Monday, August 1, 2011

Hazare is the real Singham


Ever wondered why an ordinary film such as Singham has turned out to be a smash hit? There cannot be any cinematic value to explain that, because the Ajay Devgn starrer does not even pretend to have one. The fight sequences are Rajnithanthesque, the songs are mediocre and the acting is barely passable. If that is not enough, the film drags in parts. Yet, it occupies the pride of place as among the top first-week earners in Hindi film history. The question, then, is: What went right?

It’s the theme, stupid. The good cop versus the corrupt politician. That clicked. That united the film-goers across the country into one solid mass of Singham supporters. Religion did not matter, caste did not matter, region did not matter. Nothing mattered, except the fact that the corrupt politician should be taught a lesson, was taught a lesson. Those who have watched the film will know what the lesson was. No law of the land will endorse that punishment. The viewers who saw it being rendered on the screen knew that, and yet they cheered and whistled every time the politician and his henchmen were put to the test. The millions of people who flocked — and continue to flock — the halls to watch it all happen were, in fact, living out their dream of putting the corrupt politician in place. The success of Singham demonstrates the people’s ire towards our errant politicians, and reinforces the growing belief that, given a chance, they are in no mood to allow matters to deteriorate any further.

This is just the sort of sentiment that social activist Anna Hazare has capitalised on across the country, much like the film’s director Rohit Shetty did. Singham’s box office performance and Anna Hazare’s success have, therefore, much in common. Rest assured that were there to be a nationwide referendum on the Lok Pal Bill, the people would overwhelmingly throw out the Government version and opt for the one proposed by Anna Hazare’s group, even if one takes into account some minor changes here and there. The response would have been as dramatic as the film has received. The veteran Gandhian is the real-life Singham, though his methods unlike those of Ajay Devgn — who plays the duty-driven police officer — have not involved pounding the skull of the crook with the swiftness of a meteorite hitting the earth, and flooring the guy in the process yet he has done enough to more than rattle the Union Government, which is now truly scared of his protest fasts.

Having seen on two previous occasions the kind of massive support he garnered from across the country, not to mention on the Internet, the UPA Government this time decided to dilute the impact by seeking to tether Anna Hazare by denying him permission to protest at Jantar Mantar from August 16. The Government suddenly woke up to the ‘fact’ that the place was too small for large-scale protests.

This time the Government has to also contend with another problem — that of the Opposition raising questions over its Lok Pal Bill draft. Leaders from the Left and the NDA (Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stands out) have rubbished the draft and demanded the inclusion of the Prime Minister under the Bill. Of course, the Bill has still a long way to go before it becomes law, and it is possible that some of the concerns raised by Anna Hazare’s team could be incorporated in the final version. But for now, the Government will have a lot of answering to do.

The challenge to authority is in itself a daring act. In Singham, the protagonist invites trouble by doing so. He could have simply allowed the system to remain in the rot it was, and steered clear of change, something that several of his colleagues in the police had done and survived well enough. To return to the analogy, Anna Hazare and all those who are feeling stifled by prospering corruption in high places too could have avoided the turmoil by silently operating their non-Government organisations and staying away from directly confronting the political system. But they chose the harder option. The honest police officer in the film had to not only battle the wily neta but also his own colleagues who had either resigned to the corrupt system or become an active party to it. Here is another lesson: Singham could not perhaps have succeeded so spectacularly without the support of his colleagues who rallied behind him. And they did that because they were fired by the zeal of that one colleague. The change of the heart, the firing of the imagination and the belief that things can be improved if one is willing to pay the price, is at the core of Anna Hazare’s campaign.

It is not the case that each and every individual that is backing Anna Hazare is squeaky clean, nor is there an argument that even his close associates are entirely above board. These are issues that Anna Hazare’s critics have often raised. The point is that, despite all of this, they have come out in open support, signalling that they are amenable to personal change — if need be — for the larger cause. Singham’s colleagues too lost no time in personal makeovers once they were convinced that the time had come to shed their spinelessness. They knew they could erase their sordid track record only by backing the protagonist to the hilt.

Singham has some funny moments, the dramatic reliefs that Shakespeare so adroitly inserted in his plays. Some of those scenes involved the chief villain and his personal aide. They are occasions for hearty laughs. Sadly, there is nothing funny in the antics of some of our politicians who have made it a full-time commitment to ridicule the civil society movement and invest it with intentions that it never harboured. For instance, Anna Hazare and group were accused of trying to supersede Parliamentary democracy by insisting on their version of the Bill. Yet the fact always was — and the activists always said it — that their Jan Lok Pal Bill could pass through only with the approval of the people’s representatives in Parliament. That it was entirely up to the political system to accept their version or dump it. All that Anna Hazare and his team said was that they retained the right to protest peacefully and democratically if they were unhappy with the Government’s version.

In Singham, an entire village rose in protest when the corrupt and ‘killer’ politician along with his goons tried to browbeat the honest officer at a police station. It is that mass movement across the country that Anna Hazare often talks of. He wants each one of us to be a non-violent Singham. Will that happen?

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