the next ten or 20 years embroiled in a court case. It’s so much simpler to take the money and just get on with life.

Except that in this case, there’s a live audience sitting in front of their TV screens, and they want to see the story end like it always does in cinema: they want resolution, and the bad guys in jail. Inspired by cinema, stirred by anger, they do what they haven’t done since Independence. They act.

These are the people who don’t vote because they don’t want to stand in line. These are the people who prefer to pay bribes than take on the corrupt, because corruption is the system. They are you, and me. The audience.

And now, they are the actors too. Participants in a reality show where fact and fiction merge to shape one another. Where the narrative of Rang de Basanti becomes the narrative of Jessica Lall. Now this is what I call intertextuality.

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