Urban Naxals by Vivek Agnihotri : The story of ‘an India where success does not lie in money but surviving’

Some books tell us a story, some others tell us stories inspired from true events, some tell us about past, some tell us about present times, some tell us abstract ideas, some gives us inspiration, some give us grim picture of our times and some tell us about one phenomenon or the other. Urban Naxals gives us a combination of all the above.

It tells us the story of Vivek Agnihotri (the author) and true incidents from his own life. It tells us about the past accounts of phenomena of Naxals and the abstract idea of “Urban Naxals” which has materialized into reality quite some decades ago. It talks about the value of hard work, perseverance and patience that Vivek put in while making the movie “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”. It gives us the grim reality of our country that we have been celebrating mediocrity and nepotism even after 70 years of independence. It tells us about the phenomena of hypocrisy, double standards, irony and contradictions that the whole ecosystem works with.

As someone who completed this book in one sitting, I can say that while I was reading the book, it seemed to me as if someone was narrating a story, a phenomenon, a reality which I have seen since my childhood growing up in a heavily Naxalite affected tri-border area of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. It’s just that Vivek has connected all the dots and presented a picture which is very difficult for any urban society person to understand as he/she only depends on the op-eds of some journalists sitting in Lutyens Delhi to get his/her understanding of Naxalism. The reality strikes only when someone tries to know the phenomena from a closer and experiential view which Vivek has lucidly mentioned in the book.

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The book runs through different units with reference to Buddha being born, In Search of Buddha, The Making of Buddha and The Struggle of Buddha. This is one of the unique ways Vivek uses to wind the beads of the events to make it an interesting and unputdownable read. This is again one of those ways that Vivek has used in his film “Buddha in a Traffic Jam” where the movie proceeds in a chapter wise manner. It’s the experimentation with new ideas and ways that Vivek is adept in that makes him an Avant-Garde filmmaker and author.

The book lists out the origin of Naxal movement and then a lot of small but real instances to give a reality check to all the readers in general and urban public unaware of these things in particular. Many people who have migrated from rural to urban areas may find a connection with these small instances.

The book slowly and subtlely takes up the journey of Vivek in making of the movie “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”  from scratch. Students of the prestigious B-School, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad wanted just to make a short film but then Vivek asks them to think like a CEO that they are going to become in future. It explains the entire process of the making and how the movie was conceptualised.

Passionately, Vivek describes as to how they wrote the script and points out, that some scenes were simply a stroke a luck.

Film Industry, as it is usually seen as a hub of nepotism, did to Vivek exactly what political parties do their alliance partners if they leave them. They malign, create hurdles and discard the concerned party if they are unwilling to conform to their ideology. This comes out very strongly in the book where Vivek details the difficulty he faced in finding mainstream financiers and distributors for the movie. Many of them agreed initially but backed out at the last moment.

Even with all the hurdles, Vivek tries to get the movie going. In the process, he shows exemplary negotiation abilities and out of the box thinking. It was rare for a film maker to showcase his movie directly to the youth of this country by visiting them in their university campus’. The fact that Agnihotri managed to surmount the hurdles and still reach his audience, comes across as a source of inspiration.

The book also talks about the special people who stood by Agnihotri through his journey. His wife Pallavi Joshi and veteran actor Anupam Kher. I particularly liked the fact that Anupam Kher accepted to be a part of the project without any special demand financially or otherwise just because he believed in the project and its significance to Agnihotri’s life. This may be a good moral lesson for our film artists (only if they care to read the book) from a veteran actor Anupam Kher.

There have been many books as to how a war was won, how a start-up became successful, how someone became a head of the state/country, how someone found the love of his/her life, but this book just tells about how a simple yet powerful movie was made. So, powerful that JNU authorities did not want it to be screened in the campus, Jadavpur University students physically assaulted Agnihotri, injuring his shoulder.

The movie must have certainly made many extremely uncomfortable since the very people who advocate ‘freedom of expression’ were at the forefront of blocking his movie. The book details the ordeal.

Many so called ‘film critics’ ridiculed the movie when it was released. I was in my final year when I read some of the reviews before watching the movie, but after watching the movie, I was not sure as to whether those ‘film-critics’ were ridiculing the movie or were proving that certain film critics should often be disregarded.

As someone who has seen the whole naxal movement first hand, I am glad that Vivek made this movie to expose the nexus and then wrote this book to expose them further. ‘Urban Naxals’, a term coined by Agnihotri, are everywhere. While the term is not defined explicitly, the essence of it is apparent once the book is read in totality.

In fact, it bodes well that the term has not been defined with abstract constraints. Let the youth of India explore this word for themselves.

In the end, the book can be said to explore in its essence the irony and contradictions of living in India even after 70 years of independence.

An India where success does not lie in money. It lies in surviving. The complex India. The difficult India. The corrupt India. The honest India. The oppressed India. The feudal India. A regressive India. A progressive India. It’s poor. It’s filthy. It’s hard working. It smells of struggle, of co-existence, of sweat. Its diversity, its disparity, the chaos, the conflict. The aspirational India, the ignored India, the defeated India… The real India”


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