The Common Man Speaks

22Sep/180

Manto released in the week when freedom of expression succumbed to a new low

Nandita Das’ Manto, which is a biopic on the literary genius Saadat Hasan Manto, is based in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But after watching the Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rasika Dugal starrer, it doesn’t come across as a period film.

No, this is not a criticism towards the production design or any creative side about the film. The situation of the protagonist wherein he is made to look like a criminal for merely showing the mirror to the society reminds us of the current times. This is unfortunate as it reflects how little has changed in these 70 years after Independence.

This is not the only aspect about the film that portrays today’s era in the imaginary parallel screen inside your mind. There is a moment when the editor of a newspaper advises Manto on writing something halka-phulka (light-hearted) this time around because truth hurts.

In one scene, Manto tries making an audience understand how past invaders are blamed every time we question the authorities about the current pressing issues. This appears right out of the silly comments made by quite a few ‘leaders’ who blame the Mughals, British or Pandit Nehru for the current mess they have created.

Manto elaborates his point by passionately telling the people, “Sab peechhe dekh rahe hain, lekin aaj ke kaatil lahu aur lohe se tareekh likhte ja rahe hain.”

But the audience doesn’t take him seriously. They symbolize those who have become puppets in the hands of loud-mouthed ‘news’ anchors who can create enemies of the nation at their will in order to hide the dark acts of some people.

Manto poster

Apart from the content, the time of the release of Manto turned out to be the most ironical one could imagine. The film arrived just in the week when suppression of freedom of expression succumbed to a new low.

Earlier this week, Salman Khan changed the name of his upcoming production from Loveratri to Loveyatri after a lawyer and fringe organizations objected to it for allegedly hurting ‘religious’ sentiments.

Soon after, the producers of Manmarziyaan made three cuts in the film because some Sikh organizations objected to it. As per the director of the film Anurag Kashyap, he was not even informed about it.

Abhishek Bachchan, who plays one of the leads in Manmarziyaan, justified the cuts yesterday at an event and went onto say that he has no problems with it (read more about it HERE).

What has come as a rude surprise is that the producers of both films readily agreed to the demands without trying to defend their rights as artists, leave alone showing any fight. More importantly, there were hardly any serious protests; nowhere near to what happened with Udta Punjab (2016) and Padmaavat (2018).

If the big names of the industry are ready to succumb even in front of minor protests, spare a thought for a low budget independent filmmaker who can be victimized even for an actor’s hairstyle. To say that they have set a dangerous precedent is a mild way of putting it.

They have ensured that Manto shall,  unfortunately, remain relevant even 70 years from now.

By: Keyur Seta

10Sep/180

Short Story: The Orange Garlands of Bharatpur

Marigold Garlands

The television set in the rich household of Bharatpur was showing an important development that took place in the town that evening. The news was shocking but it didn’t shake the family members. The effect of the cool breeze of their new expensive air conditioner and the delicious pizza was too much for them to be bothered about anything else.

Earlier in the day

Ramakant was obediently sprinkling water on the orange marigold garlands in his shop. The droplets shone like diamonds in the early morning sun. This has been a subconscious activity for him since long. It not only kept the flowers fresh but also spread the fragrance of the marigold.

The 55-year-old was passionate about his business, although it hasn’t made him rich. The fact that his garlands get a place around the neck of the idol in the adjacent temple, albeit for few minutes, was too fulfilling for him.

Bharatpur was the land of the extreme. The wealthy families of the town had to wonder where to spend their money. The poor, on the other hand, saved every penny to ensure they won’t stay hungry the other day. There are areas where the luxurious high-rises lie just besides slums. Two separate worlds exists just few metres away.

The abnormal gap does become a cause of concern for Ramakant, who lied somewhere between both extremes. He knows much more about Bharatpur than his calm face and joyous nature show. With his keen interest in history coupled with the fact that his father being the freedom fighter, he understands Bharatpur in and out.

But he sees little hope in the socio-political situation of the town. The new regiment, that had promised heaven, has been destroying the once ideal town brick by brick. Apart from economic collapse, the secular fabric of the town has been under serious threat since recent times. Atrocities on the marginalized were a regular electoral feature.

On top of that, anyone who criticizes the establishment or raises troubling questions was labelled either an enemy of the land. By the way, being an enemy of the land was equivalent to being an enemy of the majority religion.

Ramakant now concentrates only in his daily routine and service to God, more so after he lost his beloved wife Lakshmi to tuberculosis (TB). He finds solace in God. He believes the Kalki Avatar, the 10th avatar of Vishnu, is the only hope now.

Marigold Garlands

His daughter Damini, however, has the opposite mindset. The 25-year-old Political Science professor in Shaheed Bhagat Singh College is a fiery young woman. She has a strong heart of a revolutionary but, at the same time, is soft-spoken and compassionate.

It is this emotional side of hers that compels her to champion the causes of the marginalized. Protests and demonstrations are her regularly routine. Holding banners with her hair tied in a ponytail in her usual attire of a kurta and jeans is a familiar sight in Bharatpur. She is also known for her polite yet hard-hitting articles.

Damini’s transformation has been revolutionary to say the least. She was almost the opposite as a child and during her early teens. During her schooling period, she was a reserved student who hardly opened her mouth. But studying Sociology during her college days proved to be a turning point in her life.

The subject sowed the seed of transformation in her. Studying about the oppressed classes of the society, both in India and abroad, gave her a completely new perspective about the world. She realized that just earning money and living a luxurious lifestyle can never be her aim. Doing at least something about the oppression around her was necessary in order to live a life, instead of just surviving like blind consumerists.

Participating in inter-collegiate drama competition increased her confidence no ends. Soon, she was seen performing street plays as well on social issues. The person who was hesitant to speak even in front of handful of people now didn't care even if hundred pair of eyes were glued to her.

The passing away of her mother had a lasting impact on Damini, obviously. The incident made her more responsible at an early age. In other words, it further honed her skills as a leader ready to shoulder responsibilities. By the time she enrolled for post-graduation in Sociology, she was a different individual altogether.

Despite her father’s profession, Damini has never been sure about the existence of God. But she is more than sure that one shouldn’t expect Him to solve our problems.

Ramakant wasn't oblivious to the massive change in Damini. He knew she was walking the razor’s edge. But he always saw his late father in her and that ensured he never stopped her from walking her path.

Damini was teaching in her usual calm manner today. But deep inside, she was all looking forward to something after the lecture. As soon as the bell rang, she barged out of the college campus, travelled to the town hall area on her bike and marched in the protest rally against something serious.

Back at his shop, Ramakant wasn’t hoping of any major business that day as it wasn’t any festival or special religious day. So, it came as a pleasant surprise when a man came to buy around a dozen expensive thick marigold garlands.

But his joy was shortlived as his friend came running to give him the news about Damini’s arrest along with a number of other social workers, activists, journalists and professors for holding a powerful rally against the government.

Ramakant was sad to hear that but not worried and not at all surprised. He knew this was coming. Off late, the current situation has been reminding him of the days of the freedom struggle his father used to narrate.

The family in the rich household just besides Ramakant’s shop was watching the news about the important development in Bharatpur that day. The seriousness of the issue didn’t matter to them as they hogged on to the pizza slices in the cool breeze of the air conditioner.

The news anchor was heard saying, “The activists protesting against the release of those convicted in the gruesome lynching were arrested by the police. On the other end of the town, the convicts were welcomed by their party leader with thick marigold garlands.”

By: Keyur Seta

2Sep/180

10 Years of A Wednesday: A film that gave an identity to me and this blog

When I went to see Neeraj Pandey’s directorial debut A Wednesday in 2008 in Dadar’s Chitra Theatre, I was expecting to see a thriller about a terrorist’s plot of carrying out multiple blasts in Mumbai being foiled by a bunch of good guys. I expected it to be a regular formula thriller, but it turned out to be the experience of a lifetime personally.

The film, which starred Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher, Jimmy Shergill, Aamir Bashir and Chetan Pandit starrer, completes 10 years on September 5, 2018.

During the interval point, I was convinced that I am in for some thrill. I was crazy for action or dramatic thrillers back then and used to watch every film in that genre including Acid Factory [2009] and Woodstock Villa [2008] (don’t judge me).

But when Shah’s character revealed his true intentions and identity as the 'Stupid Common Man,' I was not only thrilled but also pleasantly shocked and blown away. His long monologue with hard-hitting and moving dialogues mesmerized me like anything (I still watch that scene regularly).

There must be very few occasions when I must have rooted this much for any fictional character to survive. I heaved a sigh of relief when Kher’s character lets him go. There is no denying that apart from the brilliance of the film, the subject struck an emotional chord for the Indian or Mumbaikar in me.

A Wednesday poster

I also respect A Wednesday for subtly rubbishing religious and other such identities by not revealing the name of Shah’s character. “Insaan naam ke saath mazhab jod leta hai,” is what is said.

As a person, I have always been comfortable living a simple life and enjoying the simplest of joys without caring or needing any sort of luxuries. There has also been this desire to bring a change in the society, which I hardly ever express. But I didn’t know how to describe myself for following such an ideology. Well, A Wednesday helped me out with that. The Common Man it was!

Also read: Bhavesh Joshi Superhero: A film that forced me to go down memory lane.

Of course, it was the great R K Laxman that brought out the concept through his iconic cartoons. I was introduced to it much before I saw A Wednesday. But somehow it took this movie for me to latch onto the title. Maybe the power of the audio-visual medium turned out to be higher than cartoons.

Less than a year later, when I started this blog, its name came extremely easy to me.

But apart from giving me and my blog an identity, A Wednesday also made me realize the power of an ordinary man (read: humans). Normally one would expect a good looking, strong ‘hero’ with muscles to carry out the task of killing terrorists. But here was a man in his old age managing that even after his plan going haywire in between.

Not that I have been able to realize any such power till now. Maybe someday I might.

By: Keyur Seta