The overrated Acharya

A few years back, renowned authoress and poetess plus my genuine well-wisher Geetashree Chatterjee gifted me the complete set of the original trilogy authored by Ashwin Sanghi which consisted of The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna Key. I found the books as real page-turners and despite not being habitual of reading in English, I finished all the three (quite bulky) of them within a fortnight. I liked the first one, i.e., The Rozabal Line very much despite some blemish here and some blot there in its narrative. And I also liked the third one, i.e., The Krishna Key very much despite not agreeing to certain narrative points put forth by the author (say, his own assumptions).

And now about the second one, i.e., Chanakya’s Chant which is considered as the most popular as well as the most commercially successful book of this author, truly a bestseller. I liked it as an engrossing book because like the other two, I found it also a page-turner. However I found it difficult to admire it the same way I have always found it difficult to admire Chanakya, the historical figure, the learned Acharya who is considered a legend. Chanakya has been glorified (and is still glorified regularly) a lot but does he really deserve that ? At least one person in the world won’t answer it in the affirmative. And that one person is me, Jitendra Mathur.

I had read a lot about Chanakya in various books and also known about him through a skillfully made TV serial titled as Chanakya only (written and directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi who also played the title role in the same). And now this book too has informed me a lot about it, albeit in a fictionalized manner. I am willing to talk about the book (whose author’s ideological tilt is now well-known) as well as that historical personality who has been admired just too much over the centuries in different ways.

Author Ashwin Sanghi has spread the narrative of Chanakya’s Chant by using two timelines alternatively. One timeline is set 2300 years ago and the other one is set in the 20th century A.D. (which spills over to the first decade of the 21st century A.D.). Both run in parallel chapter-by-chapter and thus you are able to read two stories running side-by-side in one book only giving you a two-in-one pleasure. The first timeline (narrating the times in the ancient India) tells the story of a Brahmin boy named as Vishnugupt (who, being son of Chanak, later came to be known as Chanakya) who vows to avenge the killing of his father by the cruel king of Magadha, Dhanananda. The second timeline narrates the story of a boy Gangasagar Mishra who is equally ambitious (and sharp-minded) as his ancient day counterpart in the 20th century India colonized by the British. Both these boys grow-up enhancing their knowledge and wit by keeping their eyes and ears open and carefully learning the things taught to them by their Gurus. Their ultimate field of work is the same – politics (of power). In the ancient India, Chanakya decides to become the kingmaker instead of becoming the king himself and develops a disciple in the form of a boy, Chandragupt Maurya to be enthroned. In the modern India, Gangasagar decides the same and makes a girl, Chandini Gupta his protégé. Chanakya not only seeks his revenge from Dhanananda but also thrones Chandragupt in Magadha. Similarly, Gangasagar is able to propel Chandini to the chair of the prime minister of India after spending a lifetime in the (power) politics of India when the 21st century has arrived.

Ashwin Sanghi has written a gripping book devoting more space to the modern day Chanakya, i.e., Gangasagar who not only learns accounting from the patron (Yajaman) of his father (who is a poor Brahmin earning a living by arranging ritualism for his Hindu patrons) but also the tricks of business. Coincidentally I am also an accountant by profession and I was surprised to find in the book that at one place the accountant (Munimji) of Agrawalji (Gangasagar’s father’s patron) teaches the boy that an accountant can convert two plus two into whatever he wants it to be (not just four). A couple of years back I had asserted the same thing in an interview in an organization (for the position of Director Finance) and I was not selected. Despite showing Agrawalji coming into contact with Mahatma Gandhi, neither he not his protégé Gangasagar learnt anything (genuinely) patriotic or useful for the society. Agrawalji remained as greedy for profit as he had always been. And Gangasagar learnt only one thing that power can make or break empires and he had to possess the same in his life (by his sheer willpower).

The author has penned a lucid novel with doses of humour scattered here and there which also contains an utterly indecent comment on the institution of marriage made by Chanakya while talking to Chandragupt. It contains factual errors (in the context of the history we have known hitherto) also and though the author had penned it as early as in 2010, he (may be due to a Chanakya like foresight) had sensed the change in waiting to arrive in India within a span of just a few years. And (perhaps) that’s why he has relentlessly played to the gallery, glorifying Chanakya’s extraordinary wit and wisdom which had no place for morals or ethics. His Chanakya keeps on reciting the word ‘Rashtra’ (nation) every now and then but almost all of his activities are self-serving only. And so are of Gangasagar (the modern day Chanakya created by the author) who does not even need to camouflage his greed for power in the cover of nationalism or social service.  As Vladimir Lenin had once asserted – ‘There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.’

Summing up, this well-written novel has a few admirable things but more or less, it’s no better than a pulp-fiction novel or a popcorn movie. It’s by all means a potboiler with all the ingredients of entertainment picked in optimal quantities and blended properly. Chanakya was also known as Kautilya and he had penned Arthashastra under that name only. Yes, a few canons of revenue and taxation plus the administration of affairs of the state as spelled out in the same (and reproduced in this novel) are agreeable and worthy to learn. All the same, his glorification beyond a limit is uncalled for because in the end he was a trickster only, a shrewd (and wicked) politician who had no qualms about taking innocent lives too to further his interest or achieve his chosen goal. So are the politicians of today’s India. Should we glorify them too ? Mahatma Gandhi had rightly refused to consider the electioneering politicians as pure patriots because, in his view, they termed their love for power as love for the nation and misguided the voters accordingly. Chanakya also wanted power only, albeit indirectly – by making someone else sit on the throne.

The learned Acharya, named as Chanakya, was (and is) thus overrated. And so is this bestseller novel.

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A touching saga of unexpressed love

The tragic demise of Jamuna (in the last week of January 2023) instigated me to pen a review of Milan (1967) featuring Nutan and Sunil Dutt as the lead pair with Jamuna also in a significant role.

Milan (union) is a unique movie of untold, unexpressed, innocent and selfless love. I had watched it on the big screen in the Prabhat cinema of Kolkata (then Calcutta) in March 1992. In addition to its unconventional but highly emotional story, its music appeal makes it an unforgettable experience for any viewer.

Indian cinema has presented ‘n’ number of stories of reincarnation of lovers who are not able to unite in one birth, are able to unite in their rebirth. Milan is one such story only portraying the union of unfortunate lovers Gopi (Sunil Dutt) and Radha (Nutan) in their rebirth. However it’s different from the usual reincarnation based love stories because the lovers’ truly living as a couple in their second birth shown in the beginning of the movie acts only as a propellant to take the story on its main track (shown in flash back) which is in their previous birth.

In this story, Radha is the daughter of a landlord studying in college whereas Gopi is a poor and illiterate man whose source of living is ferrying people in his boat from one shore of the river to the other one. He ferries Radha regularly as she has to attend her college on the other side of the river (the Ganges) and gives her a rose, addressing her as Beebiji as he understands her higher social status. He teaches music (singing) to Radha in the course of such journeys across the river. Radha gets impressed by his innocence and gradually develops a fondness for him (perhaps as a reciprocation of his fondness for her). Gopi has feelings for her but he keeps them to himself only, never letting them to come out. He becomes very sad when Radha is married off against her will to Rambabu (Deven Varma) and gets even sadder to see her on her return to her parental house as a widow. Now he is hell-bent upon keeping his Beebiji happy by all means. However he keeps his feelings for her to himself only (perhaps he himself was not able to properly understand the nature of those feelings). A shepherd girl Gauri (Jamuna) loves Gopi but he never responds to her advances. Radha’s lecherous (and greedy as well) maternal uncle Rajendra (Pran) has cast his evil eye on Gauri. Due to an aberration by Gauri, rumours get spread in the village regarding the relationship of Gopi and Radha, now a widow. In the climax when Radha comes to know of Gopi’s (hitherto untold) feelings towards her and suddenly realizes that she also loves him, they are left with no choice but to elope. Rajendra is the obstacle in their path whom Gauri surrenders to so that he allows the loving ones to elope. However even her great sacrifice doesn’t help Gopi and Radha and their lives end when their boat is caught in a whirlpool and drowns. They become a married couple in their rebirth and come to know of their earlier birth saga by meeting an aged Gauri who then passes away in the arms of Gopi.

This story does not appear to be as impressive on paper as when seen on the screen. It’s a mesmerizing tale of platonic love which keeps on touching the heart of any emotional viewer throughout its duration. Director A. Subba Rao has remade his hit Telugu movie Mooga Manasulu (1963) only as Milan in Hindi and he has been equally successful in presenting the Hindi version of the story on the screen.

Milan is able to convey what millions of descriptions may not be able to convey – what’s love, yes, the answer to the eternal question pertaining to a relationship between persons of opposite sexes. Love is a feeling – a particular kind of feeling that can’t be described, that can only be sensed. Practically, we have the understanding that love means to care and to share. However emotionally, it’s something more – a feeling that makes somebody as special for somebody else. It’s always a feeling even if it’s one-sided. We can care for and share with more than one person but the feeling known as love can’t be for more than one person at a given point of time. That feeling makes itself dawn upon the person on its own (or when the time arrives for that to happen). And more pleasant is the awareness that somebody harbours that feeling for you. When it becomes known, the person feels alive as if the whole world (or all the happiness scattered in the world) has come into his/her fist. Then there’s no fear of hardship or social stigma or even death (the only fear that remains thereafter is the fear of losing that love). And that’s the essence of Milan.

The treatment of the touching story for the screen is equally touching and the climax (happening in flash back) is heart-wrenching. But the union of the lovers in their reincarnation renders a soothing feeling to the viewers when the movie ends. There’s no boredom in the movie and once the viewer finds himself/herself as invested in the story running on the screen, it takes him/her to the climax like a swift water-stream. The dialogues especially those taking place between Radha and Gopi in the climax scene are highly admirable. No emotional person can regret after watching Milan.

Of course, there are blemishes on the movie despite its overall superior quality. The teasing occurrences between Gopi and Gauri are entertaining but too many and too much which become irritating after a point. The character of Rajendra, the villain is caricaturish. And so is the character of a greedy boatman Jaggu (Mukri). The relationship of Naani (Leela Mishra) with Gopi is nowhere clear in the movie. And the pre-climax scene taking place between Radha’s stepmom (Shyama) and her brother, i.e., Rajendra is so melodramatic that it’s difficult to endure.

The extraordinary music composed by Laxmikant Pyarelal for the  lyrics of Anand Bakshi makes Milan all the more special. All the songs have been sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Mukesh. Saawan Ka Maheena Pawan Kare Sor, Hum Tum Yug Yug Se Ye Geet Milan Ke Gaate Rahenge, Aaj Dil Pe Koi Zor Chalta Nahin, Bol Gori Bol Tera Kaun Piya, Ram Kare Aisa Ho Jaaye, Tohe Saanwariya Nahin Khabariya etc. can be listened to (and have been being listened to since 1967) by the music lovers numerous times. The song from the album of Milan which I have always found very close to my heart is – Mubaarak Ho Sabko Sama Ye Suhaana (sung by Mukesh).

Set in a rural milieu, technically the movie is more or less perfect. The art director and the cinematographer have done a praiseworthy job. Beauty of the nature is scattered throughout the movie. The last scene in the original birth of the lovers, i.e., their losing life by getting caught in the whirl (in the river) is simply sensational (laced with their emotional dialogues which act as the cherry on the cake).

And now for performances. Both Nutan and Sunil Dutt have given their best to the unconventional roles of Radha and Gopi and the movie is a treat for their fans. Pran is theatrical in his villainous avatar. Deven Varma is okay in his cameo. Surendra as Radha’s loving father has done well and so has Shyama as her stepmom (except for her scenes coming post the widowhood of Radha). Since I am penning this review as a tribute to Jamuna, let me assert that she has got a meaty role and she does not disappoint. The real meat in her role reveals itself in the climax when she makes a great sacrifice for the lovers. And her death (as an old woman waiting for decades for the return of the lovers) and then the lovers’ paying tribute to her only is the concluding point of the movie which moves the audience deep within.

Society has never been kind to the lovers (it’s not kind even today, the so-called modern era). Still love takes place – in every time and at every place. Why ? Because it just happens. The union of lovers can be prevented but not the sprouting of love in the heart. Everyone who believes in love, has loved someone and/or got someone’s love at any point of time in his/her life should not miss this classic, a tale of immortal love.

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Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo Aye Mere Hamrahi

This old review is republished as a tribute to veteran actress and heartthrob of millions in her heyday – Jamuna who left for her heavenly abode on 27th January, 2023. Originally a South Indian actress, she left her mark in certain Hindi films too. Black and white movie Hamrahi (1963) is one of them.

In my reviews of old Bollywood movies like Dooj Ka Chand (1964), Duniya (1968), Aya Sawan Jhoom Ke (1969) etc.; I have underscored this fact related to the Hindi movies made during the sixties that the script-writers used to insert a suspense element (with or without a courtroom drama) in the final part of the screenplay for the story which was based on romance or social drama. This act of them added spice to the narrative flowing on the screen before the audience and enhanced the entertainment value of the movie. Sometimes, that suspense was an intriguing one and it was pretty difficult to guess the culprit (the murderer as in almost all such cases, the twist in the tale came due to happening of some murder only) and sometimes, it was quite an easy one and the audience could guess the identity of the real culprit very easily (which had to be somebody other than the hero or the heroine). The movies mentioned by me in the beginning line of this review fall into the first category whereas Hamrahi (1963) falls into the second one, i.e., it’s anybody’s guess as to who might be the murderer. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty good movie whose premise is not that murder but the emotional bond between the lead pair which took a long time (a sizable part of the movie) in developing.

Hamrahi (fellow-traveller) is the story of Shekhar (Rajendra Kumar) who is the son of the much respected public prosecutor Dharamdaas (Nazir Hussain) but being a playboy by nature, instead of doing any meaningful work, he keeps on philandering with many girls. Now our casanova hero stumbles upon two entirely different girls. One is a gold-digger – Hemlata (Shashikala) who considers herself as very clever and quite proficient in befooling men. The other one is a school teacher – Shaarada (Jamuna) who comes from a modest family but maintains and is proud of her high moral character. Shekhar, as usual, ditches Hemlata (after spending some good time with her) and despite her well thought-out and well executed machination, Hemlata is not able to stick to him. The way, a sensible traveller settles for a passenger train after missing a mail train, she catches Hanuman (Rajendra Nath) after losing Shekhar.

Shekhar, on the other hand, is smitten by the charms of Shaarada and genuinely falls in love with that simple girl. It does not prove to be difficult for him to get married to Shaarada who is motherless and lives with her father (Agha) and step-mother (Indira) and after losing her school teacher’s job due to her name having been associated with that of Shekhar, has few options left with her. However just like Shekhar’s father, she has also developed a very bad image of Shekhar in her heart and she does not mince words in conveying it to him on their first conjugal night itself. Shekhar, who has by now a change of heart and wants to win Shaarada’s love, shows better sense and does not force himself upon her as her husband. They continue to live under one roof without behaving with each other like a couple but don’t allow this fact to be known to the other members of that joint family consisting of Shekhar’s mother (Lalita Pawar), his elder brother Mahesh (Mehmood), Mahesh’s wife Shanti (Shubha Khote) and the children.

Days and months pass. Shekhar is not able to win Shaarada’s heart due to one reason or another and Shaarada keeps on loathing him. The emotional tension between them keeps on intensifying. However, finally the day arrives when Shaarada realizes that Shekhar has really mended his ways and truly loves her. Now with the evaporation of the tension and misunderstanding between the two, our hero and heroine have become a couple in the true sense and are about to start a happy life hereafter but the twist in the tale comes with the murder of Hemlata for which Shekhar is booked and tried in the court. Who will fight for Shekhar since his father himself is the public prosecutor and firmly believes that he only is the guilty ?

The murder, its investigation and the ensuing courtroom drama has been given very less footage in the movie which is the correct thing as the audience can very well guess (correctly) as to who is the murderer of Hemlata. The obvious suspect only turns out to be the murderer. The script-writer and the director could have handled this part of the movie in a better way and made it a little longer and more interesting. Perhaps they thought (like myself) that the other, major, part of the story only is really important and this twist serves merely as a tool to generate a (small) unhappy phase in the narrative before it is carried to its desired happy ending.

There is a very well-known and popular Hindi maxim – Subah Ka Bhoola Shaam Ko Ghar Aa Jaaye To Use Bhoola Nahin Kehte (if someone loses his way in the morning but is able to reach his home in the evening, he is not to be termed as a strayed one). I could not find any proper equivalent for it in English but in simple words, it means that if an errant person has mended or shows inclination to mend his ways, he should not be treated too harshly and should be given a chance in this regard because it is never too late to make amends. This is the message which the movie tries to convey to the audience. The undertrial hero asserts the same thing in the court too, asking the society, the court and his father – Can an aberrant not mend his ways and become a better person ? I appreciate this thought but in a patriarchal society, this liberty could be given to the males only. Women were supposed to forgive their husbands for their earlier sins once they were back on the right path. They were not supposed to expect the same kind of consideration for themselves if they happened to be in a similar position.

All things said and done, Hamrahi is a fairly good movie which entertains throughout its duration without any yawning moment for the audience. It starts off well, moves on nicely and reaches its denouement properly. Despite using stereotypes for many characters, the story does not seem to be out of place at any point though the track of gold-digger Hemlata and her husband Hanuman which attaches their landlord Gopi Nath (O.P. Ralhan) also later on is not a convincing one and mostly over the top.

The comedy side track of Agha, his wife Indira and his father-in-law Dhumal is entertaining but I praise the director for linking it to the murder and its investigation also. In fact, the comedy side track is pleasant only when it is not totally independent from the main plot but interwoven with it. The same cannot be said for the comedy presented by Mehmood and his wife Shubha Khote but their chemistry was always admirable and they entertain the audience very well.

Rajendra Kumar was not fit for the role of a playboy but he was natural like always in the role of a sincere lover in later reels. Jamuna could not completely hide her South Indian accent while speaking in Hindi but her looks and acting, both are pretty admirable. Shashikala is over the top as it was the demand of her role but her performance is flawless. It’s always a pleasure for me to see Lalita Pawar in a positive role. Others are routine. However Mehmood has startled by his impressive performance in the ending reels while playing the defense lawyer for his younger brother Shekhar (in real life, he was younger to Rajendra Kumar) and proved that he was not just a comedian, his talent was versatile. While seeing him and Rajendra Kumar in those courtroom scenes, I could not help recalling Kanoon (1960) in which Rajendra Kumar played the efficient and impressive defense lawyer and Mehmood played the playboy who generated laughs for the audience in the tense courtroom drama.

Certain scenes of the movie appear to be predecessors for similar scenes in later movies. The scene in which Shekhar has to face more than one girl at the same time and then has to hide both of them (from his uncle who approaches him all of a sudden) reminisces similar scene(s) in Boeing Boeing (1965) and Hanuman’s pretending to go out of the town but staying in the city only by renting a hotel room in order to spy on his wife reminisces of Sunil Dutt’s doing the same in Hamraaz (1967).

Technically this black and white movie is okay. Dialogues, art direction, cinematography, background score etc. are satisfactory. In addition to the dialogue of Shekhar in the courtroom (mentioned supra), the dialogue of Shaarada to the principal of her school while submitting her resignation from service is also praiseworthy when she underscores the significance of her character.

Shankar Jaikishan have done an excellent job in composing the music of Hamrahi using the beautiful lyrics of Shailendra and Hasrat Jaipuri. My personal favourite from the album of Hamrahi is Mohammed Rafi’s Ye Aansoo Mere Dil Ki Zubaan Hain. However Lata Mangeshkar’s  classic solo – Mann Re Tu Hi Bata Kya Gaaoon, Lata-Rafi duet – Karke Jiska Intezaar and above all, the title track by Mubarak Begum and Rafi – Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo Aye Mere Hamrahi have also been heart-conquerors for the music lovers for the past six decades. Other songs Wo Din Yaad Karo, Wo Chale Jhatak Ke Daaman, Main Albela and Dil Tu Bhi Gaa are also melodious and ear-soothing.

Summing up, director T. Prakash Rao has done a fair job in directing Hamrahi which is a decent movie for sure. The lovers of golden oldies will definitely like it.

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A classic which is the predecessor to Lagaan

Thespian Dilip Kumar had passed away last year. Had he been alive, he would have completed 100 years of age on 11th December 2022, namely, yesterday. On the occasion of his birth centenary, this old review is being republished as my tribute to the great artist.

I had got inspiration to write this review without further delay from the views of esteemed blogger and reviewer Sait Nair on my blog  regarding plagiarism. He had written – ‘General public excuse “biggies” even when they indulge in plagiarism’. I endorse this view with my observation that “biggies” sometimes consider it their birth-right to plagiarize. Much acclaimed movie of Aamir Khan – Lagaan (2001) which missed winning the Academy Award in the foreign film category by just a whisker is a classic example of shameless plagiarizing by the “biggies”. I have come to know that the movies based on original stories are only considered for any award at the Oscars. However our masterminds managed to carry this plagiarized movie to the last stage of Oscars without giving the minimum thanks to the original moviemakers, i.e., the B.R. Films who had made the all time classic movie Naya Daur (1957). Lagaan is a scene to scene (if not frame to frame) copy of this movie. Only the backdrop and set-up have been changed. Not only the basic idea but even the treatment and the characterizations is ditto that of Naya Daur. Had Lagaan won the Oscar, it would have been a classic example of a plagiarized story winning this prestigious and coveted award.

Naya Daur (new era) is originally a black and white movie whose coloured version was released a few years back. It deals with the issue of unemployment because of mechanization in the Indian villages which was very much relevant and burning in that time. Tonga (horse-carriage) driver Shankar (Dilip Kumar) opposes the introduction of bus in the village because of the prospective unemployment of the tonga-drivers. The owner of the bus – Kundan (Jeevan) who is a wealthy businessman of the village enters into a bet with him that if he is able to defeat the bus by his tonga in a race, the bus will be withdrawn. How Shankar prepares for the race and finally defeats the bus by driving his tonga, forms the rest of the story which involves the factor of rivalry in getting the love of Rajni (Vyjayantimala) leading to betrayal of Shankar’s friend, Krishna (Ajit) also.Naya Daur is thoroughly engrossing and very impressive. Legendary director B.R. Chopra has directed the story of Akhtar Mirza quite nicely and maintained the momentum of the narrative throughout the duration of the movie which is a little less than three hours. The sets, costume designing, editing etc. are all praiseworthy. Production value is high, matching the great B.R. Films tradition.Performances are great and leagues ahead of their counterparts in Lagaan. While giving full marks to Aamir Khan and co. in Lagaan, I can safely say that the performances of Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh and Yashpal Sharma are no match for the respective performances of Dilip Kumar, Vyjayantimala and Ajit in Naya Daur. Only Paul Blackthorne, the villain has surpassed the performance of Jeevan in Naya Daur by his in Lagaan.The timeless music of Naya Daur composed by O.P. Nayyar (lyrics by Saahir Ludhiyanvi), boasting of immortal songs like Udein Jab Jab Zulfen Teri, Ye Desh Hai Veer Jawano Ka, Reshmi Salwar Kurta Jaali Ka, Saathi Haath Badhana, Maang Ke Saath Tumhara Maine Maang Liya Sansar and Main Bambai Ka Babu Naam Mera Anjana cannot be compared to the music of any other movie. leave aside Lagaan. Even  today listening to these songs in the enchanting voices of Asha and Rafi is a great experience.

Except the character of Rachel Shelley (the Englishwoman who is the sister of the villain but helping the hero), Lagaan is a ditto of Naya Daur. However neither Aamir Khan nor the writer-director of Lagaan – Ashutosh Gowarikar gave any credit (or even thanks) to the makers of Naya Daur. They left no stone unturned in blowing their trumpet and calling their movie as based upon an original idea. The truth is, they have just changed the bus-tonga race in the village to the Cricket match between the Indian villagers and the English team. Rest the complete story framework, characters, their mutual relationships, situations and climax, everything has been copied outright from Naya Daur.Though Ravi Chopra (son of B.R. Chopra) had said lightly at the time of release of the coloured version of Naya Daur that Lagaan was inspired by Naya Daur, no such accusation has ever been made by B.R. Films upon Aamir Khan Productions perhaps because the makers of Naya Daur were also glad that Lagaan represented India at the Oscars and went very close to winning the Academy Award in the foreign film category. However it was the duty of Aamir Khan and Ashutosh Gowarikar to admit the inspiration (if not plagiarization) and give thanks to the writer and the makers of Naya Daur which they have not done and shamelessly enjoyed the credit of making an ‘original’ movie. However truth cannot be hidden forever. Anybody reading this review can watch these two movies consecutively and he will reach the same conclusion that I reached when I had watched Lagaan for the first time.

While recommending this classic wholeheartedly to the movie buffs, I give just one message to Aamir plus Ashutosh – You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

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The flight of courage and conviction

  • Veteran film, TV and theatre actor Vikram Gokhle passed away yesterday. This old review of Udaan is republished as a tribute to him. He had played the role of the idealist father of the protagonist whose guidance, motivation and moral support shaped her personality.

The era of TV serials (initially called soap operas) started in India during the eighties with the telecast of ‘Hum Log’ on Doordarshan. Since Doordarshan was the only TV channel in India during that period, many other serials were also telecast on Doordarshan only following the popularity and success of Hum Log viz. ‘Buniyaad’, ‘Khaandaan’, ‘Nukkad’, ‘Raamayan’, ‘Mahabhaarat’ etc. alongwith sitcoms like ‘Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi’ and character-based serials like ‘Rajni’. 

However, none of these serials could win my heart which was as sensitive those days as it is today. However suddenly a serial started being aired on Doordarshan titled as Udaan (flight) and it’s this serial with only 32 episodes in total which silently stepped deep into the heart of Jitendra Mathur, a struggling youth; rendering a lot of positive energy and hope to him and strengthening his faith in the high values of life. Still the memories of that serial are fresh in my heart and it’s this serial only which played a major role in my attempting for the Indian Civil Services after completing my C.A.

udaan‘Udaan’ is the inspiring and touching story of Kalyani Singh (Kavita Chaudhary) living with her father (Vikram Gokhle) and mother (Uttara Baokar). Life becomes pretty hard for herself and her family when her father loses his landed property due to deceit of certain greedy and unscrupulous ones. She feels that her younger brother is given more attention and significance than her in the family because of the gender-based discrimination.

However her unbiased, clean-heart and noble father with a deep-seated faith in ethics and abilities of a human-being who follows the right path helps her in keeping her morale high. Gaining a faith from her extra-ordinary father that she is no less than a boy and can achieve any goal, she concentrates on her studies, aiming for the Indian Police Service to help those aggrieved who seek justice but do not get any cooperation from the police in that regard because the police is not sincere towards its duties. Her determination takes her to her decided goal but is it the end or the peak for her ? No! Kalyani is still a long way to go in the male-dominated society with a patriarchal mindset.

She comes across the problems of not only the old-fashioned, lazy, negligent and insensitive cops whom she has to work with but also the seniors who look upon her as a sex-object only. Rot is there in the complete system and for someone like Kalyani, it is a Herculean task to make a worthwhile effort to clean it as well as tone it up to serve the masses in the correct way. But the way Kalyani had not given up during her childhood and adolescence and made to the IPS despite financial and allied hardships, the same way she does not give up while being a part of the system.

A corrupt, inefficient and indifferent system cannot be eliminated but someone with pious intentions can try to improve it while being a part and parcel of it. Kalyani does the same. Her patience, courage, self-confidence and strong willpower show their colour in due course of time. However she is not just a dutiful and sincere cop, she is a woman also. And the woman in her falls in love with a like-minded IAS officer (Shekhar Kapoor) who starts liking her during the course of their official interaction and proposes to her after some time. However leading her life with a mission, Kalyani has to evaluate her womanly sentiments against her high ideals before taking the key decision of her life.

The serial which was not dragged like many other soap operas telecast on different TV channels in later years and was concluded after 32 episodes only. It was not made clear whether Kalyani married the love of her life. After showing Kalyani’s tryst with her destiny and her encounters with not only injustices being faced by the commonfolk due to the insensitive and unjust system but also the hardships of the poor which she could not do anything about despite all the sensitivity in her heart, the serial-maker ended it with Kalyani’s Udaan (flight) for her place of posting with the sound coming from the background underscoring the Udaan of herself in her life and career.

The serial shows the insensitive, indifferent and oppressive police, administrative and judicial system prevailing in India which is rule-bound for the underdog and the commoners but highly flexible to the benefit of the wealthy and the mighty on one hand and the struggling ahead of a lady from a modest background and with modest resources in this system solely on the basis of the teachings and motivation of her father as well as her own courage and conviction on the other. She does not want to make it big in the service just for the sake of her own career but she wants to move ahead so that she can do something meaningful for those who crave for justice, who crave for relief from their plight and who feel completely hapless and helpless in the given scenario, expecting some messiah to come to their rescue. Kalyani’s unshakable faith in her ideals and the rightness of her chosen path provides fortitude and vitality to her when almost all the odds are against her.

Kavita Chaudhary who had become famous during the eighties for her Surf advertisement by playing Lalitaji in the same and asserting -‘Surf Ki Kharidaari Mein Hi Samajhdaari Hai‘,  has produced and directed this serial with herself playing the lead role of Kalyani Singh. She has done an outstanding job both as a director and as an actor. This serial is unbelievably realistic, touching, inspiring and impressive. She got the inspiration to make this serial from the real life story of her elder sister Kanchan Chaudhary who became an IPS officer after undergoing a lot of struggle in her life (she became the first woman DGP of India in 2012). However being ignorant of the story of Kanchan Chaudhary, I used to contrast the story of this serial with the life of Mrs. Kiran Bedi, the first woman IPS officer of India.

In addition to Kavita, all the other actors (including those actresses who have played the roles of child Kalyani and adolescent Kalyani) have also done splendidly. All the technical aspects of the serial are well in order and nowhere is there an air of artificiality. Right from the beginning of the story which is set in a village to the peak of it which is set in the corridors of the Indian bureaucracy, everything is real and believable. Almost every frame of this serial seems to have arrived straight out of the real life.

This serial motivated me to aim for becoming an IAS officer in my life and when I was preparing for the my first attempt in 1994, I had developed a desire to meet two persons after becoming an IAS officer – first Mrs. Kiran Bedi who had won the Raman Magsaysay Award those days for her exemplary work as the in-charge of the Tihaar jail and second Kavita Chaudhary whom I used to adore those days. The serial had finished on TV long back but its memories used to haunt me every now and then, especially when I visualized the fulfillment of my cherished dream.

Now this serial is available in DVD form and any youth who wants to do something worthwhile for the country through the central or the state services with a faith in the moral values and high ideals, must watch this serial which is an ocean of inspiration. Scarcity of resources doesn’t matter when your mission is noble. And where there is a will, there is always a way – asserts this Udaan (flight) of Kalyani Singh, IPS.

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Too far-fetched, yet entertaining

After seven long years, the story of Drishyam starts off from exactly where its first part had concluded. The family of a middle class person who has a penchant for movies is again in trouble for whatever had happened seven years ago courtesy an accidental eye-witness and some chess like clandestine moves made by the cops who have not closed the case by labelling it as unresolved. The case file of killing of a teenager is still open in the police headquarters. This middle class (and low educated) man may still be categorized in the middle class but now his class is the upper middle class. He has earned enough money to graduate from a cable operator to a theatre-owner. And he has been planning to make a movie himself, discussing his story with a well-known screenplay writer for cinematic adaptation. He has got the story published also in the form of a book (apparently) for copyright protection. What are his real intentions ? Is he still concerned for the safety of his family (from the claws of the law of the land) ?

Well, to understand the things in the right perspective, we have to go in flash back, i.e., the story of the original (first) movie titled as Drishyam (scene) which had been released in Malayalam in 2013 and its various remakes in different languages were released in later years (all the versions filled the coffers of their makers like anything). Jeethu Joseph who had taken the credit of the story (calling it as his ‘original’) had only directed the Malayalam version. The truth of his so-called originality is that this story had been lifted by him from the novel of Keigo Higashino – ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’ which was first published in 2005. Anyway.

The Hindi version, i.e., Drishyam (2015) was directed by (Late) Nishikant Kamat in which the protagonist’s role was played by Ajay Devgan whose teenager daughter accidentally kills a spoiled teenager who was trying to blackmail her on the basis of a video of hers clandestinely shot by him. The dead boy was the son of a supercop Meera Deshmukh (Tabu) who is the Inspector General of Police of Goa (where the story is set, in Pondolem to be exact). Her businessman husband Mahesh (Rajat Kapoor) is a sensitive person but Meera is a ruthless cop as well as an aggrieved mother hell-bent upon seeking revenge from the killer. Now our hero named as Vijay Salgaonkar who is a less-educated person and fond of watching movies on small screen (as well as learning various things from them) has to dispose off the dead body in such a way and create such an alibi that himself alongwith his wife Nandini (Shriya Saran), elder daughter Anju (Ishita Dutta) who is actually the killer and younger daughter Anu (Mrunal Jadhav) remain uncaught by the scanner of the law-enforcers. And he successfully does it, checkmating the cops including the mother of the dead boy. Meera Deshmukh resigns from her job and the parents of the boy migrate to London, rendering a sigh of relief to Vijay.

Since this well-made movie was hugely successful on the box office, making its sequel made sense. Now a story was required to put Vijay and his family again in trouble due to the killing that had taken place years back and showing the protagonist emerging as triumphant in the end once again (because that kind of end only is desirable for the Indian audience who cannot withstand their hero to lose to anyone including the law of the land). Since Jeethu Joseph only has claimed the credit of the story directing the original Malayalam version himself only once again, the question that propped up in my mind whether he has lifted the basic grains for the story of this sequel also from somewhere. Well, neither I have been able to figure that out nor any known film reviewer (at least till now). Hence let’s give Jeethu Joseph the credit of the story which is more intriguing but less curious than its previous part because the novelty factor is missing. We don’t know the plan of Vijay to safeguard his family members from the law in this reopened murder case (which as we have been told somewhere in the movie, had never been fully closed by the police), however we are always aware that something is going on underneath his various activities apparently unrelated to this ‘case’ and in all probability, he is going to outwit the cops this time also. In the prequel, everything done by the protagonist (leading his family members also in that) was before the audience alongwith his purpose, still the curiosity factor was bigger. In this sequel, everything done by him has a hidden purpose which is revealed much later (in the ending reels only), still the audience is not very curious. That does not mean that the narrator has failed in entertaining the viewers. The movie is entertaining, no doubt. The thing is that a lot of time has been taken for the build-up and the real tension which keeps the audience hooked appears in the post-interval session of the movie only. The protagonist is relaxed (at least he appears to be so). And so do we.

The revived cat and mouse game between the cops and the hero picks up speed after interval with the cat having many faces including a new I.G. of Police (Akshaye Khanna), the ex I.G. of Police and the mother of the killed boy (I won’t term him as the victim because it was he who was victimizing the daughter of the protagonist) plus the suspended corrupt cop who has a score to settle with the hero with a few others whether in uniform or civil dress (i.e., undercover cops). The father of the dead boy is a sensitive (and sensible) person who wants to move on in life alongwith his wife and that’s why he requests Vijay for the remains of the dead body of his son for proper cremation. However the mother wants to find them out on her own (with the help of the police, of course) so as to throw Vijay and his family behind the bars and in the legal trap thereafter. How Vijay saves himself and his family forms the remaining part of the story whose climax tells us that everything done by him in the narrative (prior to the climax) had the same purpose because he was always expecting the case to be reopened with a new box of troubles for them. In the same vein, it tells us that even the bit characters those had appeared in the narrative at various places were linked to his complex scheme. I found his scheme (fully revealed in the end) as amusing but too far-fetched. Popular Hindi pulp fiction writer (Late) Ved Prakash Sharma used to present such too much complicated schemes formulated by the criminals in his novels. Vijay’s scheme reminded me of them.

New director Abhishek Pathak (as the director of the prequel Nishikant Kamat had passed away in 2020) has done his job well. However his job was not very difficult because he had to remake a Malayalam movie as it is without any kind of adaptation on the story aspect. He has changed only the milieu just like the prequel (changing the location from Kerala to Goa). However he has kept the length of this Hindi version shorter than the original which appears to be right considering the fact that now the Hindi movie audience of this era does not like too long movies. The fact that the hero and his family are able to live a posh life within a span of just a few years appears odd. Cinematographer Sudhir K. Chaudhary has captured the beauty of countryside Goa (not the happening areas) very well. Other technical aspects are also in order. Devi Sri Prasad has composed two good songs for the movie. All the same, it would have been better had the rap song which tells the essence of the story been kept in the movie and not played with the end credits rolling on the screen when the movie is over.

Since the cast of the prequel has been carried over to the sequel, the actors have only replayed their parts which was not very difficult for them. Ajay Devgan is no match for Mohanlal (the great Malayalam actor who has played the protagonist in the original version) but no doubt, he has excelled in his role (just like the prequel). His eyes speak and indicate the churning going on in the interiors of his outer cool and calm personality. Tabu is effective in her low footage role also as she appears to be like a lioness waiting to prey upon the killer (or the killers) of her progeny. Akshaye Khanna presents nothing new in his cop avatar. He appears to be the same cop played by him in some earlier films.

An esteemed film reviewer has rightly asserted that the story of Drishyam (including both the parts) has been liked by the audience so much because it’s been woven around Indian middle class morality which advocates protecting own family at all costs and which glamorizes the underdog and vilifies the privileged. Another esteemed reviewer has also rightly asserted that the success story of Drishyam underscores this fact that we prefer what we feel right to what is right. Well, I have to agree to these views in the absolute sense. The killing which forms the basis of the Drishyam story had (inadvertently) taken place in self-defense. However the protagonist does not consider the option of coming clean before the law and get his daughter acquitted from the murder charge on the basis of the self-defense plea. Instead he decides to play a hide and seek game with the law-enforcers. May be because the law enforcement agencies of Mera Bhaarat Mahaan, more often than not, indulge in harassing (and extorting) the underprivileged instead of ensuring justice to them.

The lesson of the movie is very clear – the question is not what is in front of your eyes but what you are seeing (that’s the real Drishyam or scene for you).

I agree to it.

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A grand musical and visual romantic treat

Tabassum is no more. An extraordinary actress, TV host and youtuber, Tabassum breathed her last on 18th November, 2022. This old review is republished as a tribute to her.

In the late fifties, Nasir Hussain (Aamir Khan’s uncle) started the trend of masala Hindi movies in which the least attended aspect was the story. The screenplay was created on the basis of some set formulae – melodious music, some action, some comedy, some romance, the works. When colour movies became a routine since the sixties, one more thing which got added to this set-up was beautiful photography of beautiful locations. Nasir Hussain made the Bollywood movie viewers habitual of such movies in which two and half hours entertainment was guaranteed without any proper storyline.Such movies became box office success and the formulae of this type of mix-masala continued till the early seventies without a hitch.

One such movie is Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon which was released in 1963, starring Joy Mukherjee and Asha Parekh. The title of the movie had been taken from an emotional song of another Joy Mukherjee starrer Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (1962). One song was composed for this movie too as the title track because fortunately like the hero, the music director was also the same for both these movies – O.P. Nayyar. While Ek Musafir Ek Hasina (directed by Raj Khosla) was a black and white movie, Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon was made as a colour movie with negative and celluloid material of such a good quality that even today the print of the movie is a visual treat for the viewer with eye-soothing colour combination in the scenes of the beautiful locations of Kashmir.The story as I have already mentioned is just a formality to make a romantic movie with melodious songs to fit in alongwith a comedy track and a track for the baddies who need to be beaten by the hero in the climax before their arrest by the generous Indian police. Hero Joy Mukherjee is fostered by his mother because of rift between his father and mother. His father fosters his friend’s little daughter (Asha Parekh) like his own child. Destiny brings the hero and the heroine together and they find themselves in deep love. Villain (Pran) enters the scene to take advantage of the situation that the rich father of the hero does not recognize his son and presents himself as his son. After a good dose of comedy, romance and action to the viewers, the final outcome is – all’s well that ends well.Under the pretext of the romance between the lead pair, the director Nasir Hussain got ample opportunity to insert melodious songs sung by Mohammed Rafi and Asha Bhosle. And music is the biggest plus point of this movie for which you can watch it again and again without giving a damn for the story. Rafi’s classic songs – Banda Parvar Thaam Lo Jigar (which is the title song), Laakhon Hain Nigaah Mein Zindagi Ki Raah Mein, Aji Kibla Mohatarama Kabhi Shola Kabhi Naghma and my favourite Aanchal Mein Saja Lena Kaliyaan Zulfon Mein Sitaare Bhar Lena alongwith Asha Bhosle’s classic song Aankhon Se Jo Utri Hai Dil Mein as well as Dekho Bijli Dole Bin Baadal Ke make this movie a musical treat. Rafi-Asha duet – Humdum Mere Khel Na Jaano Chaahat Ke Ikaraar Ko is also no less. One excellent Rafi-Asha duet – Zulf Ki Chhaon Mein Chehre Ka Ujaala Lekar Teri Veeran Si Raaton Ko Sajaaya Humne is not found in the movie available on CD (perhaps the complete version of the movie has not been transferred on the CD) and can be listened to in the album only (now it can be seen on youtube). Summing up regarding the music of the movie (by O.P. Nayyar), it’s timeless. Majrooh Sultanpuri has written the lyrics with highly emotional and meaningful words which, being strung in the melodious compositions, touch the listeners deep into their hearts.

Cinematographer has exploited the opportunity of arresting the enchanting beauty of Kashmir in the colour movie (whose trend had just started those days) to the greatest extent possible for him. If anybody gets the opportunity to watch this movie on big screen, he/she must be highly fortunate to watch the enchanting beauty of ‘Heaven on Earth‘ in the most satisfying manner.

Direction of the movie is routine but the songs have been aptly placed. The scene (alongwith the relevant dialogues) picturized on Joy and Asha which consists of the song – Aanchal Mein Saja Lena Kaliyaan – is emotionally penetrating for tender-heart romantic people (like me) and definitely a memorable one.

Comedy tracks are two. The bigger one is of Rajendra Nath which is inter-twined with the main plot and another one is a watered down one in which Ram Avtar, as the hero’s friend, makes the audience laugh. However, being short of a full-length storyline, the comedy track of Rajendra Nath has been excessively prolonged. Tabassum and others, as the Sahelis (friends) of the heroine, also present amusing situations in the movie.Performances are okay whether they are of the charming lead pair (good on-screen chemistry between them) or of the supporting cast alongwith the villains and the comedians. Pran has not got a meaty role as the villain considering his reputation for the negative roles in that period but he has tried his best.

Technically the movie is perfect and it has a high production value.

Overall, the movie is successful in entertaining the audience and that’s why it was a hit. I watch it whenever I am willing to get the combined effect of the visuals and the songs upon me which is always mesmerizing. I recommend it to all the lovers of melodious music who are also desirous of light romantic entertainment.

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A son restoring his father’s lost pride

Today is the 19th birthday of my son Saurav. He has a billion dreams in his eyes. I am a loving father and a loving father always wants his son/daughter to become a winner in life. Even if a father himself is a loser in life, he does not want the same to happen to his generation next. That’s always the attitude of loving and caring parents. But what about the attitude of the children when they see their father/mother undergoing the pain of losing in life ?

Hindi movie Toolsidas Junior (2022) tries to answer this question. Based on the less popular game of Snooker, this movie narrates the saga of a father who is capable of winning the Snooker championship played in the local (but high profile) club but always loses due to his being an alcoholic and the trophy goes to his arch-rival. This father is Toolsidas (Rajiv Kapoor) and his rival is Jimmy (Dalip Tahil). Toolsidas’ wife (Tasveer Kamil) remains unhappy due to her husband’s alcoholism and the problems arising out of that. However the most sorry figure is his younger son Mridul aka Midi (Varn Buddhadev) who is just a kid but is able to feel the pain of his father who is caught in the vicious cycle of failure-depression-alcohol consumption-failure.

Midi wants to see his father as a winner but always ends up seeing him as a loser. After undergoing many adventures with his confused and astray elder brother, he finally decides to restore his father’s pride by becoming a winner in the contest. Where there is a will, there is a way. His will takes him to a retired Snooker player and former national Snooker champion Salaam Bhai (Sanjay Dutt) who guides him and trains him to play the game.

Comes the yearly tournament again and Toolsidas once again gets himself registered as a player. However this time, he is not the only participant coming from his family. Midi also gets  himself registered but under the name of Toolsidas Junior. Now both the senior Toolsidas and junior Toolsidas are up against a formidable Jimmy in the tournament (alongwith the other participants, of course). And Midi, playing as Toolsidas Junior finally restores his father’s lost pride by winning the tournament, getting the better of Jimmy in the final.

And since it’s the real life story of the filmmaker (we believe his words), the movie is full of life. Despite a flat story, it keeps the viewer hooked throughout because the narrator narrates straight from his heart. The audience roots for the protagonist (knowing very well that he’s going to win in the end) and that’s really a big achievement for a movie like this. It’s a sports drama but more than the sport, it’s the drama soaked in sentiments that encompasses the spectators.

It’s a simple story with a predictable end. It’s a winner nonetheless. Only at the end of the narrative, we do come to know that it’s based on the real life story of the filmmaker Mridul Mahendra and by making this movie, he has paid homage to his father. The way, the filmmaker has asserted in an interview, he brought back the lost glory of his father, the same way it’s shown as done by the protagonist child of the story.

Billiards and Snooker are expensive games which are not affordable for the commoners. The rich and the high only can afford them and that too by joining the membership of any relevant club and not by purchasing the necessary equipments to play at home. It’s clearly shown in the movie also as to how difficult it becomes for the kid to follow his passion to learn the game (as a matter of fact to make his father regain his lost pride). The film is realistic for the most part of it. The episode of the protagonist trying his hand on different things to earn money at the instigation of his good-for-nothing elder brother could have been done away with, in my view.

The movie is an emotional drama which not only underscores the fact that alcoholism is the mother of troubles and woes in a person’s life (covering the life of his family members too) but also depicts the pain of living with the feeling of being a loser. The little son knows that his father wants to come before him as a winner only and it’s extremely painful for him when the reverse happens. He empathizes with his father and since he wants his father’s name to appear on the board showing the list of champions, he participates in the tournament not under his own name but under the name of his father, suffixing the word ‘junior’ to it. It’s a motivational tale of a kid’s journey to achieve what his father wanted to achieve. And indirectly (without sermonizing) it renders the eternal message – Where there’s a will, there’s always a way. The movie is completely free from melodrama and the pleasant ending has also been kept low profile. In fact, subtlety is one of the biggest strengths of this movie.

It’s the last movie of Late Rajiv Kapoor, the youngest son of the legendary Raj Kapoor. It was supposed to be his comeback movie but as fate would have it, it couldn’t be possible and his admirable performance showcasing his acting range came before the audience after his demise only. Sanjay Dutt has given a terrific performance in the role of a former champion now living in isolation. The script-writer (who is none else but the director himself) has done the right thing by giving him a meaty role with entertaining one-liners but still using his star power sparingly, not allowing it to overpower the role of the protagonist. Tasveer Kamil as the mother and Chinmai Chandranshuh as the elder brother have done well alongwith the other supporting cast members. Dalip Tahil is amazingly subtle in the role of the antagonist. But all said and done, the movie finally rests on the tender shoulders of Varun Buddhadev as Midi. He is the heart and soul of this movie. He has not played but lived this role.

The story is set in Kolkata and the art director has done a brilliant job by portraying the city vividly as it might have been during the period of the story (early nineties). The editor has also done a good job by keeping the length of the movie under check. Background score and other technical aspects are also in order. Music is also good.

It’s a presentation of Lagaan fame Ashutosh Gowarikar who has undoubtedly supported a noble cause by bringing the inspiring story of Mridul Mahendra before the public. The movie has deservingly won the national award (under the Hindi movie category). It’s a film meant for all the fathers and all the sons and reminds me of the quote of Horace  –  Deep in the cavern of the infant’s breast, the father’s nature lurks, and lives anew.

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A woman getting caught in the fatal game of power

Shivani Bhatnagar, an ambitious journalist working with the highly prestigious Indian Express newspaper, got murdered on 23.01.1999 in her flat in East Delhi. Her murder case became a high profile one and made headlines for a long time. A study of the victim’s life journey, who was married and mother to an infant, reveals that it was nothing short of a heady cocktail of power, politics, press and passion and having a corporate involvement as well. However finally, it’s a tale of a power game which proved fatal for her. Her ambitions finally realized their price, in the form of her life. Power can be derived from a political position, a police uniform, corporate entity, media, money, beauty, passionate love and the like wise. A feeling of being powerful may render a kick to a human-being but for a person, especially a woman, this game proves to be lethal only in the end because it’s like a spider’s web which is difficult to break free from. Things like betrayal and blackmailing are, more often than not, parts of this game. Powerful people may be beneficial to a beautiful woman in the short run (for the sake of their own axes to grind) but maintaining relationships with them and getting entangled in their affairs can be compared to playing with fire. And fire always burns. Everything ! Everybody ! Just like it burnt Shivani. IPS officer R.K. Sharma who was once posted in the office of the prime minister of India was the prime accused for her murder and said to have arranged it by hiring contract killers. However the name of a political heavyweight (Late) Pramod Mahajan was also dragged into this case (by the wife of the prime accused). Ironically, Mahajan also got killed in the hands of his own brother in 2006.

Twelve years after the tragic death of Shivani, director Sushen Bhatnagar made a Hindi movie loosely based on her life (and the rumours associated therewith), her murder and the murder trial. This movie is Monica (2011). Its protagonist Monica Jaitley (Divya Dutta) is a married woman but ambitious for power and position. She becomes a journalist and starts climbing the ladder of success and (perceived) power by making moral compromises. Her husband (Rajit Kapoor) is a drunkard and that also instigates her to have relationship with an emerging politician Chandrakant Pandit (Ashutosh Rana). A corporate top brass Pamela Grewal (Kitu Gidwani) and a newspaper editor Aseem Ray (Tinnu Anand) also try to use her to further their own respective interests. Finally the inevitable happens when Monica captures some scandalous documents and tries to first blackmail and then threaten Chandrakant who is about to be throned as the chief minister of the state (UP). She runs a lot for her life but can’t escape. Her complicated life story gets unraveled in the murder trial that ensues.

The story of Monica’s life comes before the audience through flashbacks taking place in-between the courtroom drama when the public prosecutor (Yashpal Sharma) narrates the relevant events to the judge (Kunika). It’s a good way to present the plot instead of flat narration. Since the narrative is clearly inspired by the murder of Shivani Bhatnagar and her life events preceding the same, it appears to be realistic. It’s a vivid portrayal of the politics of North India (UP and Delhi), the vicious nexus between big media houses and politicians on one hand and big corporates and politicians (with media houses also) on the other. It’s more stark a reality of India today than it was when Shivani Bhatnagar had been murdered (in 1999). The director has not allowed the movie to go on theatrical lines and kept it as close to reality as possible. There was no need to show Monica’s husband (himself a journalist) as a drunkard. Perhaps the director did so to prevent Monica from appearing as a bad woman. However with her ambitions being crystal clear, she was going to tread the wrong path even when her husband had not been a drunkard. The director has also shown with conviction that power-brokers can be more dangerous than the powerful ones. The narrative moves speedily and keep the viewer invested in itself. More or less, the director who has written the script also has succeeded in making an entertaining movie though he has not been able to make the audience root for the protagonist.

Music and the technical aspects are just okay. Dialogues are impressive. The movie has been edited well and it is not too long. The courtroom drama is the lengthiest and the most impressive part of the movie in which the writer-director has explained (from the mouth of the learned and sensitive public prosecutor) the politician-corporate-media nexus through the Set Theory of Mathematics with the protagonist becoming the intersection of these three sets. A lone ambitious person (especially a woman) can survive only until these sets make a criss-cross pattern because the intersection vanishes the moment these sets either totally separate or completely amalgamate (thus becoming a single entity).

Performances are praiseworthy. Divya Dutta has excelled in the title role and I consider her as one of the most underrated actresses of the Indian screen. Ashutosh Rana is a highly competent actor who can do the role of a politician even in a sleepwalking condition because such roles are tailor-made for him. All the supporting characters have done well. Kunika and Yashpal Sharma are better known for their negative roles but in this movie they have showcased their talent to do positive roles also as the judge and the public prosecutor respectively.

Is everything fair for success and survival ? For success, may be (people like me who do not believe in it are a rare species) and for survival, definitely yes. But why allow the things to go to such an extent ? There should be a check on ambitions too. The powerful ones are seldom sentimental towards anything or anybody with the sole exception of their power which they are willing to cling to throughout their life. Hence they are cold-blooded enough to eliminate anybody without any hitch whom they perceive as a threat to their power, prestige or existence. The ambitious women hobnobbing with such people forget (in their bid to touch the sky) that sooner or later they will be nothing more than mere pawns in the hands of those skilled chess players. And the destiny of a pawn is sacrifice only. The real Shivani and the fictional Monica had to meet that fate before realizing it too late that the corridors of power are temptingly pleasant when seen from a distance but dangerous things invisibly exist within them.

Including death.

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Solving the Savarkar riddle

The history of modern India (during the 20th century A.D.) contains two prominent figures having life full of contradictions – one of them is Mohammed Ali Jinnah and the other one is Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Both of them lived a certain kind of life with a certain kind of approach till a threshold of their respective lives and after that threshold or that watershed moment, their lives changed forever and became quite contrary to what they were earlier. 

It’s an interesting topic for the students of history as to how a historical figure can get transformed in totality just like the famous character of Dr. Jeykill and Mr. Hyde created by Robert Louis Stevenson. Both Jinnah and Savarkar were well-known (and well-recognized) patriots till a certain point of time in life and their anti-British stand was well-known to all and sundry. Then what happened in that particular interlude in their respective lives that changed them forever (and the change in them immensely affected India as well in an adverse manner) ?

Jinnah’s case is easy to understand. He was a typical congressman and seldom followed the basic tenets of Islam. In all practicality, he was a secular person and an acknowledged patriot during the first two decades of the twentieth century. It’s himself only who strongly opposed separate electorates for the Muslim community and arranged the Lucknow Pact of 1916 by bringing the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League on the same table. He also opposed the Khilafat Movement initiated by Mahatma Gandhi and his use of idioms like Ram Rajya (because like S.C. Bose, he was also totally against the mixing of politics with religion and considered it as something very dangerous in the long run). Prior to these happenings, he had also defended Lokmanya Tilak in the Bombay High Court and fought his case against the British government (when Tilak was charged for sedition). But he left the INC in 1920 because he felt sidelined there. Even after spending many years in London, when he returned to the national scene; he was not a completely communal-minded person. Had the INC allowed AIML to join the provincial governments after the elections in 1937, Jinnah would not have made a demand for a separate Muslim majority nation to be carved out of India. He did not get his pound of flesh, hence the idea of Pakistan took root in his heart and became stout within just a few years. All the same, it’s authentic that he deeply regretted over his forming of Pakistan on his death-bed. His dying moments were filled with unlimited remorse for the blunder made by him but he could not reverse the tide of history then. Thus the journey of M.A. Jinnah from a secular nationalist to a communal separatist is understandable.

Contrary to that, the case of V.D. Savarkar is curious and intriguing. It’s perhaps the hardest riddle of modern Indian history comprising the first half of the 20th century. Savarkar was thoroughly anti-British in his early years. When in his teens, he had (alongwith his brother, Ganesh) started a secret revolutionary anti-British society named as Mitra Mela at Nasik which used violent means against the British. This society was rechristened as Abhinav Bhaarat later on. When he pursued his studies at London with the help of a scholarship arranged for him by a well-known Indian revolutionary –  Shyamji Krishna Varma, he founded Free India Society involved in anti-British activities (with the use of weapons), wrote the biography of Italian revolutionary – Giuseppe Mazzini, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1857 revolt and wrote a book terming it as ‘the first war of Indian independence’. And when Sir William Curzon Wyllie was shot dead by Madan Lal Dhingra, it’s himself who openly supported the act. His anti-British stand was crystal clear to all and sundry and when he was arrested and was en route for India through a ship named as S.S. Morea, he made a daredevil attempt to escape by jumping into the sea and reaching the French soil (Marseilles, a port city of France) by swimming. Though this attempt got foiled and he was rearrested, it brought him the tag of Veer (brave) for life.

But what happened to this ‘Veer’ after getting sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to the notorious Cellular jail in the Andamans (popularly known as Kaala Paani) ? Why the hell did this vowed patriot start sending mercy petitions to the British and after his release in 1921, always support the British ? Well, this is a less important question as the answer is not very difficult to guess. He could not endure the pain of this sentence and was mentally not prepared to face it again in his life. The more important question which is nothing less than a mystery, is a different one. Why the hell did he become anti-Muslim and come up with his Hindutva Doctrine and Two-nation Theory ? What was the need ? What instigated him to start thinking differently when he had written a detailed (albeit flawed) account of the 1857 revolt and considered it as nothing short of a war for the independence of the nation called India ? He must have been well aware of the fact that the Hindus and the Muslims had rubbed shoulders with each other in that ‘war of independence’ to boot out the British (actually the East India Company). There was complete communal harmony in that ‘war’. Once the reigns of power in India were formally taken over by the British in 1859 (ending the era of the East India Company), they started sowing the seeds of separatism in the minds of the Indian Muslims because they had understood that to rule, they needed to divide. Savarkar himself also had abstained from speaking anything against the Muslim community till 1911 (in fact, he used to support Hindu Muslim unity). Then ? What acted as the catalyst for him to tread that path of communal hatred ? He was not a devoted Hindu (the same way Jinnah was not a devoted Muslim). He did not believe in the so-called Sanaatan Dharma. In later years, he did not have any cordial relations with the Raashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also. Taking all these facts into account, the activities of that so-called Hindu and so-called nationalist are not easy to understand. I could not understand the same for decades and it remained an unraveled mystery for me.

I am a mystery lover and a diehard fan of Dame Agatha Christie who wrote immortal mysteries for billions of readers like me. In almost all of her suspense stories, she inserted a psychological angle. Diving deep into the mental world of her characters, she used to delve the psychological reasons for whatever they did in the story. While pondering over the contradictions connected with V.D. Savarkar, suddenly a thought came to my mind that the solution to this riddle should be available not in the history but in the discipline of Psychology. Savarkar’s psyche and his basic personality constellation should be examined to find out the reasons for the drastic changes that became visible in his approach, talks and deeds post his release from the Andamans imprisonment.

While studying Psychology for the purpose of my attempts to crack the Indian Civil Services examination during the nineties, I had happened to read a lot about the Psychoanalytic Theory originally propagated by Sigmund Freud. At a glance, it’s a simple theory telling the three components of the personality of a human-being which are Id which is the primary component seeking immediate gratification of all desires, Ego which develops with the process of socialization keeping the individual grounded in reality and Super-Ego which is nothing but the conscience, i.e., the cluster of internalized moral standards. The most important among these three is Ego which makes the person a socially acceptable one, allowing him / her to live in line with the ways of the practical world. It’s Ego which prevents Id and Super-Ego from pulling the one too far towards his / her most basic urges or moralistic virtues. And that’s why the protection of Ego becomes paramount for any (normal) human-being in all the conditions of life. Whenever there is a threat to the person’s self-esteem, certain mental responses known as the Defense Mechanisms come to his / her rescue giving protection from the feeling of anxiety. Since one always seeks to avoid the unpleasant inner state of anxiety, he / she has to resort to one or more defense mechanisms for that avoidance. In my view, Savarkar faced this threat and to protect his self-esteem, he opted for a typical defense mechanism known as Compensation which involves overachieving in one area to compensate for failures in another. How it happened, let’s see. 

In his youth years, Savarkar did not understand himself (including his strengths and weaknesses) correctly. He considered himself a brave person capable enough to take on the mighty British rule. And when due to a sudden daredevil moment that he gifted to himself on 8th July, 1910, the tag of Veer (that is, brave) got attached to his name, this illusion of himself about himself got strengthened. However this illusion was short-lived and he came face-to-face with the stark reality that actually he was not only internally weak but also coward. This truth dawned on him very shortly once his imprisonment sentence began in the Andamans. Now this realization put him in a fix. He had to get rid of the hardships of such a sentence and also not to invite the same for himself in his future life. At the same time, he had to hide his weakness coupled with his cowardice too. Due to his mercy petitions (which bore fruit after a long wait), he was going to be exposed before his countrymen and also his admirers (he must have become a role model for the patriot Indian youths by then). And he could not afford any stigma on his popular persona in the public. How could he accept being seen as a coward after enjoying the public image of a brave man ?

Hence the trick that came to his mind to protect his image as well as his self-esteem was to completely change his track and compensate for his failure in the field of freedom struggle by overachieving in the field of communal politics. He shifted his attention from the nation to the Hindu religion and his shrewd mind showed him the way to attack the Muslims under the pretext of protecting and furthering the so-called Hindutva. He could attack the Muslims only and not the Christians because the British themselves were Christians and he could do anything but invite their resentment. Therefore he targeted the Muslims only though his Punyabhoomi concept (people having their holy land outside India) covered the Christians too. Thus a cunning intellectual (and a prolific writer) prepared ground to cover his own shortcomings by misusing his genius to the peril of billions of Indians in future.

Besides, since he had left the path of patriotism which involved freeing India from the British, he had to stay relevant in the Indian political scenario too because he still had a long life to live (when released in 1921, he was only 38 years old). And the only way, he could do so was to go ahead with the religious rhetoric and presenting himself as a champion of the Hindu interests (though in an enslaved and colonialized nation). Since he was violent by nature (almost all the cowards are), he did not mind communal riots in various places due to communal tension and spread of mutual hatred. The political independence of India was not his goal (which, he knew very well, in any case, was going to be achieved in the forthcoming times). Then what could he do to remain active in the field of politics (in the garb of religion) except coming up with newer ideas (just like our present prime minister) ? And that’s how, the Two-Nation Theory came into existence. And it was caught in no time by Jinnah and the AIML to their advantage.

Treading the path of communalism is always like riding a lion. Once rode, you cannot afford to come down from it. Savarkar also could not. Perhaps he never wanted to. He also must have understood by then that his erstwhile patriotism was fake (or at least hollow). And unlike Jinnah, he was not going to get any political power in free India. All he could do was to make efforts to salvage his image of being brave and being a patriot. Such things can never be admitted by anyone (or allowed to be known to the other people even after own demise). In his autobiography, he has attempted self-aggrandizement (by showering exaggerated praise on himself) and distorted historical facts (it happens with many autobiographers and that’s why a number of autobiographies are not reliable). A careful examination of this reality can help understanding him and his thought-train.

Savarkar might have been the instigation behind the ghastly act committed by Nathuram Godse and his accomplices on 30th January, 1948. However I don’t think, he had any pin-pointed goal to be termed as Gandhi’s assassination. Since Savarkar was pretty confused about his acts and their consequences during the late forties, Gandhi’s assassination was a collateral damage alongside the havoc that prevailed during, prior to and after the partition of India due to his useless activities which were not going to do any good to him, leave aside anybody else or India at large. By his activities, he was only highlighting an eternal truth that when a person cannot do anything positive, he does negative things to feel important (and show off own importance).

Jinnah was a loser (despite becoming the president of Pakistan). Savarkar too was a loser. Both these losers caused irreparable damage to not only India but also humanity. Jinnah died with remorse in 1948. And Savarkar died with his cowardice in 1966 at the ripe old age of 83 years when he chose to embrace death by going for fast unto death (he had given up consuming food, water and medicines) because when the release of Nathuram Godse’s aides got celebrated by a group in November 1964 and subsequent events started leading to a deep enquiry into the conspiracy of Gandhi’s assassination, his sixth sense hinted him that he was going to be held guilty for that as a result of any such enquiry. Since unlike his title, he was not brave enough to face the consequences of his acts (as he was not half a century ago), he opted to lay down his life instead.

These are my subjective conclusions derived through deductive reasoning.

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