Of Dreamworlds and Catastrophe (Part 4)


I must add to my Ode to Bollywood men with some notes on Ishaqzaade. Having spoken about badland masculinity in the folds of Omkara, Dev D and Raajneeti earlier, I turn to the theme of Bollywood’s return to innocence through the new moral and material canvases of small town north India in Ishaqzaade. An angry young man driving an open vehicle into the open landscape of part-desert part-village recur in these films. Devgan in Raajneeti, Devgan in Omkara, Arjun Kapoor in Ishaqzaade. Parma, Arjun Kapoor is a trainee in his grandfather’s political establishment. Intoxicated with the brute power of gun and automobile. Quite the antithesis of Ranvir Kapoor’s restrained and canny (bespectacled) masculinity in Raajneeti. The predictable dichotomy – vernacular and modern - surfaces. The youth who is unabashed about failing to get beyond first year in college, but drunk on gun-power, thinks nothing of setting an innocent man’s house on fire for not cowing down to his demands – is the irrational, uncontrollable, fearsome patriarch-in-waiting. Ones that feature in the stories of men-in-vehicles in Gurgaon and Noida - who pose a threat to the freedom and safety of the modern, professional women. Agrarian landscape and an agrarian social order suddenly faced with the violent tremors of hyper-modernity. In the case of existing patriarchs, also the sudden threat of facing obsolescence. 

Perhaps, these were historical circumstances around which the Bengali patriarchy chose to pen English, spout liberalism and get on the band-wagon of colonial (modern) power. Emasculation battled with a bulwark of the authentic/traditional core - inviolate against the compromises made in the public, political, economic domain. In democratic India, this transition from one form of patriarchy to another, makes shrewd jugaad inside the edifices of state. The electoral and governance machines induct these worlds of alliances, loyalties, betrayals, hates and loves. Parma does not even aspire to the seat of pure power. The murky concoction of lumpen-power is enough for the pleasures of instant annihilation and masculine celebration. Morality is a thin envelope for his animal impulses. He operates without ever denying the absoluteness of morality, only seeking the cracks through he can slip out and not be caught. A bit like Langda Tyagi of Omkara – one that drinks to his frustrations at brushing shoulders with power everyday, never crossing the invisible line of sovereign and associate. Tyagi feeds his frustration with ambition. Parma simply thrives on the raw hunger for vengeful collisions. A festivity of blood is indeed nourishment for this vernacular masculinity. Devgan in Omkara and Devgan in Raajneeti (portraying the Mahabharat equivalent of Karn) harness this raw impulse into the quest for Machiavellian principality. Parma is less tuned to the possibilities of his brutality, and a concatenation of feminine influence turns his energy towards protection, nurturing and maybe (I am not convinced) love. Bollywood deploys the mother-figure yet again to rein in the raw brutality of the vernacular man, as captured in a filmic register that is constantly battling questions about its own modernity. Mention might also be made of Irfaan in Paan Singh Tomar – the simpleton who turns bandit in ravine-land. 

These are men who are mirrored by (in each film) an apt terrain of rawness, thwarted aspiration and brutality. Each maintaining a corridor to the big city – corridor of escape, erasure, freedom, anonymity. And yet in each, the big city is feared. In the face of a dozen guns, the hapless lovers of Almore think of their planned escape to Agra or Jaipur as only temporary, to be followed by a reconciliation and re-integration into the fold of authentic society. The rational, modernist promise of a wider range of possibilities of being doesn’t bear equivalence with the condition of pure belonging in community. It was Partha Chatterjee, who in response to Charle taylor, had proposed that the battle-line with capital in the postcolony lies between capital and community. Bollywood, uncannily, has been showing us exactly that in the past few years. The more the drives of dispossession of land, natural resources, communitarian sovereignty in rural India, the sharper the images of badland belonging and the renewed desire for community on the canvas of Bollywood. It is as if the travails of Parma are enacted in the rhythm of a ‘national’ man one that is drawn to the corridor of escape when pushed to the corners, one that dreams of a return to innocence in the end.

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