The delicious irony of Nawazuddin playing Thackeray
All those spouting anger at Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s acceptance of the role of Thackeray as a betrayal should actually look upon it as poetic justice
At the outset, I must admit that I have not got around to seeing the biopic on Bal Thackeray. From the promos, though, it is obvious that there is much flattery and whitewashing of his character. Which is okay, considering that the film has been made at the behest of his son and political heir Uddhav Thackeray and you can hardly expect a son to take a critical view of his father.
But what has startled me now is the angst of the Muslim community and the abuse they have heaped on lead actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the character of Bal Thackeray. They see Siddiqui’s portrayal of Thackeray as a betrayal – by most accounts, it is a powerful performance, although Thackeray’s stentorian roar is missing in his dialogues. Siddiqui speaks in his own voice which is a relief considering the farce that actor Anupam Kher made in attempting to speak in former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s voice, in another biopic released earlier this month. But talking of ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’, which was trashed by most critics and the numbers at the box office, ‘Thackeray’ seems to be doing reasonably well. I guess making a propaganda film for yourself works much better than making one against your rivals.
Also Watch: I didn’t choose ‘Thackeray’, film chose me: Amrita Rao
The film ‘Thackeray’, while whitewashing the central character in some ways, is unabashed about his parochialism, dictatorship and belief in violence as a means of achieving political and personal goals. However, there is one scene, part of the promos for some time now, which disturbs me: Thackeray being depicted as appearing before a court where he is asked if he had a hand in the Mumbai riots. He replies, “I even had my feet in those riots.”
Now which court would that be? The court of Justice Srikrishna, heading the commission that looked into the 1992-93 riots? The court of the magistrate which was looking into Thackeray’s incendiary writings in the Saamana that exacerbated the riots? Or the Allahabad High Court probing the Babri Masjid demolition?
As far as I remember (and I used to tail him dutifully in those years), Thackeray never appeared in these or any other courts to answer for either his hand or his feet in the riots. The closest he came to a personal appearance was in July 2000 at the magistrate’s court before whom he surrendered, but did not have to answer for his role in the riots. The magistrate, within minutes, threw the case out for being time-barred. Justice Srikrishna never summoned him and all of Thackeray’s efforts after the Babri Masjid demolition were focussed on not having to appeal personally before the Allahabad High Court. In fact, he retracted his claim of the Shiv Sena having a role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, precisely to avoid the court issuing him a summons, and did not even appear before a magistrate’s court in Bandra when a worker of the NCP had a warrant issued against him for failure to appear in the court for some communal statements in 2007. That warrant was executed at his home in Matoshree and he was granted bail on the spot within seconds. So now the depiction of Thackeray’s defiant address about having his feet and hands in the riot to a judge leaves me highly confused.
But while the film, made ahead of the Lok Sabha elections with the aim of bringing maximum benefits to the party, might be ringing at the box office, I believe all those spouting anger at Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s acceptance of the role of Thackeray as a betrayal should actually look upon it as poetic justice. The Shiv Sena defined itself over the decades, first as anti-South Indian, then as anti-Muslim and finally, as anti-North Indian. It always espoused the Marathi cause over all these communities. It wanted the Marathi Manoos to be given precedence over outsiders, even if the local was less meritorious. So now among hundreds of actors in the Marathi industry, they did not find even one Maharashtrian to play Bal Thackeray? Siddiqui is both Muslim and from Uttar Pradesh, the two bète noires of the Shiv Sena. What’s more, Amrita Rao, who plays Thackeray’s wife Meenatai, is from Karnataka. Most of Thackeray’s anti-South Indian rampaging, the only offence for which he ever went to jail, was against Kannadigas.
There is delicious irony hidden somewhere in the Shiv Sena’s decision to pick those stars to play the key roles of Thackeray and his wife. We might all just as well sit back and savour it.