This past week, Tiranga TV was in the news, through layoffs and what seems to be its shutting down. Apparently the promoters of the channel, Kapil Sibal and his wife, were planning to blame this, like everything else, on Modi’s fascism, and what would have been yet another jamboree at the Press Club with “Accha Silah Diye Tunhe Mere Pyar Ka” Arun Shourie jumping out from behind the bushes to launch into another diatribe against those he once courted, fizzled out, as no one less than Barkha Dutt countered the narrative on Twitter.
But this post is not about Tiranga TV, but about Mehul Kumar’s Tirangaa. The film. Released in 1992, unlike Tiranga TV, it was a major hit, and maybe the reason for that was that Tirangaa had its heart in the right place.
Oh what a cast it had.
There was Harish, fresh from his debut movie Prem Qaidi, also the first movie of Karishma Kapoor, where both danced in identical hot pants, in sequences where you could not make out who was who, so visually similar they were. In Tiranga, he has considerable footage but no name, but he leaves an impact, as he is implicated in a horrendous crime by the evil men, once his purse is found at the scene of the crime. Yes. You heard that right. Purse. In 1992, many thought he would be the next Shahrukh Khan, just like in 2019, many thought that Rahul Gandhi would be the next PM.
There was, of course, Nana Patekar, Inspector Shivajirao Wagle, in his deadpan delivery style, laying out lines like “Aaao aoo hijro ki aulaad aao” with the same casualness as a millennial would tell the barista “one cafe latte please”.
There was Rakesh Bedi as Khabarilal, Indian deep-throat, the mysterious insider who supplies critical intel over landline, in a bizarre Akashvani montone.
There was Mamata Kulkarni, for one song and one sob, in a gloriously glorified guest appearance.
There was Varsha Usgaonkar, famous from that layered song, “Anchal ke andar kya hai, anchal ke andar choli, choli ke andar kya hai, bataoon batoon, holi hain”, and I was going to say something here, but the memory of that song from Khalnayeeka made me lose my train of thought.
There was the legendary Deepak Shirke, playing the grandly named Pralaynath Gundaswamy, possibly the only Hindi film major villain to graduate from hotel management, for he wore a waiter suit, and white gloves and carried a kebab skewer, which he used to dispatch non-cooperative scientists as if he is serving starters at a cocktail party. He would attain great fame after Tirangaa, going on to star as Kaalia Danger in Khuda Gawah, Kaalia Patel in Meri Aan, and Kaalia Shirke in Jai Kishen and finally as Bacchubhai Bhigona in the greatest movie of all time, Gunda.
Finally there was Raj Kumar Sahaab playing Brigadier Suryadev Singh, the terror of desh-drohis, always two steps ahead of the baddies, and who has his dialogues well-thought out for all occasions. I remember during my on-campus undergraduate interview, I was asked “What are the things are you afraid of?” by the HR on the panel and I was this close to standing up and declaring, Raj Kumar style, with a cavalier toss of my head, ‘Na talwar ki dhaar se na goliyon ki bauchar se, bandah daarta hai to sirf parvar digaar se”. Such was the impact of that character on me and many others of the 90s.
And why not? Brigadier Suryadev Singh was a superhero before Marvel came along, the panache of Ironman with the patriotism of Captain America, the anger of Hulk with the fashion sense of Black Widow. The brigadier had supernatural powers, he could apparate out of thin air, Harry Potter style, when his name was mentioned, a power he described as “Hum kisi se bhi, kisi waqt bhi, kahin bhi mil sakte hain … hamara jab dil chahe”. He could hear everything, even when he was not in the room. He was the only one who when people watched him on TV, he watched them back through the screen. He wore clothes that would make Dil Ki Armaani aasoyon mein bahe gaye, including Madhuri Dixit type chokers in many of the scenes, whose colors change, but not the Indian flag at its center.
Tiranga is etched in the anals (intentional typo) of Indian cinemadom. It was one of the few movies of the era that gave a lot of attention to science and engineering. In times when Sridevi as a Naagin shot lasers out of her Nigahen and Aamir Khan acted in snake-epics like Tum Mere Ho and high-tech for Indians was Nikitasha kitchenette, Tirangaa went to great lengths to get its science right in a way that Neel Da Gas Tyson would have appreciated.
For one, there was Brigadier Suryadev Singh’s tricked out Ambassador car, which makes the Batmobile look like Basanti’s tanga. Even though it did not have automatic transmission, it had bomb detecting sensors fitted to its bottom, a red flashing button on the dashboard, and a retractable floor which would separate on a detection of a bomb, right over a manhole. The good brigadier is shown to have military technology that would make James Bond say “never say never again.” For one, the Brigadier’s dual-chamber pipe not only carried tobacco but also dynamite, providing him with a nicotine rush and his dushman with death. He carried around a remote control of what seems to be a Sonodyne TV used to control anything he wishes, and he had a secret Batcave-like lair with flashing lights on the panels, a bargain basement version of USS Enterprise in a basement.
Which brings us to the famous fuse conductor technology, the heart of the missile, quantum technology developed by Indian scientist Khurana, which the evil Pralaynath in a display of Trump-like narcissism named Pralay. It has wave particle duality built in, with the name “fuse conductor” conducting as well as inhibiting conduction. In the iconic climax, Suryadev Singh holds up the fuse conductors, which seem to have been salvaged from the same Sonodyne TV whose remote was being used. The metaphor is very phallic, the missiles representing gigantic male organs, the fuse conductors the source of masculinity, the metaphorical testicles, which Suryadev Singh has cut away, reducing the missiles to “sirf dhuya hi rahega aur kuch naheen”, thus castrating the evil designs of the villain.
Tirangaa isnt the garden variety 90s movie, it appropriates the tropes of the times, but gives them unforgettable twists. For instance when the evil politician finds out that Gundaswamy’s son has impregnated a woman, he tells Gundaswamy that he should not worry about it, the girl can be paid off, the baby aborted, till, and this is where Tiranga shows its colors, Gundaswamy informs the politician that it is his daughter got impregnated, leading to a moment of stunning “karma is a bitch”-ness that one rarely sees on celluloid.
A true classic, one can and should see Tirangaa many times.
As for Tiranga TV, zero is enough. No loss.