Just when the angry young men of the Other Cinema (for want of a better word) seemed to have sent their anger on a sabbatical, come three bold, political films from the government stables-the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
Glasnost obviously passed this way, touching the censors en route who’ve spared their scissors. “You should be able to express what you feel, without fear of retaliation,” says NFDC Managing Director Ravi Gupta.
Two of the films-Sanjiv Shah’s Hun Hunshi Hunshilal (Love in the Time of Malaria) and Jabbar Patel’s Ek Hota Vidhushak (Once There was a Clown)-are overtly political and comically subversive.
Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s film Tahader Katha (Their Story), on the other hand, is a troubling study of the death of idealism. Mainstream cinema occasionally attempts to maul politicians, to expose corruption in high places. But screen politicians emerge like comic-strip characters. The films may even be cathartic. Yet they don’t have that quality to disturb, to raise questions.
Hun Hunshi Hunshilal
Director: Sanjiv Shah.
Scriptwriter: Paresh Naik.
Cast: Mohan Gokhle, Dilip Joshi, Renuka Shahane.
Gokhale in one of his ruling avatars, in Hun Hunshi Hunshilal
Shah’s debut film, a delightful allegory, is like fresh air on a rather stagnant film scene. The cinematography may be without elan and the editing quirky. But what a film. Shah has experimented with the structure. Episodic, like a modernRam Lila, it has differentsutradhars.
Interspersed between the events are take-offs on Indian films. Helped by an innovative script b> Paresh Naik, Shah has broken away from the naturalistic and the narrative forms. Says Shah: “I have used traditional forms of theatre but have deconstructed them.”
The film is a fable about the kingdom of Khojpur. The king has a cannon which resembles a Bofors gun when it raises its green snout. King Bhadra-bhoop (played by Mohan Gokhale) rules over a peaceful people. They don’t question anything. Until, that is, the mosquitoes come along.
Mosquito-bites activate the grey cells, prompt dissatisfaction and bring to the surface those vital issues of roti, kapada and makan. And worse: freedom. The gun has been brought to destroy public enemy Number One.
Over television, the king with his hand on the gun, angrily announces: “Hamhe dikhana hai.” He means the mosquitoes. He will, he declares, make them remember their grandmothers: “Nani yaad ayegi.” Sound familiar?
This king dies when the gun goes off accidentally. Next comes Bhadrabhoop II, who takes a giant leap forward in the battle against those mosquitoes. In his regime, there’s a huge Queen’s Laboratory (read the Emergency here) which has to invent mosquito-killers.
And into this lab walks Hunshilal (Dilip Joshi) who comes up with an onion juice which proves to be the mosquitoes’ fatal attraction. It comes in all forms: tablets, injections, sprays. Obligatory, like you know what during the Emergency. But the stubborn mosquitoes get into the dreams of the citizens. So, this king bans dreams. And his goons watch over people’s thoughts and actions.
Meanwhile, Hunshi falls in love with co-worker Praveen (Renuka Shahane). But she’s been bitten by the bug. Eventually Hunshilal loses his immunity- through dreams. He turns violent, burns down the byzantine bureaucratic establishment (read any ministry).
The goons now shadow the “awakened” hero, who can no longer pass by police lathi charging demonstrators. The camera closes in on the badges of the CRPF and the Indian Police Service-censors may have been napping here or hijacked by the humour. Hunshi is arrested, and eventually lobotomised.
This king goes the way of all tyrants-assassinated by a toy gun. Enter Bhadrabhoop III (Gokhale plays all three rulers). This time, however, he is sporting a fur cap, spectacles and a neat moustache-does that remind you of another raja?
This king speaks to his subjects through television. He promises his citizens a new dawn-as did that other raja-while Praveen walks into a setting sun. The more things change, the more they remain the same….
Ek Hota Vidhushak….
Director: Jabbar Patel.
Cast: Laxmikant Bhide, Nilu Phule, Varsha Usgaonkar, Madhu Kambekar.
Dasgupta’s Tahader Katha broods over the decline in values
The films of Dr Jabbar Patel, the Pune-based psychiatrist-cineaste, have always had a touch of the subversive-whether it wasUmbarthaorGhasiram Kotwal. A theme of some relevance in this era of politician-stars, tele-politics and instantly harnessed populism.
His latest film explores the symbiotic relationship between a chief minister and an actor. It recalls Bob Fosse’s Cabaret set in Nazi Germany and Istvan Szabo’s Mephisto, a fascinating study of an actor’s Faustian pact with the devil.
In Patel’s film, the political leader uses the charisma of his childhood friend, tamasha actor Abu Rao (Laxmikant Bhide) to harness his votes.
The actor’s ascension takes him through cinema and finally to a seat in the Vidhan Sabha, sullying along the way his art, his personal life and his integrity. All for a licence, a loan for his troupe. And at the end of this interesting charcter study, one does not know who has used whom.
The Vidhan Sabha scenes are slices of political life. The chief minister asks his clown friend in his MLA role to poke fun at slums when the Opposition is up in arms against a police firing in which three people from a slum are killed.
The director has also explored the complexities of character, often with the play of masks and the use of films within films. The clown, a bastard child of a tamasha actress, uses mimicry in his search of an identity.
And one of the more telling lines occurs in the mahurat shot of a film when the actor disguised as the king (read chief minister) dies so that the king can get away. The king, he says, has escaped into future centuries. He has won, the clown has lost. The last laugh then belongs to the one in power, the king, the dictator, the chief minister.
Director: Buddhadeb Dasgupta.
Cast: Mithun Chakraborty, Dipankar De.
Bhide’s charisma takes him a long way in Ek Hota Vidhushak
While the others used humour, Dasgupta uses poignancy in this beautifully crafted film, which explores the rise of opportunism in the post-Independence era. Dasgupta’s use of landscape is brilliant, Venu’s cinematography inspired. His use of a rural magician who controls people through magic as politicians do through power, lifts this film from the realm ofdeja vu.
The film is set in Bengal in the late ’50s. Freedom fighter Chakraborty (in quite a role reversal) is returning home after being locked up first in the Andaman Islands for killing an Englishman, and then a mental asylum, unable to accept Partition and other changes.
This film, too, is about the death of innocence, purity, and dreams. And there is real anger, especially in the scene where Chakraborty, when asked what he thinks of post-Independent India, lifts his leg and farts loudly.
The film is also about the failure of the present generation in power. The new jagirdars.