If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 26 October 2012


King Henry II and Thomas Becket, the head of the Anglican Church were good friends once. Becket, who was a trusted aide of the King in his conflicts with the Church, became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162 possibly with the King’s help. Henry might have hoped that Becket would continue to put the royal government’s interests first, rather than that of the church. But over time, Becket transformed into an ascetic and changed side. He was killed by Henry’s followers in 1170.

This true story inspired a Broadway play written by Jean Anouilh: Becket or the Honor of God, and later, a movie, Becket in 1964. In the movie, Peter O’Toole played Henry II and Richard Burton, the Arch Bishop.  In Namak Haram (1973), the protagonists were Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Industrialist Amitabh Bachchan sent his friend Rajesh Khanna as a mole into the trade union of the workers of his company. But instead, he turned into a genuine trade-unionist and the friends fell out. Both the films were hugely successful commercially. This time-tested formula has been used yet again by Prakash Jha in Chakravyuh to tell the tale of the Maoist movement that is raging in India today.

Arjun Rampal is the Superintendent of Police of Nandighat, where impoverished people shunned by a Shining India barely manage to live. Buried beneath their feet is an enormous wealth of minerals that attracts mining companies, leading to their ouster from the land they have lived on for centuries. Kabir Bedi is the head of the Mahanta group, a thinly veiled allusion to Vedanta, the company that has wreaked havoc in the forests of Odisha. Mahanta is trying to evict people from 256 villages to expand his project. And to do that, he thinks it is legitimate to employ paid hoods. The state government is in cahoots with him, but the government’s writ doesn’t go beyond the towns. Maoists are in control of the countryside.  The SP reluctantly sends his friend Abhay Deol into the ranks of the Maoists to sabotage their movement.

On the other side, Manoj Bajpai is the ruthless Maoist boss who terrorises the very people he is trying to liberate. One of Bajpai’s lieutenants is a woman from Jharkhand who falls for Abhay Deol head over heels. And Abhay starts looking at things from a new perspective. 

The film has all the ingredients of a mainstream Hindi film: sex, violence, and of course, song and dance, including an “item number” by Sameera Reddy backed by an ear-rupturing song by Sunidhi Chauhan. In contrast, the hero and heroine are strangely asexual, a throwback to the 1950s. And in the end, Abhay Deol and his love interest’s personal tragedy supersedes the tragedy of millions of people.

Despite the obvious fault-lines, this is a remarkable film of the recent times because of two reasons.

Firstly, the scale of the production is gigantic. The vast hills and forests of Central India and the millions that live under the constant fear of contractors, forest officials, and policemen have been represented with an authenticity that we hardly expect in Hindi pictures. And obviously a film maker needs courage to show bulldozers razing tribal houses or to name Tata-Birla-Ambanis in a song on “mehangai”.

Secondly, and more importantly, the story tells us how it all began, the ruthless exploitation of the tribal population, which has only worsened since independence. It tells us the story of the mining barons for whom dislodging people from their homes and livelihood is as incidental as felling trees. It also tells us the story of Maoists who put a small price tag on human lives. And this has been narrated from a remarkably neutral viewpoint.

I saw the picture at a multiplex a day after its release, with 28 out of the 30 rows vacant. Two men sitting next to me left at half-time to underline the fact that for the well-heeled urban middleclass, the emaciated people of Dantewada, Keonjhar, or Lalgarh are as distant as inhabitants of a different planet. The point is: is there any point of making films like these? I think there is.

Kolkata / Friday, 26 October 2012


  1. The 28 vacant seats out of a total of 30 in the theatre is symbolic of our psyche, Santanu. We,as a people, are near totally impervious to the plight of the have-nots in our country. Any wonder that gift wrapped garbage from Bollywood that don't need us to think or question are so popular?
    I've had many friends from Mumbai who hate watching Malayalam movies as the hero is not only not good looking, but an aging man (the excellent actor Tilakan, who passed away recently)and many of the movies had an unhappy ending. Their excuse being "as it is life is tough and your Mallu movies make us miserable." This excuse was also bandied about for Satyajit Ray's movies.

  2. Respected Sir, With due respect , I disagree with you on this particular review. Don't you feel that with all the element of spicy commercial film, the directed has diluted the issue to such an extent that an issue based movie ultimately became a person-centeric movie. It is not just like the foreign tourist who come to India to see " poor and real India ", he also touched a sensitive issue very superficially to just gain some commercial benefit or whatever intention but not of painting a problem in its true shades.Would it not be much better if he had made the film at lower budget and tried to be more inclined toward the issue than trying to sail in two boats at a time.When it is not getting commercial success anyway, it will be not better that at least tell the truth to the people who want to know about the issue and not bog down its conscious viewer with item song and steamy scenes.
    I request you to read the book "Hello Bastar" by Rahul Pandita to understand the problem of naxalisim and naxalits.


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