10 Feb 2009, 1921 hrs IST, Tarun Vijay
Nandita Das created a stir by scripting and directing “Firaaq”. It’s a soul-stirring movie. Nandita, the director and scriptwriter, has tried to be as honest and candid with the celluloid as her deep-rooted commitment to her political ideology. Terrifyingly impressive is the way she uses silence as a tool to etch her message on the viewers’ minds. The actors live the characters they represent. And she admits frankly, “It’s a political movie.”
As a filmmaker and journalist, I would give her full marks for a political statement that has been registered so strongly that this film is going to have better effect than a hundred thousand people’s gathering.
Surely, more than a movie it’s a political statement. She is a person with strong colours of ideology and she has done what she thought she must do. “Firaaq” will certainly get rave reviews in the Indian media. She has already received some international awards, and like “Slumdog Millionaire”, the film has passed the test through “firang” eyes and hence must be all the more acceptable to the “progressive secular, peace loving” people here who have a large, global heart and express their feelings in English.
Apart from its technical qualities of cinematography, editing, direction and script it almost convinced me that barbarism begins with Hindus.
There would be a couple of critical articles or comments, if any, criticizing the movie on ideological points or for the depiction of the events, which may be found completely wrong and devastatingly hateful. These critics may forget that this is a political movie that would sell because the West needs a Jamal or a Mohsin to be rewarded to help it cover the feelings that emerged after 9/11. Having heard Nandita on the movie and seen the clips, I too would have converted to her views if the Godhra incident was not vividly clear in my mind.
I would have turned to take Nandita’s autographs with a sense of admiration if I had not heard the cries of Seema, whose father, mother and brother were slaughtered with a butcher’s knife in Doda, before her eyes, when she was barely seven, in the name of a jihad my secular friends interpret differently. I tried to ask a question: who were those Hindus killed and brutalized during the Gujarat riots? It’s impossible for me to keep mum or justify what happened after Godhra, which saw innocent Muslims being killed so ghastly that no words are enough to express the hurt. The colour of the tears of a mother, whether Hindu or Muslim, is alike. But dividing dead bodies and deciding levels of mourning on the basis of their faith should be as unacceptable as the killings of innocent citizens. Killing truth and colouring facts must also be called a pogrom of civility.
In fact, the secular messengers of the new gospel of hate have turned into aggressive proselytizers setting their worldview as a prerequisite to enter any socio-political or literary regime. They have successfully monopolized the world of various media establishing English as the only vehicle of intellectual discourse and thus keeping the doors to the higher echelons of elite and decision makers shut to those who belong to the Indian-language groups and represent the real ethos of the land. Although to make profits, these very secular groups would sell bhajans and show religious serials while attacking the very spirit of and the protective shields to such traditions in the very next programme. They can’t imagine winning votes with speeches in English or going to the common voter with a wine glass or a beer bottle in their hands. Yet, in their social circuit, they would raise the flag of “pub culture” and look with contempt at a person speaking an Indian language.
Just have a look at the loan forms of the banks. The last paragraph says “those blind, illiterate or signing in a vernacular language must get their signatures attested by someone who knows English”. Can this kind of instruction be tolerated in the UK or the US for their national languages? Even the use of the word “vernacular” for the national languages is a derogatory, colonial hangover. But who cares? They look at Indians as slumdogs, are alien to the threads that weave a fabric called India and treat the “natives” like Kipling’s Ramu. So when a western royal or head of state comes, he is made to cuddle a slum child with a running nose or taken to an orphanage for a photo op to show western compassion for the unprivileged. An Indian Prime Minister is never asked to give alms to the homeless sleeping on the stairs of St James in London or offer grants to an NGO in New York working for the victims of child abuse or teen mothers. Compassion must remain a virtue of the rich and powerful.
It is this English-speaking elite that determines what India must be reading or thinking or how Hindus must be behaving. They read about Hindus through Oxford or Cambridge publishers and show the temerity to sermonize those Hindus who have imbibed their dharma in their genes and lived every bit of it, making Kumbh melas possible and taking dips in the Ganga on the chilling mornings of Kartik and Magh. The secular proselytizer visits Kumbh, not as a devotee but as a photographer to take pictures of bathing Hindu women and sadhus using mobile phones, as if being sadhus they ought to live as cavemen. The pictures they wire to press agencies essentially depict the weird, intoxicated, obscene and the unacceptable face of uncivilized Hindus to the west.
They don’t know a bit about our faith, or what Magh, Amavasya or Saptami means. They take Sanskrit degrees in English and tell us, what’s the use of such knowledge in today’s world? To be futuristic means denouncing all that you have preserved since ages. That’s an alienated crowd of people with an accent, detached from the Indian reality.
They tell us, you bad guys, you demolished our Babri. Yet, not a single political party can dare to promise in its election manifesto that if it is voted to power, it would rebuild Babri over the present makeshift temple of Ram in Ayodhya. Their influence on the Indian masses is hardly worth noticing, yet their control on the media and political power centres makes them important. Their intellectual terror is so overpowering that today most of the national parties in India execute their proceedings in English. Poor and often unauthorized translations are dished out in Hindi and other Indian languages. The language, idiom and attitude of this “secular” English-speaking elite, controlling the media, advertising and governance remain alien to the indigenous fragrances which they dismiss as folk or ethnic contours, only to be enjoyed in a Suraj Kund mela.
The secular code is: abuse and misrepresent the facts about the opponents, use a pub incident in Mangalore more importantly than the anguish and pains of the soldiers demonstrating at Jantar Mantar, turn every news desk and edit control station into Godhra, throttling the other view point.
One isolated incident of the Hindu right would become a globally circulated representative of the Hindu intolerance and terrorism. None of us accepted the way Mangalore happened. Who cares whether Valentine’s day is celebrated or not. If someone says to me “Happy Valentine’s Day”, I will just smile and say “same to you”. That’s it. Those who find it a nice way to feel joy must be free to do so. But why I must say “yes, Valentine’s Day is the biggest symbol of love, amity and happiness” and feel elated seeing obscenities on the streets to prove I am an educated modern person?
To each one, his own. I must be ready to accept every happy occasion of any colour or faith or stream to smile and send compliments, but should it become mandatory as a fatwa?
But my questions to those who use incidents like Gujarat riots for awards and rubbing salt on Hindu wounds was: why forget Godhra and Doda and Anantnag and Kishtwar? In the case of Kashmiri Hindus, the “seculars” won’t like to earn displeasure of the jihadis.
I think it’s self-defeating to crib about such situations. If you feel injustice has been done, prepare to counter the wrongs through legitimate instruments.
Nandita did what she felt was right and did it quite courageously without bothering what the other side would feel. What did you do to present Doda or Godhra to the world? Who stopped any other Indian to make a movie on the pains and sorrows of Seema or to document the desecration of temples in Kashmir and record the woes of Hindus who had to pass through weird massacres like the one we saw at Wandhama?
The author is the Director, Dr Syamaprasad Mookerjee Research Foundation.