Indu Sarkar: Cong's intolerance policy

Hooliganism impresses no one but makes the Congress, which has indulged in it, appear it has a lot to hide about the Emergency.

In December 1975, a young man along with a few others, rushed into the premises of All India Radio, Pune interrupted a live broadcast and shouted ‘Repeal the Emergency immediately’ in Marathi. He did not belong to any political party, but was part of a group of youngsters, who wanted to protest the proclamation of Emergency.

Inevitably, he was arrested, charged and imprisoned like thousands of others. This youth was my uncle and as a seven-year old, I vividly remember visiting him in a dank, depressing cell with my parents. But what was bewildering for me were the high spirits of the young prisoners who sat chatting and eating green chickpeas. Of course, my uncle was released after a few months and went on to lead a normal life.

But there were many who were scarred badly by the excesses committed during Emergency. While plenty of written material and books are now available on that era, no mainstream Hindi film had so far been made that captured the atmosphere, oppression, conflicts, experiences and stories of the those two fateful years in the life our republic, when civil liberties were suspended.

For this reason alone, Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Indu Sarkar’ deserves to be welcomed, because it attempts to narrate a fictional account of a young woman, who rises against the injustices committed during Emergency. In India, re-telling of controversial political events on screen is almost an untouched genre. On the one hand, this is due to the basically escapist, commercial nature of our cinema and on the other, film-makers hitherto preferred not to ruffle political feathers and let sleeping dogs lie.

While some brave regional films like Jabbar Patel’s ‘Saamna’ (1974) and ‘Sinhasan’ (1979) managed to escape the wrath of politicians and political parties, despite thinly disguised depictions of events and leaders, most Hindi film-makers were discouraged by the problems faced by movies such as Gulzar’s Aandhi (1975) and Kissa Kursi Ka (1978). Indeed, even a film like Mani Ratnam’s ‘Bombay’ based on the 1993 Mumbai riots faced political ire from Shiv Sena, for the portrayal of a leader, resembling late Bal Thackeray.

True to form, ‘Indu Sarkar’ too has run straight into trouble. The Congress is up in arms against the film because it feels ‘Indu Sarkar’ is expressly aimed at tarnishing Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay, and by association, the party. Madhur Bhandarkar’s proximity to the BJP and the theme of Emergency has acted as the proverbial red rag and the Congress has been relentlessly hounding the film-maker for a preview and even disrupted a recent launch event of the film in Pune.

The CBFC too has insisted on 12 cuts to the film, claiming some words and scenes might offend political sensitivities. If this was not enough, a woman, Priya Paul, who claims to be Sanjay Gandhi’s biological daughter, has moved the Bombay High Court and sought a stay on the release of the film till the film-maker explains what part of the film is fact and what is fiction.

Cinematic expression

All this is bad news for the freedom of cinematic expression, but might actually turn out to be a boon in disguise for ‘Indu Sarkar’. For as the old maxim goes – any publicity is good publicity. Given the controversy generated, it is possible more movie-goers are likely to become curious about the film and go and watch it. India is a young country and half the population was not even born when Emergency unfolded. ‘Indu Sarkar’ could be their window to knowing and understanding this important part of India’s political history.

And therein lies the crux of the furore. In our country, we either tend to idolise or demonise and this tendency infects our story-telling too. It is therefore fervently hoped that Madhur Bhandarkar has not let his political leanings completely overpower his instincts and integrity as a film-maker.

Fictionalised screen narratives inspired by real facts are brilliant devices to invoke the essence of an era and lay bare the central conflict of those times. For instance, two of the best politically charged films ever made on the brutality of apartheid and especially the infamous Soweto firing on protesting school children are ‘Cry Freedom’ (1987) and ‘A Dry White Season’ (1989).

The reason these films were so impactful was because they were realistic and insightful depictions of institutional repression, political turmoil, abuse of power and human behaviour. The million dollar question is will ‘Indu Sarkar’ be that breakthrough Indian political film, which superbly encapsulates the tyrannies of Emergency and puts them in apt perspective for this generation, or will it waste its canvass on vilifying personalities, through exaggerations, distortions and melodramatic story-telling?

In either case, the Congress is doing itself a disservice by resorting to protests and hooliganism. These acts impress no one and in fact make the party appear like it has a lot to hide about the Emergency, which it is afraid ‘Indu Sarkar’ might expose. Secondly, impinging on a film-maker’s right of expression is hardly democratic or liberal. Ironically, this is exactly what the Emergency was about – suppression of democracy and liberty.

(Desai is a Pune based author and film-maker)

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