Chhapaak and Tanhaji: It’s not a contest
So there’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that despite millions of people taking to the streets to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and an outpouring of fears about what the Act means for the marginalised, CAA was notified late on Friday night. Rather than an actual development, the notification is a matter of procedure. The question of whether CAA is valid remains unanswered since the Supreme Court will only hear the matter on January 22. Still, for those protesting, the Act coming into force was a reminder that a large section of the public wasn’t being heard by those in the corridors of power.
The good news is that the makers of Tanhaji, a new film starring Ajay Devgn which released last week, sensibly replaced a line about Shivaji being the protector of feminine virtue and brahmin janeu (it’s still in the trailer if you’re curious) to one that wasn’t caste-specific. There’s still no explanation for why an ‘h’ has been inserted into Tanaji Malusare’s name, but at least the makers listened to the public when it raised valid objections on the janeu reference.
A strange opposition was set up last week after Deepika Padukone took time out from promoting her film Chhapaak, which also released last week, to visit Jawaharlal Nehru University and show solidarity with students who were beaten up on January 5. Right-leaning trolls announced they were going to boycott Chhapaak and make Tanhaji a hit to teach Padukone a lesson. This resulted in a few hundred men booking the same ticket in the same multiplex (because surely that is more credible than so many humans behaving like bots and uploading messages and screenshots they’ve received from elsewhere). Some announced they had blocked Padukone on Twitter (no doubt a crushing blow to all concerned).
Neither Padukone nor Devgn have suggested their films are competing against one another.
Even so, on Saturday morning, a few enthusiastic folk triumphantly compared the first day’s earnings for the two films. Tanhaji had earned around ₹16 crore on day one while Chhapaak had earned a little less than ₹5 crore. Minor detail: Tanhaji earned ₹16 crore from two versions (Marathi and Hindi) of the film playing at 3,880 screens across India. Chhapaak is a Hindi film released on 1,700 screens and there are reports from a few places in Uttar Pradesh where cinema hall owners chose to not screen the film because they felt “terrorised” by offline trolls.
There are few things sillier than setting up a competition between these two films. Chhapaak reportedly made on a budget of ₹35-40 crore, is based on the life of activist Laxmi Agarwal who survived an acid attack at age 15. Even though Chhapaak is actually the kind of film you can (and should) take your whole family to see, ‘acid attack’ isn’t what comes to most people’s minds when you think “family entertainment”. Sure, it has unnecessary song sequences and a superfluous flashback, but that’s about all the film has in common with a masala movie. Chhapaak delivers a story rooted in reality, pain, and patriarchy. Despite the grimness of the topic and a script that verges on being simplistic, Padukone’s film leaves us with fragments of hope to which we can hold on.
Tanhaji, on the other hand, is a big-budget, escapist crowd-pleaser. The ₹150-crore film is ridiculous and over-the-top, with a villain who barbecues crocodiles and Aurangzeb who looks like Luke Kenny. The film will teach you nothing about Indian history and it wraps its Mughal-hating heart in some beautiful cinematography, excellent visual effects, and good action sequences. Serious-minded folk may well point out that the film seems drunk on Hindutva kool-aid (would that be gaumutra?). However, it’s hard to take anything in Tanhaji seriously, from its bhagwa-rich colour scheme to its contention that Aurangzeb – who was born in Gujarat – should be considered an outsider. Though you have to wonder, given his father was born in Lahore, would Aurangzeb make it into the National Register of Citizens?
But never mind all that. It’s a rare week when the audience is spoilt for choice: A good film like Chhapaak and/or a mindless entertainer likeTanhaji. Make the most of it.