Boyfriend become boring? Well now you can dump him and feel good by invoking the Mahatma. Just like Shweta Polanki who cited “Gandhigiri” as the reason she broke off with her boyfriend after he made “hissing sounds to get the attention of the waiter”. Murderer and extortionist on the way to trial, looking to get some media attention? No problemo. Hand out roses in a Lucknow courthouse ala Babloo Srivastava. [More here]
If it was the Rang-de-Basanti-inspired “be the change” in early 2006 that captured the imagination of the nation, the last quarter has seen the the Return of Bapu—courtesy “Lage Raho Munnabhai”, a predictable yet pleasant movie about a Don who reforms himself after being visited by the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi.
The original Mahatma Gandhi, the master communicator, had to don a langoti and speak the language of religion and poverty to make a connection with India’s teeming population and launch the greatest mass mobilization in modern history. The new bubble-wrapped Mahtama of Bollywood has a new challenge—to work his magic on the outsourced generation of today and rake in a few bucks for the producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Because the secret of today’s blockbuster is to give the audience an illusion of intellectual nourishment while feeding him the same old escapist fare—so that when he walks out from the multiplex he has a “feel good rush” and a desire to “change the world”–a desire that if we are lucky will last for a week.
For Gandhi is the ultimate feel-good-man—nothing makes the new generation feel better about themselves than acting “Gandhian”. But there is always a problem—everything Bapu has asked us to do is so god-damn tough and boring. Like shovelling your own shit….that is so not cool. Also the “sex is a pathway to violent animal tendencies” idea —-nyet nyet. The ‘go back to the villages’ whole anti-industrialization angle—you mean no cell phones and IPods? And that ‘spin your own cloth’ Gandhian principle—-dude are you crazy? Do you want me to be a fashion disaster like Karishma Kapoor in her first movie? Puleeze.
So here’s an idea.
Get rid of the facets of Gandhi-ism that are uncomfortable or sound way too tough or too 1940-s. Let’s get Bapu to talk Tapori. Let’s make him a gentle Agony Uncle who guarantees the sure way to get the girl. There might not be a lot of the original Gandhi left in this new Gandhi but hey that’s not our problem. The thing is to make people think they are having a karele ka juice that tastes sweet. Let’s put in a few simple, contrived situations. Add some “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” homilies and voilÃ , we have a product—easily palatable, leaving a warm, fuzzy afterglow.
But wait. On second thoughts—- is this new-age, sanitized Gandhi altogether a bad thing? A commercial construct– sure is. But perhaps this filtering out of the parts of Gandhiism that are impractical, utopian and plain anachronistic is the only way to keep Gandhi-ism relevant today. By making his ideals easier to follow. By serving up what he stood for in bite-sized portions.
While most “neo-Gandhibaadis” who were “Rang-de-Basantists’ a few months ago will soon migrate to other things, we hope that there will be a few people who, like Sanjay Dutt in “Lage Raho Munnabhai”, will ensconce themselves in a library where, through knowledge gleaned from books (as opposed to a two hour movie or email forwards) objectively evaluate, free of idolatory and iconcoclasm ——- Gandhi the person. Gandhi the politician. And Gandhi the personal saviour.
And through this path of enlightenment, triggered by ‘Lage Raho Munnabhai’ but not limited by it, each of us shall realize Bapu in our own way.