A Wednesday: A Terrible Idea

The movie's premise, leaving aside what seems obvious, hinges on the subtextual notion that Muslims in India don't say/do enough to show that they are angered by the terrorist attacks that happen in India. So the director has decided to prove their 'Indianness' through his protagonist -- the 'common man.' But he doesn't want to make it obvious. It's subtle (ok, not so). The 'common man' speaks with a vocabulary quite peculiar to a certain community (mulk being the 'give away' word). So you know that the man behind this holy mission is a Muslim. Oh how unctuous?

The 'common man' who decides to take his anger out in the form of a threat -- another series of bomb blasts -- sends a message to the ruling bureaucracy that he is 'sick and tired.' What exactly is he sick and tired of? The answer to this question and the questions that surround the answer is what makes this movie so problematic.

First, the answer: The 'common man' delivers a sermon in which he describes the afflictions of a middle class man who commutes to work every day. He's troubled by the distant probability of him getting killed by a terrorist attack. Even more so because his fellow commuter -- a youngster with his 'entire life ahead' -- is killed by one that happened 'recently.'

There are about 20 million people living in and around Mumbai. Based on the terrorist attacks that have hit the city in the last decade, the average number of people killed every year would be less than 50. The probability that our 'common man' would be one of that 50 out of the 20 million is quite negligible. Actually, it's like the same guy winning the lottery twice (given that the 'common man' just survived an attack). He's more likely to be one of the 3,500 people who get killed every year on Mumbai's suburban railway lines alone.

Of course, one might say, "terrorism kills some and terrorizes the rest." True. I'll grudgingly admit that the 'common man's anxiety -- that he cannot go to work, and make that day's wage (or more) -- is justified on more practical (and probable) grounds than the improbable death itself. But where does his paranoia and outrage fit?

In a city that is brought to a grinding halt for days, sometimes weeks, every year by the monsoon? In a city where half its population lives in slums? In a city where raging mobs have killed more people than the blasts themselves? In a city where people are mowed down in greater numbers?

No. It fits in his middle class cocoon of a mind, preserved by ignorance and hypocrisy. The same thing that informs the movie's myopic perspective. It's no coincidence that the 'common man' picks four terrorists (three Muslim) to "purify" the country from. (It's quite ironic that he lists Malegaon among the other terrorist attacks.) While he questions why these men weren't convicted (or kept alive?) yet, he doesn't mention why no one is even indicted in many cases involving Hindu mobs.

I wonder if Naseeruddin Shah realized that he has risked becoming the Muslim poster-boy who viciously condemns 'Islamic terrorism.' One that is supposed to love India. Just like Sharukh Khan did in Chak De India. It's quite messed up when you think about it. I have probably been through a lot less than an Indian Muslim has, but even I don't 'love' India. But dare not he/she say that. At least not while in India. As if Naseeruddin Shah wasn't enough, the movie also has a cardboard cutout, Muslim police officer who's ready to get shot in the arm, and perhaps sacrifice his life, for the country. He's one of the many heroes in the infallible body that works day and night to protect the people: the Mumbai police. Need I say more about them?

The truth is, there is no 'common man.' There are those who are not Dalit, not poor, not illiterate, not political, and not silenced. By virtue of not being any of them he's already immune to their social malaise. Their misery doesn't seem to trouble him. The middle class 'common man' has little in common with majority of his fellow humans. 'Common man' is the last thing he should call himself.

Note: If you have not seen the movie yet, this post may not make sense. (This is not a review.)

15 comments:

Suresh said...

If anyone leaves a comment saying that I'm a pseudo-secular or something 'rediff like,' the comment will disappear within a day of posting it.

juvvi said...

lol at your comment Suresh..

Seriously, India should find a country or perhaps another planet to exploit and become rich like those western countries that can afford basic amenities to all of their citizens...

Or lets see, atleast an army of slave robots to get work done at no cost to the wallet and the conscience.

Otherwise, I don't see how India can match any western country in human development indexes.

As for the muslims, its pretty sad that some of them seriously believed in the 'idea of India', when it must've been obvious from their experiences (pre-independence) that retribution was on the cards or atleast could potentially be exploited by groups like Bajrang Dal later. Bad judgement I'd say. Or perhaps plain bad luck.

The biggest success of Islam has been to unite sectarian groups in ancient India under one name 'Hindu'. Sadly, the same unity has made them minorities in India (when they could actually be a majority) and every ram and shyam who's not sure 'why he's a Hindu' feels antagonistic towards Muslims for no good reason.

sa.dhana said...

i really liked that movie....

good concept but could have been shorter

Ganga said...

Suresh,

Watched the movie to read your post.

As always, enjoyed and agreed with your measured criticism and vital re-writing of the common gaze.
A "It-has-to-be-said" post.

Ranga said...

Point 1
I appreciate your comments on the movie. I didn't love my country until I left it... Doesn't that sound like a typical comment.

Everyone likes her/his country and sorroundings, only if one moves out of the country or from his/her state. One realises that everything from moral values to food habits and expectations are adapted to his/her native country and it takes time to adapt to new sorroundings and one cannot completely leave their prejudices no matter how hard they try to do so.

Point2
If there can be a generalization to a poor man, there can be a generalization to the common middle class man in Mumbai. It is atleast useful to invent one. e.g. it is useful to often to generalize somebody as "American or Chinese" even though no two Americans or Chinese think or act alike. If people can be classified as Dalits, why not the common middle class working man in Mumbai or in Chennai?

This doesn't argue the movie's motives.

When you point out Dalit's rights need to be taken up and argued for, that's a valid point. Please voice your arguments in a seperate blog-post.

Please don't seperate my Dalit friends working in Chennai(Mumbai) as a class apart from the middle class. They are proud to be honest, hard-working citizens among others. People travelling in Trains are mostly people who have a daily job to look forward to, mostly employees in a firm. They are the common middle class men the movie is talking about.

There are farmers who are dying. People suffering from the ravages of Tsunami, people who are denied human rights on caste basis, children who have to work for their living without education and I think you would agree there are also middle class common men.

The probability that he is a common man is low? How do you say that? Where is your definition of common man? Please let me know if it is not the office/other business going people who travel by trains. Please provide me some data. Also please talk about conditional probability. Take up the statistics of number of people who travel by train.

It is nice of you to point out 3500 people killed by accidents, do tell me whether accidents due to negligence count the same as murder.

There are more people who die due to TB everyday, that doesn't mean that murders can be neglected. Your personal concern for one cannot argue for the other problem's neglect. There are many problems that need solutions and there are many people who can take up one such problem close to their heart and work on it.

Please take a balanced approach.

(Your video on Coimbatore was good!)

Ranga said...

Also, a single movie cannot put forth all the issues that are of concern. The case of Hindu mobs is a subject for another movie. I thought the movie's protagonist made it a point not bring community/religion in the picture. Seems like the religion of the actor also plays a role while audience watches the movie, I wonder if the same happens if Shah rukh khan or Salman Kahn acts in a bollywood hit!

Finally, if you say that you don't love India, that's your personal opinion and some other Indian's opinion might be different. Everybody has something to hate about the country they live in, but the same men and women die for their country. I bet every Indian can say he hates the gutter which he lives in and wants to move to some other city or place or whatever.

sathya said...

I felt the same when I watched the movie. It's poorly made even as a movie. Over the top acting, illogical sequences, and cliched characters.

Why have you become so conservative with comments lately? I wasn't sure if I should say anything because I don't know what a rediff like comment is. Even if they are bad, why can't you let them be? You don't believe in freedom of expression anymore?

juvvi said...

Sathya,

It's better not to have boring and repititive comments like 'pseudo-secular'. Right wingers visiting this site should be more creative in engaging in a debate with Suresh (myself included). Until then he deserves to delete those bullshit comments.

Forget about the movie. It may be a stupid one, I haven't even seen it. The more important question to ask Suresh is: Is he taking a realist position or just a moralistic position?

And how helpful a moralistic position is in solving a given issue...

Suresh said...

Sathya,

Freedom of expression is a complicated idea. The least I can tell you is that it's not just in being able to say whatever you want wherever you want. Apart from its political dimensions, there's also something called standard. Peer reviewed journals to Wikipedia, everyone must try to maintain one.

I don't want to have comments that sidestep from the main issue under discussion or detract a possible, meaningful debate.

'rediff comments' is what I call something that is all too common even in places other than rediff's 'Discussion Board.' Generally, they have the following characteristics:
1. Little relevance to the article.
2. Lack of adequate comprehension of what's written.
3. Lack of logical flow in what they want to say.
4. Using moulded phrases and pointers like automatons. Ex: "What about the Kashmiri pundits?"
5. Questioning author's intentions from a completely skewed perspective.
6. Outright inability to understand certain ideas. Ex: My dismissal of an essentialist national identity.

Their presence brings down the overall quality of the discussions here. When I allow this place to host unintelligent material, I indirectly encourage their reproduction.

Many comments make me go, "you need a 30 day lesson in reading comprehension." Usually I don't reply them, and sometimes I delete them (depending on how bad they are). Because, I cannot break down what I've written over and over. I may have the time but not the patience or the interest -- not always.

It's a useless exercise anyway. Generally, only between friends do you find that genuine willingness to correct oneself. Where there is minimal ego involved.

There's also a general unwillingness to read. I don't know; given how well they seem to understand some of the simple stuff I write here, I wonder if reading will help them in anyway.

Anonymous said...

I watched the film. Well, after seeing all the raving reviews, it was hard to avoid.

But this is another angle in which to view the film. Justifiable.

-kajan

Suresh said...

Subhash,

You might have noticed that I almost never compare India's situation with any of the so called developed countries. I try to problematize issues within the Indian context -- mostly as a post-colonial society.

We don't have to -- we probably cannot because of the reasons you mentioned -- gain the kind of 'wealth' there is in industrialized countries. But India is probably the worst when it comes re-distribution of whatever it has. It has a lot of do with the forced marriage that India is.

I don't take a moralistic stand point either (at least I try not to). I try to make logical equations and point to discrepancies. I think that's the nature of most of what I talk about. Improper application of logic or the total absence of it.

That's the primary difference between ethics and morals. Morals function almost independently without necessarily stating why. Ethics assume a position based on where several issues stand at a certain point of time (just like the price of commodities and real estate).

I don't know if any of this will solve anything but at least we can have some sanity around us.

Anonymous said...

I'm eagerly waiting to hear the next podcast from Suresh.
Suresh, when you do it please make sure you use the word 'mayiru' at least one time. :-))

Ananth said...

Just FYI. This is being remade in Tamil. Kamal acts on it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalaivan_Irukkiraan

- Ananth

Jaideep said...

Hi Suresh,

I have been reading your post for sometime and finding it very interesting. I have sometimes balked at some of the posts but then have said give it a little time to settle and then try to understand has generally worked for me. I wanted to know if you made any posts regarding "essentialist national identity" its looks like a very interesting topic,can you give me the links.

Looking forward to a podcast from you soon.

Cheers

Jaideep

Anonymous said...

Looks like you didnt get the point of the movie.

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