“Indian Prime Minister has emulated those (arty) film makers who sell India’s poverty to the world to garner awards” NarendraModi commented at Delhi’s Japani Park last Sunday. It was just a small but sharp observation by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in a hugely successful and widely applauded speech. This simple comment tells a story, a story of the battle between the elite and the ordinary, between the classes and the masses. It is also a story of the rise of an ordinary tea seller who went on to become the hero of the hoi polloi much to the discomfiture of the aristocratic class.
A day before the Modi rally in Delhi, faraway in the southern city of Bangalore, all the beautiful people had gathered to indulge in the elitist hobby of discussing literature – mostly the Anglicized version, that is. As part of the discussion was a topic on movies, wherein even more beautiful set of people from Bombay (which is never Mumbai for this class) participated – the Farhan Akhtars, the Rakeysh Omprakash Mehras, the PrasoonJoshis, the Gulzars and most importantly Shobha De (in singular because she is a unique creation of the Bollywood Gods).
While Akhtar and Mehra gave a delightful account of how they came about to recreate Milkha Singh on the celluloid, the other beautiful people gently clapped at the right intervals. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was hailed as a modern day classic by the assorted gentry. Another Hindi movie that was a topic of discussion was The Lunchbox; everybody was gushing about it and recommending it as a must watch. If an alien were to suddenly land in Crowne Plaza (the venue of Bangalore literature festival), then it would have believed that The Lunchbox has stormed Indian movie scene and that Irfan Khan is the greatest actor of modern world.
In thousands of single screens and multiplexes of hundreds of cities and towns of India, reality was dancing naked (literally and metaphorically), while the gentry was gushing about Irfan Khan. Reality is a dish served cold and deliciously unpalatable to the elite, therefore living in denial is the only choice.
“It is a piece of trash that moviegoers will throw into dustbin” wrote one critic, while another averred, “this movie hurts my very womanhood”. There were many such “reviews” and even violent reactions against a “crass” movie; a few went to the extent of filing a PIL to stop its release.
Grand Masti has collected 100 Cr in three weeks flat at the domestic box-office. In terms of sheer ROI, it is the biggest hit of 2013 – for instance, BhaagMilkhaBhaag was made at a whopping 60 Cr and barely managed to touch the 100 Cr mark and many distributors just about managed to recover their investment, while on the other hand, every distributor has hit the jackpot with Grand Masti. Ordinary Indian has once again managed to show his proverbial middle finger to the chatterati.
The elite who have access to all the luxuries of the material world look towards movies as an art form for expressing pain, so they find catharsis in endless close ups of a steel tiffin box. A film filled with hopeless characters who haven’t even discovered the ubiquitous cell phone and still watch VHS tapes on their VCRs while cultivating lefty-utopian ideas of Gross National Happiness of Bhutan being better than a burgeoning India can only appeal to the cocooned.
Real India already has real pain in real life; the pain of 80 Rs a kilo onion and 100 rupee movie tickets making their lives miserable. Real India is looking for entertainment on the sly, even if it is a bit crass, for it helps them make their life a little less miserable. Real India is also honest and cannot fake the intellectual dishonesty of hailing a movie riddled with every known cliché borrowed from a Hollywood sports movie and weaving Milkha Singh’s life story around it.
Indians’ propensity to cook-a-snook at the intellectual brigade is increasing enormously with each passing day, for the new Indian is brimming with new-found confidence. Unknown to much of English speaking India, a Telugu flick, Attarintiki Daredi, stormed the US box office last week. It had collections surpassing 13 Cr in its opening weekend in the US alone and made it to the top 15 box-office list of North America, thereby shaming the always hyped Karan Johars and SRKs of Bollywood. The impact of Attarintiki Daredi on Bombay is palpable; Taran Aadarsh, the numerouno box-office expert and trade analyst declared that “the collections of Attarintiki Daredi are one of the biggest shocks of his life”.
This bottom-up revolution of the common man in India conquering the aristocrats is all encompassing. It is happening everywhere around us every day. It is happening at the multiplexes, at the restaurants, at the college campuses and even in the literary world of books. A RamchandraGuha who sells a few hundred copies of his muddled history books but had almost exclusive control over intellectual opinion in the past has to now compete with a ChetanBhagat who sells millions of his books to ordinary Indians. This is what is disconcerting to the ruling class, for their writ no longer runs large. India is now a riot of colours and no longer can the left control carefully cultivated canvas of opinions.
Political fortresses are usually the last to crumble under the onslaught of social revolutions. Lutyens’ Delhi, the symbol of power in India is the last standing fortress of the ruling elite. Imagine an ordinary chaiwala conquering Lutyens’Dilli; in that forbidden imagination is the worst nightmare of a Barkha Dutt or a U.R. Anantamurthy or a Ramchandra Guha or a Sagarika Ghose. These ladies and gentlemen have already realized that their opinions count for nothing among the Grand Masti patronizing, ChetanBhagat guzzling masses, but they continue to wield influence over power structures of Dilli owing to their networking abilities among the Lutyens’ clique.
For instance, NDTV and CNN-IBN et al. charge a paltry 323Rs for a 10 second ad spot during prime-time, while an entertainment channel like Star Plus charges 52000 for similar time-frames. Star Plus has a peak viewership of roughly 1 Cr at any given time, now do the math as to how many people in India actually watch these loud TV studio debates and you will be surprised at the figure. Less than 1 lakh people watch any single English news channel each night! That is how minuscule SagarikaGhose’s influence is on public opinion of India (even the much ridiculed India TV, with its “aliens abducting cows” stories has at least 4 times more viewership than NDTV and CNN-IBN put together – India TV charges 2278 Rs for a 10 second ad on the prime-time band).
In fact, the viewership of English news channels is so abysmal that it is a miracle that most of them are still operational. Just to understand how precarious the situation is, let us do a comparative study between the worst performing Hindi general entertainment channel, Sahara One and the flagship English news channel NDTV. Weekly average ad rates per 10 second on Sahara One (not just primetime) is roughly 4500 Rs and that of NDTV is roughly 300 Rs. Weekly gross viewership of Sahara One is about 25 million – in layman’s terms, Sahara One is viewed some 2.5 Cr times every week across India (not unique viewers, mind you). Sahara One thus has 15 times more gross viewership than NDTV, which is viewed some 16 lakh times every week (a vast number of whom could be repeat viewers watching news every day or multiple shows every week).
Yet this English language editorial class and the assorted news anchors have disproportionate power in Lutyens’Dilli, despite their colossal failure to reach out to India. These expensive English News Channels are nothing but indulgent toys of the powerful. When the change from below forces its way up, to breach the fortress, the first casualties will be expensive toys.
NaMo is not just a political leader, but he symbolizes the change that India is yearning for. He represents that change which will liberate India from Lutyens’Dilli. The change that NaMo represents goes far beyond a change in a government, for it has the potential to uproot all these English speaking elite who have been claiming monopoly over public opinions for far too long. This would be the ultimate celebration of India’s coming of age. Of course, the powers that be will try to confuse themselves and others around them with rhetoric – toilets v/s temples being the latest addition to an endless list of grievances starting from 2002 riots to IshratJehan to malnutrition to polarizing effects to secularism and what have you. The real problem is that an ordinary chaiwala belonging to a backward caste of a nondescript small town from the interiors of Bharat is about to defeat the powerful Dilli sultanate, while the ordinary Indian is ready to show his proverbial middle finger smeared with black ink to the elite. What can the elite do? What options do they have, but to live in denial?
[In the next and concluding part – The Bollywood Electoral Theory – will be discussing the historic coincidences of Indian movies being harbingers of great political change in Hindustan]