Jab Tak Hai Jaan :: A tribute to Yash Chopra

By Saswat Pattanayak

Yash Chopra’s last, Jab Tak Hai Jaan is by far his greatest creation. In many ways, it is one of the grandest experiments in the history of Hindi cinema. However, the aspects that are revolutionary about this movie have not really been deliberated upon by the critics so far.

For one, Jab Tak Hai Jaan addresses ageism and sexism that affect a large section of Indian audience. Piyasree Dasgupta for FirstPost writes, “a self proclaimed 25-year-old, who looks 40, gets to kiss a girl who seems to have walked out of Vogue….(the girl) despite all her Mercedes and Gucci glory, can’t keep her hands off a waiter who has an annoying habit of speaking like he is perpetually in an art of living class.”

The patriarchy subsuming the likes of Dasgupta cannot make room for anyone subpar in their look books. Therefore, not only is a 40-year old not acceptable – let alone attractive or not (which again are extremely subjective adages) – enough simply because he “looks” a certain age, he is not allowed to kiss a girl who again “looks” like a fashion model. Not just a good-looking woman, but one who looks like a Vogue cover. Objectification of women (and, men) does not end here. The man is also derided for being a waiter with an unpolished accent. Clearly working class folks must not aspire for wealthy “beauties”, concludes Dasgupta. Classism has become classy in such reviews.

Except, there is a problem here. Yash Chopra has addressed issues of class society in almost all his movies. Too often the highbrow critics have pronounced Chopra movies to be silly tales of romantic love, and our competitive academic standards coupled with parental strictures have made our educated audience to believe in the notion that there is nothing revolutionary about love as a construct. Love therefore gets relegated to the stature of an Indian myth, connected vaguely with the days of yore. Young folks who would otherwise fall in love have started singing the tunes of “friendship” to appear cool, a live-in to refrain from commitments, and aspire for individual career growths while leaving behind their mutual feelings as “impractical”. Yash Chopra did not fail to depict Anushka Sharma embodying this position. But he took this narrative one step further – he suggested that the old recipe still works today. And that, it should.

To bring home that point, Chopra added a Rishi Kapoor-Nitu Singh pair to the plot. He even broke any stereotypes about the “old” marriage-forever love. Nitu Singh is portrayed as a married woman with a child who preferred to run away with her lover leaving behind her husband and daughter. Not because she was abused in her relationship; in fact she was well taken care of. Hence, under ordinary circumstances, Anupam Kher, the deceived husband would have earned all the sympathy for being the sufferer and for being the father who single-handedly raises a daughter. But no, Chopra makes Kher look like a capitalist crap who did not deserve either the wife or the daughter. So much so that Katrina Kaif, the daughter, ends up learning the lessons of love from the very man who had separated her from her mother. Intriguing, yes. But progressive, very much. This point is clearly lost to most critics, including Anupama Chopra (who writes an otherwise favorable review in the Hindustan Times) when she says, “You don’t go to a Yash Chopra movie to delve into realism or the messiness of relationships. You go to partake in a fantasy of swooning, idealised love – and Jab Tak Hai Jaan delivers plenty of that.”

Yash Chopra movies are brilliant realisms and his love stories are necessarily messy. As a matter of fact, love and realism are not contrasts, they are intertwined. As Che Guevara used to say, “the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.” What Yash Chopra has consistently done through his movies is project love and its variously complicated manifestations (the realisms, so to say). Chopra started his career as a director with the brilliant Dhool Ka Phool, whose Sahir Ludhianvi (who worked with Chopra for all his movies until the poet passed away) number “Tu Hindu Banega Na Mussalman Banega” still holds torch for the only hope in an increasingly divisive India. Dhool Ka Phool was a love story with all the characteristic messiness Yash Chopra went on to embrace in all his movies. A scenario where a woman abandons her own child simply because she had got carried away with her partner, broke several taboos in a society where motherhood is considered a virtue by all means. And yet, Chopra never made this woman a villain, and he even made an example of a Muslim man who brings up this abandoned child with humanist values – a child who subsequently is accepted by the society. One may argue it is all too idealistic, but Chopra made this convincingly real and urged upon the audience not to just reflect on what is prevalent, but also to consider what is required for a world after his vision.

Likewise if in Daag, Chopra explores issues of bigamy, in Aadmi Aur Insaan, he tackles love’s intersection with class. In Kabhie Kabhie, a daughter from a pre-marital relationship is made as acceptable as the old lovers turning friends, within a highly complicated series of love stories spanning two generations. In Trishul once again, Yash Chopra makes an “illegitimate” son the protagonist, who then takes revenge by destroying his rich father’s capitalistic setup. Kaala Patthar, another outstanding cinematic treatment of social justice, engages love stories within a framework of socialist realism bringing the miners to progressive prominence. Equally compelling is Mashaal, where the decent protagonist turns to arms with no other purpose than exposing the misdeeds of the socially venerated. In Faasle – although considered his cinematic worst – Chopra throws positive light on secret relationship over marriage despite the inherent challenges. Chandni treats disability as a social location and how oppressed it is when it comes to juxtaposed love. Lamhe was revolutionary in its examination of age and stereotypes, where it is not considered in Yash Chopra’s vision any unnatural if the younger men love older women or younger women fall for older men. Darr brilliantly humanizes an otherwise villain as an ardent, misunderstood and irreconcilable lover. Dil To Pagal Hai, Veer-Zaara and Silsile are in their own unique ways romantic masterpieces but have at the same time challenged existing conventions of friendships, patriotism and, loyalty respectively.

To dismiss Chopra as someone who does not complicate relationships in his movies is as blatantly fabricated a charge as there can be. And apart from the complicated love story, what Jab Tak Hai Jaan provides for is even more radical, which unfortunately has escaped the critics so far.

Jab Tak Hai Jaan profoundly challenges the divine belief systems that usually dominate Bollywood. Rituparna Chatterjee for IBN Live says the movie could have a different ending. The “ending falls flat” because the audience were waiting for a tragic twist instead of a happy ending. Well, the ending was a deliberate mischief on part of Yash Chopra but its foundation was laid from the very beginning. Throughout the movie, Katrina Kaif makes promises to Lord Jesus and is rewarded for her religiosity. Shah Rukh Khan, her vagabond lover is a self-proclaimed non-believer and even challenges “Sir Jesus” (a sarcasm) that he will win in the end. Unlike all the movies in the past that have taken up such a topic where the god is challenged, in Jab Tak Hai Jaan, the god eventually loses. Jesus would have won, had Shah Rukh died while diffusing the last bomb because Katrina had broken all her divine promises. Chopra deliberately had this unpalatable but a necessary ending where a man openly and unrepentantly challenges the divine plan, and prevails.

Yash Chopra forces us to rethink the concepts of the vagabond, reminiscent of Raj Kapoor’s experiments with Aawara (which in turn was influenced by Charles Chaplin’s). But he takes up this unenviable task in an era of corporate aspirations where programmatic mindsets and technical expertise and systematized greed rule the day. And he again deliberately poses a struggling Pakistani as a friend-in-need, something which has not gone down really well with the critics. Rituparna wonders how a “struggling Pakistani, who could not hold down a job long enough to save some money to send back home, makes it big as the manager of a posh eatery in London in 10 years’ time with the help of a fist full of bank notes”. Well, guess what, there are numerous rags-to-riches stories in the world, and this one did not even begin with rags.

What is worse, Azzan Javaid for the “Parallel Post” goes one step further to describe this character as “a fat and good for nothing Pakistani who lives on the money of his good Indian friend”. So not only is this person now “fat” (which is to say, he/she does not fit into the fascist standards of acceptance), but the fact that he is unemployable or at the moment unemployed, makes him a “good for nothing”, and make no mistake, here comes another slur – Pakistani (who lives on the money of his Indian friend). And our elitist reviewer Piyasree Dasgupta for First Post fails to digest this phenomenon and caricatures working class heroes as “freeloading floozies to Michelin-starred restaurant owners”. To begin with, “floozies” is an utterly sexist remark and “freeloading”? What are we now, Mitt Romney? Not to mention Dasgupta’s disdain for “taller women with hotter legs” as the Firstpost review describes the women in the movie.

That said, I certainly have utmost respect for Javaid’s arguments regarding Kashmir – although in Chopra’s defense, the vagabond was playing his tunes from Ladakh to London and that is what vagabonds are about, leading therefore to a movie that did not certainly critique contemporary Kashmir crisis. And this movie while humanizes military uniform, it does not glorify war or stigmatize another nation as an enemy – which many otherwise acclaimed movies have done in the past even without displaying the uniforms. Coming back to the Pakistani friend, what Dasgupta and Javaid ignore is what Chopra deliberately planted there – that friendships are unconditional relationships; at times overcoming national boundaries or wealth – a constant theme with Yash Chopra movies, a direct takeaway, if one may, from his elder brother B R Chopra’s works.

Some critics also have pointed out their disappointment at the fact that a vagabond street musician ended up becoming an Indian Army officer. This sentiment of disapproval is a variant of the elitist mindsets pervading the youth today who also wonder how a lower caste child of a cobbler can imagine of becoming a doctor. Well, guess what, such highly annoying visions have remained historically core to Yash Chopra movies. Utopian, for sure, but welcome? Very much.

So not only someone who “looks like he is 40” can actually kiss a Vogue magazine cover stunner, he can also help his Lahori friend (by the way, Yash Chopra hailed from Lahore, and that explains that) to become a hotelier, and that fat Pakistani then remains a friend forever, and the mom who had run away from home becomes the idol for the daughter and the reporter who believes in instant love and the god who demands obedience both end up losing in a film that is a Yash Chopra classic, and going to remain his masterpiece because of sheer radicalism and for painting love in revolutionary red.

– Saswat Pattanayak, 2012.

Referenced/critiqued reviews –

The First Post
IBN Live
The Hindustan Times
The Parallel Post
Indian Express


Oscar Awards: White Elephant in the Room

Its not about Viola Davis not winning the Oscar. What’s murkier is the psychoanalytic dependency of Academy elites on their colonial legacies: The Queen, the King and now the utterly despicable Thatcher! The rejection of “The Help” actually offers a timely insight: choosing between the white guilt and the white pride has not been very difficult; beckoning to the colonial era has been easier than reevaluating racist legacies.

However, this is not the most crucial issue. The overwhelmingly positive obsession of the world with the Oscars is. Here is an award ceremony that is inherently Eurocentric and its recognitions have traditionally been conferred upon mainstream movies upholding the status quo. Academy selectors foster visibilities of selective agendas and validate their approvals. They establish norms of achievements and standards of successes. They throttle thematic diversities and control creative boundaries. They celebrate commercial triumphs and hand out golden statues. They convert a quintessentially free form of artistic climate into a corporatized “industry” of thriving multimillionaires.

All this while treating the Euro-American initiatives as comprising main categories while relegating the rest of the world to fight for a “foreign” tag. Like the elite clubs of the ‘good ol’ days’, not only are the nominations complicated and compromised from the start, even the purposes of these awards serve in sustaining the racist world order. Almost as though Oscars is the last thread of the bygone racist era, and yet one which refuses to wither away, affirmed and hailed as it is in the garb of arts and aesthetics.

Art is the holy cow bastion, artists the beautifully neutral people, the entertainers being those that apparently abhor politics. And every now and then, insanely wealthy filmmakers go over on the Academy awards stages to read out speeches decrying politics of all sorts, and to state their distaste towards everything political. In a politically neutral environment, the objectivity and truth-seeking triumphs mark careers of the old rich men who sit down to judge the standards that shall define filmmaking from there on.

Not that diversity is absent. In fact tokenism helps sustaining any status quo further by enhancing its acceptability. In recent memories, when “Slumdog Millionaire” was awarded in the main category, it was considered to be a recognition of Indian cinema. Except, it was not produced in the Mumbai film industry. It was a British film throughout that allowed for certain Indian artists to get the much deserved approvals they had been craving for.

That aside, diversity is, if anything, a sad thing. It is what Malcolm X derided at for the correct reasons. Getting mentioned alongside the owner does not alter the ownership. So when “Crash” won the best picture award, it was the victory of the postmodern, a call to ignore historically conflicting ideologies, and a blanket humanity crisis statement. The minorities were as much racists, a bottom line the movie surmised and impressed the Academy with. Much like the racism in the Third World: the Indians and the Pakistanis are the dogs who deserve their slums until they endorse the only Civilization that decides cultural merits. Worse, until they realize they were better off during the golden era of colonialism and race supremacism. Just look at the poor now – say the colonialism’s apologists – not with scoff, but with pity and concern.

Oscar’s humanitarian, charitable attempts at diversity are not aimed to deconstruct, but to reconstitute. Not to demolish the Academy’s old world order which kept Paul Jarrico or Dalton Trumbo from receiving credits and Paul Robeson blacklisted. But to repackage itself for the new manufactured audience, a global consumerist audience, an audience whose thoughts are systematically being reshaped through textbook lies and news channel agendas and projected lifestyle priorities.

Spiritual, humanitarian, and charitable as they are, they even are politically correct: they abhor institutionalized religions and oppose any forms of censorship. Free speech is what they preach and so they must show solidarity with the champion of their brand of free speech: Sacha Baron Cohen. Lets caricature the usual suspects, Prophet Mohammad, the Catholic Pope – but, and, while at it, let’s mock Gaddafi and Kim-Jong Il as well! There, we were not fostering Islamophobia or Anticommunism. This is just free speech in a free country. Those evil dictators deserve a lesson in free speech. And Academy is all about freedom!

The freedom that has been bestowed upon the earth by the British monarchy through its generous, hardworking messengers of trade, military and governance. The Nirad Chaudhuris and the Uncle Toms, the Manmohan Singhs who express gratitude to the Queen for teaching uncouth Indians a lesson in English. The freedom of the Queens and the Kings of Britain and most of Europe to define democratic values for the African and Asian savages. The freedom to loot and drain resources and to leave the colonies ravaged beyond repair, not just materially, but also at subconscious levels so much so that even a drug peddling white tourist in India gets a standing ovation from a brown skinned educated police officer if he/she dared to be obstructed. Or worse, the Bollywood or the television anchors competing for whiter skins among the natives. And thanks to the Oscar recognition of Indians within India-inflicted poverty and providing quick fixes – for enabling the wretched and perpetually hapless miserable slumdogs to become more intelligent dreamers – of one day ending up as fulfilling and happy millionaires, based solely on individual merits and destinies.

The freedom that Margaret Thatcher ensured during her time, the creation of a widespread perception of what a (white) woman is capable of doing: ruling over the most powerful abusive men, and ruling exactly like them. For having the wisdom of recognizing Nelson Mandela as a filthy terrorist and Apartheid as a noble endeavor to acknowledge the black South Africans as at least half humans. The freedom that she brought about to the humanity along with her buddy Ronald Reagan by enabling anticommunist ploys to materialize. Not to mention, the freedom to bomb Libya on charges of alleged misdemeanors of the Gaddafi types who dared raise voices against the master race.

“The Help” not winning the Oscar is not the issue. That movie is not a celebration of organized black resistance anyway. In fact, it would not have been surprising had it actually won such an award at the first place. But the continued acceptance of thematic underpinnings of Academy honors that are reflecting an sustained adherence to Euro-American global, colonial, and racial hegemony is the issue that needs addressing. Considering the unequivocal acceptance of Oscars as the highest talent declarations world over, the need to unthink eurocentrism is rather urgent.

Capitalism: A Democrat’s Love Story

By Saswat Pattanayak

Written for publication in VoxUnion

Capitalism: A Love Story, is just that.

As occurs in most love stories, there are depictions of mismatched expectations, conflicting situations, remorse and grief, cherished moments, rejoiced nostalgia, idealistic aspirations, and eventually a unilateral resolve to call it quits. Michael Moore’s disillusionment with capitalism is manifested in the current liberal crisis: a crisis that discovers resolve in invoking the founding fathers and preaching moral ethics, a crisis that must indulge in taxonomy of political correctness.

Wistful Days of Yore: Most liberal commentators are currently obsessed with the ‘good old days’ before Ronald Reagan spoilt it all. Michael Moore’s film parrots this narrative rather pronouncedly in the film. According to Moore, in the good old days, students were not dependent on loans and wealth flowed into economy from all quarters, and “we even sent a man to the moon”. A system was working until it was failed and hence, the liberal remorse. The truth, however, is that the American political-economic system has never worked for the majority of people, in its entire history. The happy images of the yore which the film so poignantly projects as exemplification of successful economy were at their best, racist, discriminatory and exclusionary. American infrastructure were built not with free spirits of democracy, but with susceptibly invisible slave labor. Its a myth that there ever was a system that had worked in the United States for the betterment of majority of its people, or of the world. The film perpetuates it through appeal to look kindly at the Fordist era.

Not only the industrial period following the Second World War, Moore has selectively quoted from the original American Constitution and the “Second Bill of Rights” as suggested by FDR to appeal to the humanistic roots of American hegemony. Liberal espousal of such brilliant documents, however, are soaked in sheer idealism than any planning around radical restructuring. Neither the makers of such documents had any designs to implement equal access to outcomes of such resolutions, going by the exclusion of oppressed minorities in affairs of the nation, nor were there any attempts to limit the access of the privileged in controlling of economic power. Even to this day, if the Universal Health Care, far from being a fundamental right, has not even been implemented at legislative level, it is because of a refusal on part of the powers to curtail the existing exuberance of the rich class. Mere declarations for “general welfare” (Constitution) or right for “decent home” (Second Bill of Rights) are wishful, and hence by virtue of that, reactionary.

The “Golden Days” of the past never had any scope to limit the free market, and the present days have no control. Moore avoids deliberating on the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment which proclaims that private property cannot be taken by the state for public use. Nor does he quote the Second Bill of Rights where FDR also suggests that every businessman – small, and large, is free to trade in an atmosphere of freedom.
Capitalism versus Democracy: The film’s main argument is that Capitalism is different from Democracy. Indeed, Moore says the other -ism is not Communism, but Democracy. Moore’s reliance on the glories of American proclamation of democracy enshrined in the Constitution has guided him to such idealistic and misleading conclusions. The truth is American democracy has worked just the way it was designed to work from the very beginning. In fact, American democracy has only improved over the years. Women suffrage was not part of what the Founding Fathers had decided upon. By their documents, even the people of color were not going to be active participants in the electoral processes. No matter how many times we quote the Constitution’s exalted words, they were not designed for all. And yet, the document was a result of democratic standards to which Moore looks upto. Likewise, every subsequent amendments have been democratically implemented and have only resulted in sustenance of the status quo. America has been the citadel of democracy, an exemplary nation that has resulted in election of President Obama through sheer voting power. To deny the democratic nature of American politics is to redefine political democracy.

Moore could have chosen to redefine political democracy, because in reality, democracy thus far has only been a constant ally of the capitalists. Election of President Obama is not the liberation of African-Americans from centuries of discrimination; it is yet another victory for the private bankers and militarist forces that profit from economic recession and wars on Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq. Through system of electoral voting, financial manipulations have invariably always taken over the propaganda mill and influenced political processes in most western countries. Capitalism is the political-economic system that demands democratic consensus for its prosperity. Moore does not need to be a Marxist to understand this. A critical perusal of societal bases of economic relationships should suffice. Even President Obama’s democratic mandate was materialized through capitalistic alliances. Capitalism is not opposed to democracy. Indeed, it requires democracy so as to be able to fund, and benefit from, it. A breakaway from feudal past was necessary for the prospective capitalists, and envisioning a proletarian dictatorship through communism would seem nightmarish. The safest bet for the proverbial Wall Street magnets is sustenance of multi-party democracy. Moore surely is acutely aware of it. Roger and Me was an outstanding exposition of status quo elements. But with passing years, and as a Democratic Party fanboy, he is now clouded with misplaced optimisms.

Desperate attempts to separate capitalism from democracy have gone nowhere in the film, because in real life, they are inseparable. Be it Italy, or India, Germany or England, America or Philippines – political democracy is a major hoax of our times – an euphemism for plutocracy. Money buys votes, and democracy is the best system money can buy. Obama was aware of it during his fund-raising campaign which resulted in highest amount of revenue collection in electoral history. In so many ways, it is impossible to differentiate between Reagan and Clinton or Bush and Obama. Because there are no fundamental differences. Each of their democratic triumphs are thanks to capitalistic lobbyists.

Holy Books and Capitalism: So who are the anti-capitalists? Not the communists, Moore declares. They are the anti-communists! The Church! Moore’s childhood love for the Catholic nuns (an exceptional child he must have been) and dreams of becoming a priest himself, and in the typically liberal fashion of distancing oneself from Communism, Moore turns to the Fathers. He quotes the holy books to suggest how the Bible must have been anti-capitalistic in content. The Christian God himself is for the poor and the oppressed. Certainly the atheists must be the capitalists.

Moore misleads not just in his attempts to posit democracy as contradictory to capitalism, but also introduces Christianity as the friend of the oppressed. Not surprising, considering the current liberal fascination of alluring the mainstream and giving them a sense of unity under the America as envisaged by the new president – a race-neutral country of the one-God. Moore goes so far as to interview three Christian priests, and to quote from the scriptures – all appears honky-dory, and everything Christianity is about divine love for the poor and the oppressed. The anti-Capitalists are the Catholics. Such vulgarly twisted interpretations of a religion that singularly led to emergence of capitalism’s assaultive powers speaks of the acute vacuum that exists in current liberal thoughts. Or, quite simply, the dissent camps of the Democrats have merely been converted to becoming apologists for Obama administration. A film such as this clearly absolves Obama of the charges of being a socialist, a “Muslim”, and a likely shareholder of the economic mess.

Hail Obama: Moore, to the cheer of his traditional devotees (myself, included) bashes Reagan and Bush for their dastardly lies about economic state of the nation. But I shall find myself outside of his sycophantic zone in hailing Obama as the man on a mission to correct the ills brought upon by corporate greed. It is not only factually inaccurate to suggest that President Obama has done anything thus far to punish Wall Street mongers, but it is also absolutely ridiculous to overlook the amount of damages the new presidency has caused since its acquisition of power. The fact is President Obama’s election campaign depended on Wall Street mercies and he must remain obliged to their interests. And by all admission, he has. The biggest corporate bailouts in American history were not declared by Bush. They have been authored by Obama. The largest acquittals of financial criminals were not conducted by Reagan administration. They are being done right now by Obama administration. Moore does not offer the slightest hint of how manipulatively the current administration is functioning. The reality is not the failure of capitalism. It is the success of capitalistic democracy. The anti-thesis of Moore’s assumptions.

The film clearly serves as a propaganda medium for Obama administration. But I shall not blame Moore for this myopic project completion. His is reflective of larger liberal opinions. The opinions which have suddenly fizzled out in thin air when it comes to anti-war movements. There is no Cindy Sheehan in this Michael Moore film. A critique of capitalism without mention of the military-industrial complex? Sure, because now, the liberals benefit from the wars. The restless anger and frustration characteristic of Moore has been replaced with Christian values of selective amnesia. Class wars are not done through comic orchestrations. “Hey, tell the CEO that I am Michael Moore and I am here to make a citizen’s arrest” spanks of both celebrity arrogance as well as a self-proclaimed sense of being a savior. Much as his boss Obama, Moore is on a trip: “Are you with me? Let’s go change the world” rhetoric is so seeped in liberal privileges that the commands become invisible to the protagonists.

Democratic Party has killed the anti-war movement in the United States. First by organizing few demonstrations to change the color of the cola in the election war, and then by withdrawing the funds to continue the movement, the party has done bigger damages to kill the spirits of the peaceniks than the Republicans could ever imagine. Progressive filmmakers like Moore no more link war with capitalism as long as Democrats are in power. Is it not a fact that the economic recession could have been better handled had the administration curtailed the enormous defense budgets? With President Obama pushing for more wars against more nations through recruitment of more armed forces than even before, the conservatives are not complaining, and the liberals have their feet in their mouth. This is the first major documentary made by Moore that does not deal with economics of war. He has no one to blame but himself. His constant hope that Obama would somehow stop the wars has been shattered. But he is in denial.

Just as Moore is in denial when it comes to Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. He constantly showcases them as the villains of Bush era. But entirely skips to mention that they were hand-picked by President Obama as well. So why are they serving in Washington? Moore says Obama has selected them because they know the rules of the game. It is smart in selecting the Mafia to control the drug dealings. And what leads Moore to believe that Summers and Geithner will listen to Obama more than they listened to Bush? Unless, of course they are closer to the former. Either way, these are dangerous people – policy makers and capitalists on behalf of the militarists. They are the gifts of the political democracy. Just as Goldman Sachs is. Or Secretary Paulson, the former chief of Goldman Sachs was. If Obama is the hope for the democracy, Goldman Sachs – his million dollar sponsor – must be the protector of democracy. Moore, like Obama, denies that capitalism is inseparable from political democracy. Like the politically savvy liberals, both of them claim a distance from the dirty mud while embracing the rejoicing pig.

Upon election of Obama, Moore declares it is a “Farewell to Old America” in his film. He cites a bread factory cooperative and a Bank of America employees protest as examples of rejuvenated country that is witnessing revolutions against corporate takeover. This is exactly the kind of myth which the current administration wants to spread in its attempts to strengthen base among its loyalists. Moore has unknowingly or knowingly fallen in that pit. Anti-corporate sloganeering are among the easiest of protests. Politicians love it when the public turns its ire against the corporates, and business houses do not mind much of the assault so long as the politicians honor their contracts. Both the sectors remain so cozy in their actual functioning as partners in crimes because by turning the public ire against the “corporate greed”, they ensure that the enemy will always be a faceless, unknown bunch of people whose progress are neither supposed to be monitored by the public nor are even noticed from close quarters.

Therefore when a few dozens of Bank of America employees express their anger at the company, President Obama declares his support for them and win huge approvals. And needless to predict, the bank then hands over few thousand dollars to the employees and the movement fizzles out. The protestors think they have won the battle, whereas in reality, the political party in power gains strength, makes greater friends with the company, and the company bosses find reciprocation from Washington. So when Ken Lewis masterplans takeover of Merrill Lynch at $50 billion, or contributes to fraudulent misappropriation of taxpayers’ money worth $700 billion, eyebrows are raised, but actions are not taken against him. In fact, the public anger is still against the “corporates”, but the closures are hardly in sight. The biggest vultures, like Citigroup and Bank of America continue to flourish when it comes to their board member salaries with public money. In fact, Citigroup has liabilities of $1.797 trillion! And yet, these company heads, instead of being imprisoned for fraudulent practices, predatory lending, and mismanagement of working class money, are rewarded by the administration in Washington DC without any clause for future auditing of their subsequent spendings.

Political democracy has always needed capitalistic economics. They swim and sink together. The odd examples of cooperatives that Moore provides are not only exceptions, but they are romanticized exceptions. Cooperatives, unless made universal and owned by the states themselves make no sense, and are merely to suffer from the maladies of health insurance status in the United States. The private enterprises through their carrot dangling tactics will continue to attract a select few and the rest will be subjected to their own fates. Mixed economy, like the “middle class”, is a misnomer. There are only haves, and the have-nots. A credit society is not a prosperous society. America is a prime example of a failed economy because of capitalism. And capitalism survives through the political system it has helped create. Contrary to Moore’s assumptions, capitalism did not start with Reagan. It started with the Constitution of political democracy where the voting is counted, candidates are selected, the public is normalized into believing that the system which opts for “change” as opposed to “replacement” is the system that works.

Handing over $6000 worth of checks to few employees at a bank is not called advent of revolution. Temporary pacification of agitated mass through token money and soothing words of religious priests are actually murders of revolution.

Brother Gil Scott Heron has appropriately described what is a revolution:

“NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32 or report from 29 districts…There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news and no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose…The revolution will be no re-run brothers; The revolution will be live.”

Michael Moore has distorted the idea of revolution. Revolutions indeed, cannot be predicted through mainstream movies commercially distributed nationwide. Or through the collaboration of the Catholic Church. Certainly not spearheaded by the likes of Obama and his fundraiser Goldman Sachs. As always, the conservative critics have raised wrong questions. The question that is being asked today is why Michael Moore resents capitalism so much if he makes so much money. And Moore continues to be defensive about it by citing instances of how the privileged can make a difference. By that standard, Warren Buffet and George Soros and Bill Gates are all necessary elements for a better world. In reality, these are the scums of the earth, and the parasites that grow with their charities. Moore does not need to defend any of these guys, nor does he need to answer why he is collaborating with Sony Pictures for his films or Warner Books for his books.

Moore may also look at another critique of capitalism, and he might just discover then that individual consciousness is shaped by the political economic system, and not the other way around. Revolutions are not conducted by one man with a controversial name and an amplifier, nor are they done by a group of people crying in joy at being pacified by a populist president throwing around resounding words. Revolutions are not supported by multi-party voting systems founded by oligarchies, sustained by nationalists, funded by feudalists and flavored by capitalists. Moore’s intents at attacking capitalism is much appreciated, and most timely for him to win few more awards from the European jury. But his tools of deconstructing capitalism as necessarily antithetical to political democracy, his analysis of class relations from the standpoint of Bill of Rights, his reliance on Germany, England and Japan as model democracies, and his aspirations to offer the political democracy as a solution to the global economic crisis, instead of isolating it as one of the root causes are worth inspections all over again. Liberals will do well in expressing solidarity with international movements against capitalism based on their class status and class alliances. In their reaffirmed belief in overthrowing of existing structures of power in a sense that there will be no president that will be heralded by his race, nor be surrounded by the old treasury criminals as his advisers.

A political democracy that allows everyone a vote without first ensuring that everyone has equal access to the potential of the exercised power, is a sham. Its a political system that was a stark failure when the Greeks first implemented it for only the elites. Its a system that was a failure when the European landowners implemented while excluding the slaves and the women. Its a system that continues to be a failure when India as the world’s largest democracy goes to polls with people illiterate and hungry. Its a system that remains a failure in America where the candidate that is fielded is the one who must raise most funds by collaborating with the corporate houses. Western democracy has been an abject failure, more so because it gets away with ‘masks of consent’ rather than facing revolutionary forces of workers in solidarity. Such phony democracy is a system that has become the norm, a standard against which other systems are evaluated, a self-sustained yardstick that has no place for upheavals and certainly, no scopes to imagine revolutions. Such unsurpassed strength of an immoral political system is possible only through the massive presence of its base: Capitalism. It is inconceivable for the modern democracy to exist without capitalism. The sooner the masses realize it, the sooner they will find their paths of liberation. They will not wait for another four years. Nor for the next charitable rich for their strikes to be called off.

Revolutions are expressions of collective human emotions. Not their suppressions. Moore’s comic attempts to capture the essence of our times are certainly worthwhile, but their attempts to define revolutionary ethos are not. The Moore I knew from Roger and Me is a much evolved man now. He is not so much opposed to the types of the Pat Boones during economic crisis. Rather, he is way more subtle, more religious and less angry a man now. And so is his new film. Without a distinctive revolutionary tone, which we had all so grown to expect from an unquestionably remarkable filmmaker like him.

Lage Raho Munna Bhai: The Mahatma Strikes Back!

Well, some news is actually good!

Like the news that Munna Bhai is back with his friend Circuit to the silver screen! In an unflinching tribute to his beloved late father Sunil Dutt, who is much missed in this brilliant sequel, Sanjay Dutt has made more than acting come alive. Writer-Director Raju Hirani has once again excelled in popularizing the conventionally absurd, eulogizing the most susceptible, and sketching raw feelings with innate deftness of a master filmmaker.


None of the Mumbai films released this year made much sense this year, with the sole exception of Madhur Bhandarkar’s Corporate, which dealt with feminism’s oppositional intersection with capitalism in a profoundly relevant manner. And in fact, all the rest of the flicks this year, were disastrous experience for someone who has grown up admiring Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt when it comes to Hindi film industry. In fact, the much touted movies like Kunaal Kohli’s Fanaa, and Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna were so pathetic that they deserve entry into the Bollywood Hall of Shame.

Before rushing to ImaginAsian theater, I had a sneak review of Lage Raho Munna Bhai, which did not say much (actually Jason Buchanan got the film’s plot wrong).

Moreover, the film really caught me off guard with introduction of Mahatma Gandhi, considering that with the exception of Kamal Hassan’s Hey Ram (2000), none of the recent movies have treated the Mahatma in a worthy light. In fact, the current crops of Hindi film industry directors have developed some sort of an obsession with making films ridiculing Gandhi and his ideals. So when Munna Bhai got Gandhi as his conscience keeper, it was alarming in the beginning. Indeed, in a scene, Munna came to practice “Gandhi-giri”, and rather displayed some of his own brand of “Dadagiri” to get things done. But as the movie proceeded, there were more complex crossroads between theory and practice that easily left anyone with a deep impression for appreciation.

Just like its predecessor, Munna Bhai MBBS, which radically destroyed the halo around the unholy medicos, this film while actually glorifying the academia, also does its bit to sensitize the fact that no knowledge is good, if it’s not shared. In a bitter way, it denounces the academic elitism of the ivory towers, and the gross arrogance characteristics of the ‘educated’ class, which apathetically witnesses powerful Godmen get away with superstitious spells, and takes active part in promoting such belief structures. It goes even to an extent of patronizing the Marxist analysis of history which is based on mass, not iconic struggles. When an elite history professor flaunts his knowledge on Gandhi, Circuit offers him a slice of his knowledge: history of the misguided youths.

Skillfully done, even the most ardent Gandhian would derive immense pleasure from the absolutely riveting portrayal of the Mahatma. On the flip, devoid of the Kamal Hassan sophistication in filming the Gandhian methods, Lage Raho Munna Bhai may have ended up simplifying Gandhi albeit a bit too much. But looking from the perspective of someone who equates October 2 with a ‘dry day’, the lessons from history is very well learnt with the vulnerabilities and humility intact.


Sunil Dutt legacy:

Lage Raho Munna Bhai has unforgettable moments of Sanjay becoming a radio personality first, to woo his love, then to spread Gandhian messages, and finally to win back his love. One can only recall that Sunil Dutt indeed began his career as a famous radio personality on Radio Ceylon hosting an extremely popular “Lipton Ki Mehfil” in early 1950’s.

Beyond the obvious, Sunil Dutt would have continued to be proud of his son Sanjay, who has been in the past variously accused in aiding of terrorism cases. Like a statesman of high caliber and integrity that his father was while contesting polls from Mumbai, Sanjay Dutt has always silenced his apprehensive critics through his commitment to social justice instead. Sanjay’s unwavering allegiance to his father’s legacy can be traced in movies of his later career. A little known film “Tathastu” made this year starring Sanjay Dutt also reflects the father-son relationship at most beautiful junctions.

Sunil Dutt and his wife Nargis (Fatima Rashid) were widely known as brilliant leading stars for some of the finest Hindi cinemas of yesteryears. But the part that they have most inspired Sanjay with were their commitment to peoples’ causes. Nargis whose progressive works were well known was nominated to Rajya Sabha by Indira Gandhi herself. And Sunil Dutt, through his commitment to carry on the tasks that Nargis had left behind, joined politics in later part of his career. Contesting from Congress ticket would not have come easy for someone in Mumbai, the stronghold of right-wing Hindu fanatic bosses who continue to have a hold over film industry operatives. And yet, Dutt through sheer dedication in his various involvements at grassroots levels, won from his constituency for five terms and passed away while being at office. Not as a successful politician, rather as a conscientious objector and a secular progressive activist, Sunil Dutt liked to live his life.

Whereas right-wing hawkish Indian political leadership celebrated India’s nuclear state status, it should be remembered that Sunil Dutt went from Nagasaki to Hiroshima in order to condemn nuclear weapons. During Punjab crisis, despite anti-Congress wave, he walked 2000 km with his daughter and others from Mumbai to Amritsar in order to plead for peace. At a time when the country was enamored with being declared a superpower (a kind of ‘dadagiri’ if you may) in the making, Dutt traveled through the entire South Asian region in a peace expedition called “Hands Across the Borders”. More importantly, when Babri Masjid was demolished by the Hindu brigade in 1993, Sunil Dutt resigned from his seat as a Member of Parliament, in an exemplary gesture against the communal politicians. Such was the legacy of Sunil Dutt who led his entire political life fighting the communal elements spreading hate and religious intolerance. A peacenik, secularist, progressive politician, and a relentless campaigner in care for cancer and HIV/AIDS affected.

A lesson worth reliving:
Amidst the much mushroomed Bollywood movie scene that proclaims individualistic love, worse, individualistic infidelities, (of the Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt variety), misplaced history lessons of free market youths (like Rang De Basanti, hastily made films about Bhagat Singh), of inundated Diasporic cinema of regressive value (Deepa Mehta range of Fire and Water), of sheer reactionary brand of patriotism (Fanaa, Sarfarosh, Border etc), one has to pause awhile and watch Lage Raho Munna Bhai for whatever it has to offer. Its not just principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha that rejuvenates the undoubtedly best film of this year, but also the fact that anyone in the world can be a Mahatma, and indeed many already are Mahatmas through their committed lives for the sake of others. These Mahatmas are ordinary people like Munna and Circuit who even reform themselves to incorporate Gandhi’s talisman which behooves on us to take steps for the poorest of the poor and to behave appropriately to bring happiness in lives of people we otherwise consider ‘lower’ than us.

For a generation of Indians who take fancy in opposing reservation policies for the oppressed class of people, for those youths who take great pride in their ‘superior’ religions and ‘higher’ castes; for those youths who take pride in their ‘high culture’ sophistication in pursuing ‘cleaner’ high society life, those who gloat in their higher ‘merit’ academic lifestyles, and for those arrogant and innocent and cool and the chic, Lage Raho Munna Bhai will probably provide the greatest lesson of life. This film is the quintessence of the Marx and the Mahatma.

A must-see. A must-felt movie.