In the last 15-16 years, while the Hindi cinema has been enriched somewhat in terms of form its canvas has shrunken to such an extent that most of the issues of a vast and diverse country like India have fallen out of it. The middle class, its life, its dreams, its romance and fantastic tales of its success have monopolised the content of Hindi cinema. Obviously, many a subject does not seem to exist for it. However, art and literature cannot retain their freshness for long if they ignore the varied aspects and dimensions of their society. The same is true of cinema.
An overview of the films produced in the last one year clearly shows that Hindi cinema is gradually taking a turn in a direction from where Indian society is at least visible-even if it appears to be a bit hazy and somewhat out of sync with reality.
The year began with ‘Pan Singh Tomar’ directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia; and meandering through the quagmire of lanes and by-lanes of young director Diwakar Bannerjee’s ‘Shanghai’ and getting caught in Prakash Jha’s ‘Chakravyuh’ reached Vishal Bharadwaj’s Mandola village of ‘Matru’ in a thoroughly entertaining fashion. At one level, “Pan Singh Tomar’, ‘Shanghai’, ‘Chakravyuh’ and ‘Matru Kee Bijli Ka Man Dola’ all make a statement against land acquisition. In India, any discourse on land acquisition would be incomplete and one-sided without factoring caste into it. Amidst these films, portraying the battle of saving one’s land, came Sanjiv Jaiswal’s ‘Shudra’, which raises the missing link of caste. This film is dedicated to Baba Saheb Ambedkar. Till a few years back, it was impossible to imagine that such a film could be made.
Pan Singh Tomar, an athlete, jumps into ravines to protect his land and his conscience. He could have chosen to lead a relaxed life by surrendering after having reclaimed his land but he knew that surrender – whether before the powerful or before the government – was tantamount to losing one’s conscience, which has been described as “marzad” by Premchand. ‘Shanghai’ makes the democratic government of India a land-grabbing agency. But since democracy implies the lambs voluntarily agreeing to becoming prey to the fox, so, the government first tries to persuade the small peasants to give up their land by offering them the lollypop of development. This is an old recipe for depriving the farmers of their land. First, entangle him into a debt trap, then try to trap him by dangling the carrot of development. If they fall in line, its okay. Otherwise, there are other ways.
The first film centered on land acquisition was produced by Khwaja Ahmed Abbas. The 1946-film, based on a story of Krishna Chander, was christened ‘Dharti ka laal’. Since then, the story was repeated in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’, ‘Shanghai’, ‘Chakravyuh’ and ‘Matru ke…Man Dola’. The promise of development, which politicians make in ‘Shanghai’, ‘Chakravyuh’and ‘Matru…’ is only an improvised version of the dream of roads and electricity which the landlord Thakur Harnam Singh shows to Shambhu Mahto in ‘Do Bigha Zameen’. But Shambhu Mahto refused to part with his land saying, “My Lord, land is the mother of a farmer. How can I sell my mother?”. The landlord did not get him murdered but he entrapped him in debt and usurped his land. But things have changed now. The individuals and movements which come in the way of land acquisition are dealt with through political murders. (‘Shanghai’).
If ‘Chakravyuh’ is an open call for Naxalism, ‘Matru…’represents a shallow but entertaining shadow of it. Vishal Bharadwaj has attained a status as far as form is concerned but his content does not always match his form. Just as Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma cannot match the acting of Pankaj Kapoor and Shabana Azmi; rather they present a contrast. His content and his form are not compatible. In fact, they are contradictory. Cinema is a means of entertainment. Hence, injecting an element of entertainment in serious content is a compulsion of film-makers but that should be done only to the extent permitted by the premise of the film. If you go any further, the film loses laughter; it becomes laughable. Especially, when you cannot express things through black comedy as was done in ‘Jane Bhee Do Yaron’. ‘Matru’ suffers from this very handicap.
Published in the February 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine
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