The Redemption of the Don

mafiaWhen and if I ever have a child, I shall definitely ask him/her to consider joining the Mafia Cadre as a career option.

It is a bit too late for me I am afraid. Many a pound overweight, I would be a sitting duck for sharpshooters. I also don’t have a chilling voice, am dreadfully afraid of the police and could never shoot balloons properly.

I also happened to think that murder and extortion aren’t honorable ways to earn a living.

This is of course because I was brought up that way. My parents told me what was right and what was wrong—a mistake I shall never repeat.

Movies also misled me. In the Hindi movies I used to see — the mafia leader was the unambiguous villain who would sprout some devilish “loin” lines, cavort with Mona and Sona but ultimately die in the end at the hands of the hero.

A thought that did not appeal to me. Even when the hero became a “Don” , it was because of a bad childhood, widowed mother, the need to survive—-conditions which I was, fortunately not exposed to. And even then he died at the end—a pathetic, dog-like death.

Worse than that, Ma was never on his side.

When I saw and later read the ‘Godfather” saga I was struck by the way Mario Puzo humanized the mafia but still depicted them as criminals. That is why when Michael becomes Godfather, Kay “prays for his soul”. That is why she leaves him when he finds out about his recidivism. That is also why Michael endeavors throughout his life to make his business legitimate—he is aware of the fact that what he does is not “good”. However it is his tragic destiny that keeps drawing him back to the dark side. It was these struggles between morality and expediency that made Godfather a subtly nuanced modern “Greek tragedy”.

Operative word—Tragedy. I wanted no part of it. Better to be Dr. Ashok and live happily ever after.

And then came RGV. Satya in “Satya” is bad not because of a traumatic childhood but because he simply wants to be. At least he dies in the end pathetically— forsaken by the woman he loved—a broken man.

Then came “Company” with the all-cleansing line “Ganda Hain Par Dhandha Hain Yeh” —-translating to “It’s bad but it’s just business”. Chandu (Vivek Oberoi)’s mother and love interest are absolutely fine with his career choice—–the fact that he bumps off people for a living are of no concern as long as he keeps on bringing in the money. Becoming a Mafia man is now a career choice—and judging from the fast life the characters are shown having it’s a pretty good one. But at least Malik (Ajay Devgun) dies in the end and Chandu spends his life in jail. So maybe it’s fun while it lasts but justice does catch up with you in the end.

In the next stage of evolution comes “D”. Here like Satya, the hero Deshu (Randeep Hooda) just chooses to go into the mafia because it seems profitable. His girl-friend is absolutely cool with it and actually sleeps with him because he is the Mafia. And now, at the very end, he walks away into the sunset with moolah, girl and style. The law is officially his mistress.

Wow I think to myself.

And now the final stage. “Sarkar”. Over here, we are led to believe that “Sarkar” and his family are true blue-collar heroes who impose an alternative justice system because the existing one is so corrupt. (and not because the system is corrupt because of them). They are modern day Robin Hoods—-as Abhishek Bachchan says in the movie ” My father has never harmed an innocent man in his life”.

This is what ultimately bought me over. You could be the most feared man in Mumbai by not having harmed an innocent man. Ever.

Deshu in “D” was a criminal. Sarkar here is God. And RGV wants us to believe that in a real world, someone can command “Sarkar”‘s power by not having harmed an innocent person in his life. Sarkar’s family are the good guys—his opponents (who are nothing but mirror images of Sarkar) are depicted as idiosyncratic, ugly, damaged people bordering on insanity. So now these people are the “villains” and the Mafia Don is the “hero”.

No wonder Bal Thackeray did not object to Sarkar having his mannerisms—-this is the greatest glorification of hooliganism ever seen on the Indian screen.

Of course, people will say that what RGV is showing reality.(and what old Hindi movies showed was hypocrisy). It’s a bit deeper than that— what RGV is actually doing is altering reality.

In today’s world, for good and for bad, our morals and our definition of acceptance is shaped by the media. What RGV is doing is gradually making the Mafia Don as acceptable socially as the school teacher or the milkman. Not just acceptable but as heroic as the freedom fighter.

The social stigma that perhaps prevented people from getting into this line is being slowly and surely eroded by the pervasiveness of such movies——-not accidentally but in a planned, deliberate fashion.

Which is fine. Maybe I missed the bus but my next generation surely shall not.

My grandson, one day, shall be playing squash with a Katrina Kaif lookalike while my son/daughter dispenses justice in the living room.

That will surely bring a smile on my face as I lie on the bed, hooked upto a dialysis unit.


PS I enjoyed “Sarkar”—–was very different than Godfather and the acting was good all around. The message however left me disturbed.

20 thoughts on “The Redemption of the Don

  1. You’ve got spam.

    Deshu in ‘D’ was a criminal alright, but the movie was more about how he came to dominate the mafia market. Thus, the viewers were treated to the more macho, smartass, romanticized part of Deshu. Nothing to hate about him at all.

    By contrast I’d say Abhishek Bachchan in Yuva was a more realistic portrayal.

    Sarkar – a very shallow wannabe movie. Unfortunately I saw it soon after I saw Godfather 1/2/3 back to back. Except for KK’s performance, the rest were run of the mill.

  2. greatbong,

    i completely agree with you, and this was especially well-written…was subtle yet got message across. When i watched “Godfather” as a kid, the humanization made for the charm, but when i watched it again and realized exactly what was done … and the message that was meant to come across, i couldn’t empathize with it anymore. its not to say that the movie is not well-done, it is and thats why its frightening! 🙂

    plus i have an italian best friend who hates the fact that “godfather” is equated with italians!! she has family who were persecuted by the mafia, and she just hated the glorification in the movie.


  3. nice post again. And surely u mean “ganda” (bad) not “gandha” (smell). Eta to puro Beantown special hoye gelo!! When in doubt add an ‘H’!!

  4. You missed mentioning showman Subhash Ghai’s Khalnayak. The heroine actually goes a step ahead to prove who meant more to her. Surely Sanay Dutt was enjoying pleasures of both the worlds (no pun intended). It could have been more fun reading, if you would have mentioned about other worshipers of underworld viz. Mahesh Manjrekar (Vaastav), Sanjay Gupta ( Musafir). Anyway another magnificent post!

    PS I liked Musafir for it’s awesome dialogues.

  5. I am not worried about the message Sarkar sends out. If we were to be, then no film could be made that would present the pov of, and only of, an antihero/socially unaccepted/criminal character.

  6. Have you considered doing a post on the Waqf board’s claims on the Taj Mahal as a piece of their own backyard?? Its just the kind of ridiculous Indian drama I’d love to see you do a take on..

  7. I m planning to ask RGV to make a movie on Vilasrao Deshmukh. What do you say? Who better than RGV to give him a “cleanier than Ariel” image esp after the recent deluge has left him with a lot of dirty linen? 😀
    Good post, dude. Can’t agree more.

    But too many movies send terrible messages..check Fareb if you need more proof. It even got a tax free tag in UP because (try digesting this) the movie conveys a social message and has an upliftment theme. Yuck!

    Btw it’s Randeep Hooda not Rajdeep in “D”

  8. @thelearner: It was a horrible day for spam…I had to remove 16 spam comments.

    The problem is that there should have been something to hate about Deshu.

    @Kaushik-Bidisha: The mafia are a horrible influence in Italy blighting their politicial/social life since the 40s.

    The fact that RGV is a good filmmaker is what makes him most dangerous—his characters are believable and empathy-worthy.

    @Priya: corrected.

    @Ritzy: Khalnayak and its ilk are escapist song-fests which maybe entertaining to some but ultimately is poor film-making. Its effects are less harmful than movies with the polish of “Sarkar” which utilize the power of the medium to its horrifying maximum.

    Musafir—I have a review of it in the archive…oh yeah it rocked !

    @Vague: The problem with “Sarkar” is that there is no longer the concept of the anti-hero/socially unaccepted—-here Sarkar is the hero and very much socially accepted.

    I dont know what you think but the pervasiveness of street harassment (eve teasing) is because , in countless Hindi movies, it has been shown to be the “done” thing by the hero…..which has led people to believe that it is “acceptable” to think ”
    Dil Main Tere Haan Haain Haan Haain
    Hoton Par Na Na Hain Jooth”

    With movies like Sarkar….joining the mafia will also become as “socially acceptable” as eve teasing is.

    @DGT: Stand corrected. Tax exemption is just another political game of course….

  9. nice post, greatbong. let me add a perspective that is orthogonal to the thematic elements in the films that you mentioned. satya, for me, was fresh and exciting. but the rgv stable has also produced an overindulgence in technical flash that i find distracting. for anyone who has not experienced french new wave films, the ADD-afflicted camera/editing work in company may come across as art, but the truth is rgv does not know when to hold back. too many jump cuts, too many awkward camera angles. a similar critique can be made of d. the director (again, from the rgv stable) inserts music into the film so indiscriminately that one gets the sense that the script must have been full of gaps. after a point, the music just becomes intrusive. of course, music is a critical component in a film, and serves many different purposes, but the ability to blend music with images and storytelling is also an art (perhaps best personified in the films of stanley kubrick). for me, the bollywood mafia film that scores a 10/10 is vishal bhardwaj’s maqbool. it is perhaps no coincidence that bhardwaj comes from a music-video background, so that he knows when to rein in the technique and allow the story to tell itself. thanks for the space.

  10. Lovely post. Enjoyed it a lot.

  11. Being a hardcore fan of mafia/mob movies here are some recommendations you will thank me for:

    Once Upon a Time in America
    Carlito’s Way

    Among the Indian mafia movies, I did not quite enjoy Sarkar but I thoroughly enjoyed D and Company. Satya was good but not as intense as I like my mafia movies to be 😉

  12. The fact that RGV is a good filmmaker is what makes him most dangerous—his characters are believable and empathy-worthy.

    True…..RGV is a good filmmaker, but where do we leave our own sense of judgement after watching it? A movie’s just a movie……we can’t let it alter our sense of reality can we?

    Great points brought out in your post Arnab……

    All I ever wanted to do was say…

    “Saara sheher mujhe loin ke naam se jaanta hain…”

  13. I completely agree with you. Joining the mafia is now a good career choice and it is run better than most corporates. In fact they might come to IIMA next year for campus.

    Look at my reviews on D and Sarcore. D defined gangster as a profession.

  14. Agreed – the message is disturbing.

    To clarify, though, you’re not saying that it’s RGV’s *duty* in any way to make “socially responsible” films, just that you disapprove of the social message, right?

    Unfortunately, if you look at how real dons are treated in society right now (even the ones who did harm innocent men…) you have to wonder about cinema and how accurately it reflects its times.

  15. @Aishwarya,

    Yes you got that right…RGV is under no obligation to make socially revelant movies—as you pointed out, my objection is to the repeatedly worsening messages that his successive movies keep throwing out.

    @Sunil…oh yes Ajit…he was the coolest one.

    @Anon…interesting perspective.
    @Pratyush…Carlito’s Way is very filmi….but good entertainment.

  16. It might be really interesting to look at the social context in which these movies were produced. Were the seventies/eighties really more idealistic? Was the public’s perception of the law as disillusioned as it is today? Is the deteriorating moral standard a result of Westernisation? (*snicker*)

  17. i think one movie u can see and probably describe as best is goodfellas, where ray liotta’s first major dialouge was
    “As long as i have known, i have always wanted to be a gangster”.

    it shows how a boy lives his dream, rises in true shakespearean style in the NY underworld to be king, goes to prison along the way, and later on becomes goody goody

    the movie is spectacular, honest look, and with great dialouges, but never glorifies crime or criminals..

    Now to RGV, the sarkar of modern indian cinema, with his insightful views of society and life. He has been doing this for more than a decade or so, with sarkar he takes a look at the parallel justcie system, in modern times, the slight exagerration of this would be the case of pakistan, areas in n around the north western frontier, where tribal laws prevail and justice is often dished out on the streets.

    but whilst it may b socailly trendy n pakistan, dont think its the same for india.

    RGV has howver brilliantly handled the commections of movie makers, politics, underworld and dhrma gurus and the business men. i dont see movies for the social messages, cos in bollywood there r none, but it seems like the social message is spreading with the shitloads of movies on extra maritals

  18. Nice post mr. Bong as usual. I deeply agree with the message held in your post. It all started with Satya which was advertised as “the violent love story” or “the love story of a liar”, something like that. Actually after seeing Satya people started taking the gangster’s side in their mind. Then it was over glorified dons in Company and Sarkar is really over the top. It finally shows a gangster is actually a hero to be worshipped. This is really disturbing.

  19. @Aishwarya: interesting points…will blog my thoughts on that topic…maybe on a rainy day….

    @almost_useless: Maybe you dont but there are impressionable people who do get influenced by the message in a way they often themselves do not perceive.

    @debanjan: a very very dangerous trend once our society goes from immoral to amoral.

  20. All you gangsta wanna-be’s are pussies. And yeah, I’ll say it to your greasy faces.

    Todd Tokarz – Chicago

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