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Screenimagination - Subbarayudu G Kameswara

(With special permission by the author).


The Indian Nation and




By Subbarayudu G Kameswara


Cinematography in India


The movie camera has captured certain developments in India as no other chronicler has.  An imagination greater than that of middle-class mythologies, an ideology that’s more radical than Kalki avataar’s, a narrative that is more racy than history or fiction, and a socio-political consciousness that puts to shame all election manifestoes – that is Indian cinema; at all events Hindi Cinema, which is more or less the most popular art/entertainment mode of India.

Telugu Cinema is known to be the next biggest cinema industry in India. However, since a considerable number of Telugu, Tamil and Kannada films are remakes of each other if not simply dubbed (voice-over)  versions, and many Hindi films are remakes or dubbed versions of these South Indian films, it may not be unreasonable to view South Indian Cinema (along with Hindi films) as the most representative sample of Indian Cinema. Indeed, there is so much exchange between South Indian and Hindi Cinema, that one might treat all of it as the totality of mainstream Indian Cinema.


This mainstream Indian Cinema has, over the years, resorted to fantasy as the chief mode of ‘solving’ social problems. An imagined India has emerged as a counterpoint to the reality of a nation in perpetual turmoil. But this cinemagined India has not remained a constant; it has changed with the passage of time and trends. An entire history and mythology has given way to its modernized version. Thus comes to pass a violence that the Buddha and Gandhi would have blanched at; and Asoka’s Kalinga war would barely merit juxtaposition, forget the ‘Rakkasi Thangadi’ of the Kannada people (Battle of Talikota, Bahamani alliance vs. Vijayanagara Empire,1565), and Jalianwala bagh of the Punjab. The nation in  turmoil has given rise to a cinemagination  that celebrates the maniacal violence of the single, Kalki avatar-hero  who is defender of good and destroyer of evil. The cinemagined assumptions underlying the construction and depiction of this modern mythology, the interpolation/ interlacing of mythic and cultural imagination and iconography as a response to systemic erosion; the social reality of passive acceptance of horrific conditions, and the cinematic response of superhuman heroism in neutralizing, if not emphatically conquering and decimating the forces of evil – is a representation of a civilizational paradox worth studying and chronicling.

Such a study, I suggest, will demonstrate the cinemagined commitment to social reform and the notionality of national good in real time as seen in Indian mainstream cinema. The camera places chimeras before us and we, as a people are lapping it up because reality gives not a chance of triumph to a moral order, old  new or reinvented.  Cinemagination is the new anodyne to the masses, who applaud in theatres, cinema-solutions to what they suffer silently in reality,  while the nation crumbles upon itself. It is almost as if imagination overtook the nation even before the nation could be born The fantasy of the midnight’s child has given no chance to the nation to emerge from the shadow of the valley of death. The camera does – in shadow play.

 Will Senapati , the Only One (Okaey Okkadu), Singamalai and Tagore really come?  

The number of South Indian films from the days of Gemini Productions, Prasad Art Productions, AVM, and Vijaya Vauhini, which have been either remade in  or dubbed into Hindi or vice-versa , is quite considerable. Chandralekha, Prema Lekhalu (Aah), Pakkinti Ammaayi (Padosan), Aththaa Oka Inti Kodaley (Saas Bhji Kabhi Bahu Thi), Illarikam (Sasuraal), Kaadalikka Neramillai/Preminchi Choodu (Pyaar Kiye Jaa), Paapa Kosam (Nanha Farishta),Kula Daivam (Bhaabhi, ‘chal ud jaa re panchee’ fame), Suvarna Sundari (‘Kuhoo Kuhoo Boley Koyaliya’ fame), Anarkali (Anarkali of ‘Yeh Zindagee Useeki hai, jo kiseeka ho gaya’),Nazraana (Pelli Kaanuka) . Gruha Lakshmi / Vivaaha Bandham were remakes of the Bengali film Saat Paa ke Baandha; and Vivaaha Bandham in turn was made into the Hindi film Kora Kaagaz, Mooga Manasulu (Milan),Punarjanma ( Khilona), Ritwik Ghaatak’s Meghe Dhaake Tara (Anthu leni Katha), Parineetha as Parineetha, Mana Voori Paandavulu (Hum Paanch), Shankaraabharanam (Sur Sangam with Girish Karnad), Yugandhar (remake of Don)are a small sample. The  famous Malayalam film Tulaabhaaram was made into a less  successful Hindi  one  Samaaj ko Badal Daalo. Takazhi Sivasankara Pillai’sChemmeen  did not have the honour of being remade in Hindi ( but one major feature of Malayalam cinema at that juncture was Salil Chaudhuri’s music. Other musicians who  helped integrate  this mainstream cinema were Raghunath Paanigrahi, Shankar of the Shankar-Jaikishen duo, and M.S. Subbulakshmi through her role as Meera). Dilip Kumar’s Ram aur Shyam was originally NTR’s Ramudu-Bheemudu ; Dil Ek Mandir  was  remade as Manasey Mandiram , and Aadmi was  again an NTR original Gudigantalu.

The Jeetendra, Jayaprada, Sridevi  phase of ‘Madrasi’ films in Hindi is recent enough to support this ‘main-streaming’ of the Bollywood and South Indian cinema. While South Indian actresses and actors went into Bollywood in the early phase – Classical dancers such as Vaijayantimala, Waheeda Rehman, Padmini, Raagini, & Hema Malini; talented actresses such as Pandari Bai, Geetanjali , Savitri,B.Saroja Devi, Jamuna, Bharati, Rekha, Talluri Rameshwari, Jayaprada, Sridevi,   Bhanupriya  etc. occasionall; an NTR  or Gemini Ganesan in a couple of Hindi films, Girish Karnad, Anant Nag, Rajnikaanth, Mohan Lal, Madhavan and the enduring Kamala Haasan, -- a reverse trend, further strengthening the premise, is quite noticeable now, especially with actresses who get into Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu films across the linguistic barrier--Khushboo,Naghma, Bhumika Chawla, Sonali Bendre, Aarti Aggarrwal, Amisha Patel, Shriya …  Amrish Puri,  Paresh Rawal ,, Sayaji Shinde…

I would like to call this the mainstream Indian cinema.

The Nargis-Sunil Dutt starrer: Mother India

In this mainstream cinema came occasional  flashes of social and political consciousness. Duniya Na Maane (Kunku in Marathi), Do Bigha Zamin, Shaheed(Dilip Kumar, Kamini Kaushal), Sikandar (Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi) Naya Daur (Dilip Kumar), Mother India, Dr.Kotnis ki Amar Kahani, Awaara and Shri 420,Jaagte Raho,Sujaata, Jis Desh Mein Gangaa Behti Hai,Do Aankhen Baarah Haath, films Kaalam Marindi and  Mana Desam in Telugu , are such films.

In all these films, there is a visible motif which indicates the movie-makers’ awareness and perceptions of social and political realities , and the key role they expected their heroes to play in the narrations; and the key role of such films in the making of a new India.

The songs– meta narratives--  tell these stories powerfully :” watan ki raah mein watan ke nau jawan shaheed ho” ( may  the young men of the country became martyrs in the nation’s cause, on the road to nationhood; the Hindi poet Makhanlal Chaturvedi had earlier written  a poem  : mujhe tod lena vanamaali/us path par tum dena phenk/ maatr bhoomi par sheesh chadaane/ jis path jaayein veer aneik);exhortations to children , “Aaso bachchon tumhe dikaaye jhaanki Hindusatan kii” (Pradeep’s  immortal song for children), “Ham laaye hain toofan se kishti nikaal ke, is desh ko rakhna mere bachchon samhaal ke”  ( Jaagruti; out of  cyclone we have brought  this  boat / My children, keep this country  secure and afloat); “insaaf ki dagar pe bachchon dikhao chalke/ yeh desh hai tumhaara, neta tumhee ho kal ke” ( walk on the path of justice children/ you will lead the country into  tomorrow,then); stress on unity, dignity and strength of labour “Saathi haath badhaana  ( Extend your hand, comrade/ man will tire , if alone/ join hands together and abide); the nostalgic “jahaan daal daal par sone ki chidiyaan kartee hai baseraa/ woh Bharat desh hai mera” ( where on every branch of every tree, Lives a golden sparrow free/ that Bharat is my country); to the renascent Indian  eagerly  visualizing the future , “Chohrro kal ki batein, kal ki baat puraani, naya daur hai likhenge, mil kar nayee kahaani, Ham Hindustaan”i ( Let go the past, yesterday’s word aside cast/ This is a New Cycle, we’ll script it well/ we are all Indian, Indian all) .In all these films the songs are  metonyms; the characters and the themes , metaphors .

The central characters in these films were deeply committed to certain ideologies and were portrayed as instruments of change, arrows of God. I would single out Raju from Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai  as the model, the quintessential innocent do-gooder, a Chaplinesque, golden-hearted bounder… He is ‘king’ of the land where the Ganges flows in all its pious purity and , his job is to make new songs all the time and sing them to the world – should there be no listeners, just sing to himself, a bit like Shelley’s skylark (“mera naam Raaju gharaana anaam/behati hai Ganga jahaaan mera dhaam … kaam naye nith geet banana/geet banaa ke jahaan ko sunanaa/koyi na miley tau Akeley mein gaanaa…”); and the burden of the song, the narrated narrative, would be  that truth lived on the lips where purity lived in the heart (“honthon pe sachaai rehti hai, jahaan dil mein safaayee rehti hai”); that one must live and love ,else one simply hangs(on?) to death (“pyaar kar le, naite phaansi chadh jaayegaa”); and when some one goes astray, there is a society that beckons to them, a moral order that re-invites them into its fold, so let us all go back, not spurn it. The goodness of Raju rules the disintegrating world , and he along with Kamini (Kammo, the one who attracts , allures, the home-maker and sustainer of kinship-ethic) ) draws you back into the moral order with  invisible threads of love (“aaa ab laut Chalein … nainaa bichaaye ,baahen pasaare, tujhko pukaare desh teraa”). He is KING. He is an incarnation, may I suggest, of Lord Vishnu in the Krishnaavataara, who sings (geet banaa ke jahaan ko sunana , make songs and sing them for the world)),dances and plays  into the hearts of people and --  sings the Song Celestial (Bhagavad Geetha) which shows the path of righteousness ; or a  Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda  (  Govinda’s Song of Love), to a world caught in moral turmoil ?.

This pattern of  a ‘good’ man, ‘good’ action, and restoration of ‘good’ is evident in Shantaram’s Do Aankhen Baarah Haath  and  some other movies I mentioned earlier.  Again, Raj Kapoor’s  Jaagte Raho  is a fine example of  how conquest of the fear of indictment  is central to individual freedom for good action, as collective agreement on what constitutes ‘good’ is the  acquisition of power for social ‘good’ action.

 Various kinds  of Romances such as Pyaasa (‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par who kahaan hai’  and ‘Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai’) , Phir Subha Hogi ( based on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment :  ‘woh subuha kabhii to aayegi’)Sangam, Mujhe Jeene Do, Junglee,Waqt, Kaajal,Jhanak jhanak Paayal Baaje,  Around the World, Love in Tokyo, Jewel Thief, An Evening in Paris, Teesri Manzil, Aaradhna, Anand, rule the roost for a while, with Hum Dono  as some kind of an exception in part, because it revolves round the lives of two look-alike military officers – who suffer something of the pain of war that the post-China-war film Haqeeqat  depicts quite more authentically a little later.  ’Good’ is romanticized in different ways: Nanda’s song  ‘Allah tero naam, Eeshwar tero naam’  makes faith in God, regardless of religious ideology/ affiliation, the way of gaining strength and salvation ( the Telugu –speaking world is familiar with the romantic poet, Devulapalli Krishna Sastri’s simple and sensitive  lyric ‘Naaraayana Naaraayana, Allaah Allaah/maa paaliti thandrree mee pillala memella’ :--  Naarayana or Allah be your name / we are  your children, all the same); Dev Anand, the young officer  in army, is intensely ‘moral’ and does everything  in his power to avoid the sexual opportunities  that arise from being the  look-alike of Nanda’s husband.—by a whisker, literally, since Nanda’s husband is a mustachioed Major, and the younger officer isn’t. India  bubbles, boils and troubles, but the witches  and villains still fight a losing battle with the moral order;  even the rare (very adult and morally repugnant to Indian Censor Boards) Bambai ka Baabu  honours the ethics of kinship –relationship as Dev Anand’s  unspeakable romantic love for an ‘adopted’ sister, Suchitra Sen, gnaws away at his innards to the accompaniment of a soulful Mukesh song ‘chal ree sajnee, ab kya sonche’.


The finest scene from Deewar


From this phase, mainstream Indian  cinema moves to the phase of the angry young Amitabh Bachchan :  Deewar, Zanjeer and Zameer .These films begin to suggest strongly that one must fight ones own battles and , to win them; and it hardly matters that the weapons  may often be  unlicensed, illegal ones. Phir Subah Hogi’s insistent hope  that a new dawn will come some time (‘woh subuha kabhii tau aayegi’) gives way to a starkness and steely  stance The woman , keeper of moral order (‘merey paas maa hai’—Shashi Kapoor’s famous one-liner inDeewar) is gone and the despair is evident (MereyApney – Kishore Kumar’s haunting  song  “koyii hota jisko apnaa, hum apnaa keh letey yaaron/paas nahii tau duur hi hota, lekin koyi mera apnaa”). In Zameer (ironically, ‘Conscience’) Amitabh Bachchan sings a landmark song—where truth does not work, there falsehood is Okay/ where Right can not be asserted, there loot,pillage is Okay (‘jahaan sach na chale, wahan jhooth sahi/ jahan haq na mile wahan loot sahi’) signifying a new consciousness that asserts the survival motif as justified in inteself.. This is in stark contrast with Dev Anand’s Hum Dono song which philosophises – I  just abide with life, and accept its highs and lows , its joys and sorrows with equanimity (“main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chalaa gayaa”), a la  the sthitha pragnya of Bhagavad Geetha ( the 2nd adhyaya, Dukheshwanudwigna manaah, Sukheshu vigatha Spruha, veeta raga, bhayah, krodhaah, stithadheermunihruchyatey….). In between  is squeezed in a random  song that begins to question the nation ( Gandhi puttina desama yidi/ Nehru korina sanghama idi/ Rama Rajyam, saamya vaadam, sambhavinchey kaalamaa : is this the land where Gandhi was born? Is this the society that Nehru wanted? Are these times when Ram Rajya and socialistic egalitarianism possible? in Pavitrabandham  picturized on ANR -- compare this with Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poem from the collection Do Chattaane: ‘Ek din itihaas poochega ki tumne janm Gandhi ko diya tha? )

Films with increasing doses of violence, brutality, corruption, display of private intrigue and public treachery, lawlessness,defiance of what appears to be an ineffective code  that is now only in the book and nowhere in the system, suffuse the market and grab the imagination of a nation.

This phase, I submit, corresponds with the phase in Indian political and social life which is increasingly and quite brazenly flaunting its lack of moral order. While Indira Gandhi’s Congress was Nationalizing Banks, and abolishing privy purses to the erstwhile princes, the print medium led the people in glorifying her leadership and denigrating the opposition (Nijalin‘gappa’, Morarji Desai, Tarakeshwari Sinha  were a prime target of BK Karanjia’s Blitz). Meanwhile  the Indo-Pak war cut Pakistan in twain , and Indira rode to massive power on the sentiment of people including Atal Behari Vajpayee and MF Hussain who saw the goddess Durga in her ( no one thought then that  there was something objectionable and offensive to Hindu sentiment in  HussaIn painting). What followed was a permit-license raj, and plenty of red tape which meant one bribed ones way through to results and passed on the burden  to the people through sky-rocketing prices. Tax evasions and unaccounted money were the order of the day, and  a chit of exoneration to a minister (Jagjivan Ram) for tax evasion on a massive scale was just routine little matter of fact. The MP ,Tulmohan Ram’s  Bribery Case, Lalit Narayan Mishra’s involvement in raising illegal funds for the Congress party, and his death on the surgeon’s table after a grenade blast (at Samastipur; the case is  still in court 37 years down the line); Jimmy Nagarwala’s 60 lakhs’ SBI telephone fraud, long queues at ration shops and 40 to 50 day waiting lists for  cooking gas cylinder refills; and the late night proclamation of Internal Emergency in 1975 following the Allahabad High Court’s judgement against Indira Gandhi; the defiance of law, the 42nd Constitutional amendment placing the PM, among others, outside the purview of even the Supreme Court; the emergence of an upstart young man as an extra constitutional authority, and his cronies everywhere as little centers of power;  suspension of Fundamental Rights and the writ of habeas corpus, the vasectomization/ sterilization of masses of illiterate people, press censorship…

No wonder the cinemas sang those songs: where truth does not work, there falsehood is Okay/ where Right can not be asserted, there loot, pillage is Okay. (This is also the Raakshasa neeti as preached by the guru Sukracharya to King Maha Bali). Because people did not dare.  As was pointed out in later years, men crawled  when they were asked to kneel.

But the ideology of Amitabh’s Zameer was neither sufficient nor practical. From the shadows of Sholay and Don, an angry hybrid mechanic Albert Pinto had to emerge, unable to define his anger(Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aatha Hai), turn into an unemployed  graduate Kamala Hasan in Aakali Raajyam ( Realm of Hunger ,Telugu) turn into a more educated but uncertain lawyer, nervous Naseeruddin Shah in Aakrosh, and an Om Puri in the role of a  furious police officer ready to kill underworld dons ( Ardh Satya).

South Indian films were mimicking some of these gestures till Kamala Hasan did the role of Varadarajan Mudaliar, the Bombay don, in Nayakan  in Tamil and Telugu, later made into the Hindi film Dayaavaan with Vinod Khanna in the lead. Kamala Hasan realized that making movies in three languages, often simply dubbing them, with himself in the lead role was a perfect formula for the Bollywood cash registers, too. If a message that went beyond establishing the human face of a ruthless mafia man could be  packaged well, that would be the icing on the proverbial cake.

 What could that message be?

Whatever Indira Gandhi’s purpose was in her casual statement that corruption, was a global phenomenon, and need not be made a big issue in Indian electoral politics, the Indian Reality was that  Lokaayukta and Lokpal bills never went beyond Cabinet sub-committees;  Bhopal, Bofors-Hinduja-Win Chadda scam, Dhirubhai Ambani’s 100 crore-smuggled in-PFY Plant, an attempt on Nusli Wadia’s life, St. Kitts’ scandal, Swaraj Paul versus Escorts’ H.P. Nanda share take over issue, Harshad Mehta scam,  the pulling down of the Babri Masjid, the Bombay bomb blasts, the killing of music baron Gulshan Kumar, the Latur-Osmanabad earth quake mismanagement, , coalitions of political convenience, Azharuddin’s ouster from world cricket due to match-fixing allegations, the Abu Salems and Chota Shakeels, the Tandur murder case and point-blank shooting down of Jessica Lal  in Delhi; terrorist attacks at will anywhere they chose, the displacement of Kashmiri Pandits, State level politicians fighting over River water-sharing between states, -- money really makes the world go round ( the Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey song in Cabaret is an eternal metaphor) and India was turning like  a top. Money, bribery, scams.

Repeat… What could that message be?

Kamala Hasan hit upon the idea of Bharateeyudu/Hindustaani/Indian  as a movie. An old time freedom fighter , Senapati (“Commander”) sees corruption and bribery everywhere and having been a rare Martial arts exponent, decides to weed out corruption as best as he can. His skills, determination and dagger see him through the film, Even the son  who is ‘pragmatic’ and lives by corrupt practices  dies at his hands. The Senapati,takes command of the situation when the son reminds him of paternal love—a television as bribe to the police inspector to ignore criminal evidence,  and an invocation  of  love for me? Bribe every where!! Kamala Hasan kills the bribing son and warns the officials on phone, whenever and wherever my country needs me, I’am there. Sambhavaami yuge yuge, as Lord Vishnu says ("Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati Bharata; Abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham/ Paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya cha dushkritam; Dharma-samsthapanarthaya sambhavami yuge yuge.").  And what, pray is the proper incarnation in this age of degeneration, and corruption? The avatar of KALKI,  the one who destroys evil and gives succour to good, the last of the 10 incarnations, Dashaavataara. Senapati, Indian, is the one who takes command as Kalki.

This is Kamala Hasan’s cinema message, and recent south Indian films, Okaey Okkadu (Naayak in Hindi), Simhadri, and Tagore take this mythic formula very far. While a young TV journalist takes the challenge of a politician very literally and becomes Chief Minister, he does things in one day which amount to cleansing politics and society of the decades of accumulated grime. People are wowed by him. He dismisses, suspends, arrests corrupt officials on a scale  and a speed at which only a superhuman being, an avatar , can manage. When he is attacked later and is set ablaze he jumps into a mire to quell the flames, then emerges covered in slush. He is given a ritual bath in milk, an Abhisheka (Holy, anointing bath), by the people.

When Singamalai, in Simhadri , kills all those ruffians around the temple and then impales their leader inside the temple premises, he is covered in gore.The head priest performs an Abhisheka, a ritual bath in milk. The implication stares in the face. Whenever anarchy becomes rife, and people can no longer help themselves , the lord takes the form of the ruthless Kalki, and massacres  the evil-doers. And people must recognize this manifestation of God , and worship him, and seek his help.

That is what Indian people are doing right now. Waiting for the mythic solutions to real-time problems, and applauding the silver-screen  avatars in the interim.

In Tagore , the mega-star of Telugu films, Chiranjeevi, takes the role of a teacher who forges a strong force of his students into a cleansing network of employees at various levels of the state machinery. This anti corruption force (ACF)  gives him enough information to nail various corrupt officials. He justifies his killings by citing from Tagore’s Geetanjali the verse that reads “Where the mind is without fear … unto that land, let my country awake”. He also  sings from the great Telugu poet Sri Sri ( of the progressive writers’ movement) from his landmark volume, Mahaprasthaanam  the song which goes Nenu saitam (I too… ), rewritten for the cinematic context by  Suddala Ashok Teja

The cinema I have cited uses myth, history, literature, and politics, music and  traditional dances/ masques as in Simhadri (Kathakali and Kodiyattam) and weaves a cinematic text that is rich in imagery, and fires up the imagination of the people in such a way that they almost seem to begin to believe that a powerful  Kalki incarnation will actually come and rescue them from the horror of a system from which they have no power of action to break free. Like in Lagaan, they sing ‘O paalan hare, nirgun au nyaarey, tumhare bina hamraa kauno naheen’. Will, the Kalki figure – Indian, Purushottam the One-day CM,  Singamalai, and Tagore really come? An India at war with itself, never really born in 1947, over 600 states having acceded, redrawn into linguistic states, unable to decide whether Nation comes first, or sub-nation of any kind does, mid-night’s children born and dead in an émigré’s mind—really, is at least one ( the only one, okaey okkadu, Kalki avatar) of the few hundred midnight’s children alive?— such an India does need such a figure. But GM Khairnar, the Mumbai  demolition man, TN Seshan, PS Appu of the IAS Academy (1980s),AP Venkateswaran (Foreign Secretary treated shabbily by the Govt. in the 90s),Sundarlal Bahuguna, Medha Patkar… . Kalki is still only in cinema because it is still only the first phase of Kali Yuga.There is more to Go.

There is  much more Indian cinema that deals with the issue of  an evolving Indian, either at length or in passing.. The two movies I would pick for  inclusion in this analysis are Naseeruddin Shah’s A Wednesday and  a Telugu film namedKhadgam  with Prakash Raj in a stellar role. 

Prakash Raj is the Indian Muslim who strongly resents any  demur  on his ‘Indian’ness, contests all aspersions on his loyalty and ‘belonging’ness, and willingly sacrifices his ‘jehadi’, anti-national younger brother along with a wanted terrorist who is on the verge of  release from captivity as  ransom for a trainload of people at the major railway station, ostensibly at Hyderabad. His contention is that this land is as much ‘theirs’ as anyone else’s, since they were born here and WILL DIE here no matter what any majoritarian views. Already the  religion, community, threat-perceptions and terrorism motifs are presented in a  ‘popular’  melodramatic style. This is a trend one sees in movies such as Roja and Bombaywhere the personal and the socio-political nation versus nation themes are interwoven  with the personal themes dominating for obviously commercial purposes.

Shah’s Common Man in A Wednesday goes beyond this ‘personal’  profile and  takes the collective will of the aam aadmi  of this country to repulse terrorism in the  same language of sophisticated violence. The threat is from a  religion-driven terrorism,  a national antagonism dating back to 1947, and the almost paralytic response of the  Indian administration to the  fear that grips the heart of the housewife. The inoccuous husband for whom the average Mumbai wife fears and makes three phone calls a day, turns out to be the common man who is sick of this fear and this paralysis and executes a masterful counter-terrorist plan to liquidate four terrorists.  Is this the Kalki figure India has been looking for?

Fast forward to 2011. Cinema is largely supplanted by television. The TV brings home to millions of households the Anna Hazare team and the Lok Pal issue from the days of  Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi. The crowds which came to see, Shivaji Rao Gaekwad    (Anil Kapoor, Nayak) Singamalai (NTR Junior, Simhadri), Tagore (Chiranjeevi) in the movies are NOW in the Ramlila Maidan, Delhi, and in each household that had a TV. Whatever happened to the LokPal bill later in the winter session of the Indian Parliament, does not detract from the fact that a pint-sized, 74 year-old ex-Indian army jawan, perhaps as small as little Lal Bahadur Shastri, had galvanized the Indian masses by  donning, although briefly, the Kalki avatar. Here, if anywhere, does the  message  and the medium coalesce, and the  form of the Kalki avatar show itself  as reality, not telemagination.  Many people seemed to echo Telugu poet Sri Sri’s  words ‘Nenu saitam…’ (I, too will offer myself as a straw for the cosmic fire/ I too will join my mad voice  to the roar of cosmos/I too will merge as a tear into the  surging seas/ I, too will turn into a brief phrase in the raging crescendo of the Veena) . Imagination turned into action long enough for a sick, corrupt ruling class to shudder  at the prospect of the tenth avatar which would demand explanations about the CWG fiasco, the 2G scam, and the Swiss accounts and the Mauritian route of investment in corruption.

Move over, Heinrch Zimmer.The myths of India now have a peoples’ medium of interpretation and exhortation to action.


NOTE: This is a updated version of a presentation made at an international conference in 2005 (Camera and Chimera: The Indian and Cinemagination). For my convenience and that of most readers, I have used the names of actors to identify the films, not the names of producers/directors. I have also used songs liberally  as metaphors of the themes and forms of the movies.


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