Dear Anurag Kashyap,
On Saturday, I had the chance of watching Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, a movie co-produced and co-written by you. The movie has been very well directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, and the performances of most actors are praiseworthy. I have believed that you are one of the finest filmmakers the Hindi film industry has ever seen. Your Gangs of Wasseypuris my all-time favourite Hindi movie and I have loved most of your other movies also, including Black Friday, Dev D, Gulaal, Ugly and Raman Raghav 2.0. Besides your writing and filmmaking talent, what also impressed me was the fact that being an outsider in the industry, you were able to take on the strong lobbies in the industry that have historically been guilty of promoting nepotism and cartelization. You were the poster boy of the low-budget new-wave cinema that got respect from all quarters within and outside the industry. As someone coming from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, I felt proud of you.
However, when I look at some of the movies that have lately come out of your production house, I can see a disturbing pattern. These movies have been overtly critical of the government, and more specifically, what a lot of people understand to be the ideology of the BJP. While art has always been an effective medium of criticising what’s wrong with governance and with socio-politico-economic systems, it is your selective and strategically-timed depiction of a political party’s flaws, which raise doubts. I clearly remember the days when all you could see on television news channels was an angry looking you, pointing fingers at the censor board and expressing concerns over the drug menace in the state of Punjab. Drugs is a serious issue that our country has been facing for the past decade or so, and the problem becomes way more worrisome in Punjab, being a border state.
Udta Punjab resulted in the issue being discussed and debated all over the country. It is also said that the movie magnified the problem manifolds. The movie released a few months before the state elections, in which the ruling BJP – Akali Dal coalition lost. The most shocking bit was the fact that you did not talk about the issue even once after the election results. If the issue was so deep-rooted, how come it got resolved just by one election result? Surely any government in the world cannot claim to eliminate such a menace in a day, in a week, or even a year.
Earlier this year, you came up with Mukkabaaz, set up in western Uttar Pradesh. Like most of your films, it was nuanced, layered and packed with powerful performances. However, the film also turned out to be another glaring example of your personal prejudices. The main antagonist in the movie was shown as a politician from a BJP-style party, and his henchmen included cow-vigilantes. Time and again you have spoken against cow-vigilantism. In the last 2-3 years, we have seen news channels reporting multiple incidents of alleged cow-vigilantism. Investigations have suggested that a large percentage of such cases were not actually those of cow-vigilantism, but were fights breaking out over other issues. We have seen several times that even if two individuals fighting in the streets, unaware of each other’s religion, turn out to be a Hindu and a Muslim, our media will report it as a Hindu-Muslim clash. A lot of the so-called cow-vigilante cases are also those of people, not backed by any political establishment, stopping and reporting cattle smuggling.
Whilst many like you have expressed displeasure when the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh strictly implemented the laws relating to slaughterhouses, you all turn a blind eye to the fact that these slaughterhouses are in complete violation of regulations that have been there for a long time. The slaughterhouse in Allahabad, where you shot a few scenes of Gangs of Wasseypur, was no different. Also, many of the alleged cow-vigilantism cases actually involved goondas hired by unauthorized slaughterhouses to steal cattle belonging to poor farmers, and then villagers stopping these goondas from doing so. But again, the likes of you only believe what you want to believe.
Mukkabaaz also threw light at the age-old evil of caste-system in our society. For this evil, no criticism of the misdeeds of the so-called upper castes can be enough. There have been Dalit politicians who have had multiple opportunities of making a real difference to the plight of Dalits in our country, but who have instead chosen to accumulate personal wealth and power. Despite this, these politicians continue to be worshipped by their core voters. I find it astonishing that the ill-intended actions of such politicians and the bhakti of their supporters have never been questioned.
In Bhavesh Joshi Superhero, the writers have tried to show politicians, again from a BJP-style party, trying to cover their corrupt activities under the garb of nationalism. The fact that the most corrupt politicians in the country, most of who are from the large states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, belong to non-BJP parties, makes no difference to you. Also, that some of these politicians have been convicted in corruption cases is not important to the likes of you. You need to be educated that it is not easy to find a politician, in the country’s current scenario, who has been a Chief Minister for over 12 years and a prime minister for four years, without a corruption charge.
Being seen as a party with a nationalist complexion is one of BJP’s strategic strengths. If the country currently has a large part of its electorate that sees nationalism as the most important factor while casting its vote, there has to be some reason behind it. Leaders and parties, over the last many decades, have patronized divisive and disloyal groups in different parts of the country, both overtly and covertly. By doing this, they have succeeded in creating voter bases belonging to specific socio-economic classes and communities. This also involved compromising on national security and the law and order situation. What has resulted in a considerable rise in divisive extremism in the forms of Naxalism and terrorism, and has also provided justification for activities that are not in the country’s best interest.
Your voice is being missed when the states of Kerala, Karnataka, and Bengal are witnessing large scale political murders. You did not speak of censorship before the release of Indu Sarkar. I even badly missed this voice of yours when arguably the most corrupt government in our history was ruling us. You never spoke about the existence of rubber stamp Prime Ministers, about multiple power centres, about false narratives and about the undermining of democratic institutions then. You can say that if you didn’t speak then doesn’t mean that you can’t speak now. Well, you definitely can, and you are doing that with great aplomb. Maybe, you have a greater freedom to express now.
Perhaps you have lived in big cities for too long to understand the problems faced by common people in small cities. Perhaps in your younger days, you were too engrossed in your creative zone to see the scary neighbourhoods in the older parts of our cities. Perhaps the rustic yet glamorous lifestyle of Hans Raj College and its theatre groups took you away from the realities of Obra, of Banaras, of Gorakhpur. Perhaps your recent elite surroundings have given you the eyes that see what they want you to see and took away your objective sight.
I vividly remember when you said that in the film industry, everyone has to co-exist. You also said that it makes better economic sense to even be associated with big production houses. I kind of saw you making peace with the fact that small banners cannot sustain themselves for too long. The country will be seeing another general election in less than a year, and hence the timing of your latest movie can be looked at with suspicion. I don’t know what is making better economic sense now.
I am living in big cities for a decade now, but I keep visiting my hometown every other month. This has ensured that I don’t get disconnected from the diverse realities of India. This has also kept me tolerant of all ideologies and opinions. You may also want to look at that. Despite saying all that I have, I will continue to be an ardent fan of your craft.