I watched ‘Rang de basanti’. That, however, is not the point. Everyone now wants to go to Delhi and cruise around in jeeps at night. And that too is not the point. I need to say something. That, really, is the point.
‘Rang de…’ is a good movie but frankly, I’ve seen better. I’ve seen ‘Yuva’. It is creditable, though, that the movie could say what it did without using the ‘sage on the stage’ (as we say in Instructional Design) approach. The movie does have a couple of ideas that I have been besotted with for a long time now.
One is the life of a story. There is the germ of an idea about men who go to their deaths cheerfully. There is fascination about what could inspire such courage in ordinary people. That story lays inside a diary for a long time.
How long? Long enough for history to play itself out and begin the process of repeating itself. A nation goes the ‘Animal Farm’ way – humans out, pigs in. The story lays untouched – fermenting in latent vigor.
Then someone discovers it. She is moved by this story and decides to tell it. The story now awakens and agrees to being told. It finds its actors – unwilling though they are. The actors read the story. More importantly, the story reads them. It finds those crevices in the mind, which it fills quietly. It is set hard and firm with periodical help from the reality in which it must be told.
And then finally, it’s out.
I truly believe that one cannot read anything – anything at all, and remain unchanged. There was this Greek philosopher (I forget his name) who said something like this – when you put your hand in a river, the river changes and so do you. Change, therefore, irrespective of extent, is inevitable.
It’s fascinating how thought builds upon thought. It is believable that the men would be so influenced by the story that they would want to replicate a reality like that. That is why some books or movies are banned in the first place. There is a fear that life could get that close to art.
As I watched the film, I wondered what would have happened if Sue wanted to make a documentary on Gandhi? Perhaps she would have got different actors. Perhaps they’d have been influenced differently. Perhaps they would have dealt with the politician in another way.
In fact, one parallel that struck me was that we got Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and Chandrashekhar in response to the British. We got DJ and the gang in response to Sue.
The next arresting thought was the character of DJ. The guy for all his bravado is a really scared man. For five years, he sticks around in the University despite graduating, simply because he’s afraid of being lost in the crowd. Who’d know him in the world outside? It reminded me of that prisoner in Shawshank Redemption who commits suicide on being released because he doesn’t know how to live outside the jail.
Every person has that ‘University’, I think – home, job, marriage, relationship – an acceptable rut where you have your ‘aukaat’.
I think DJ’s is the most important psychological profile in today’s times – where with a little change, so many feel adrift.
Then there is this other scene, which for very erratic, personal reasons I found disconcerting.
The gang has gone to a club to celebrate Soha’s engagement to the pilot. Atul Kulkarni (how fantastic is that man?) is very uncomfortable in that setting. He sits slouched, holding a bowl of peanuts in his hand, not making eye-contact with anybody. He doesn't quite know what is expected of him in that world. His body language pretty much underlines the ‘not fitting in’ message. It’s rather similar to our discomfort with certain notions of religion.
For some time now, based on my interactions with certain people, I’ve been getting this impression that it’s unfashionable to be a ‘Hindu’ in India.
To start off, I have observed that of all the religious communities, Hindus are the most clueless about their religion. I went to a convent school. We had a Moral Science period where the Christian students were taken to a different class to read the Bible. The rest of us had a common text book with chapters on cleanliness and helping strangers, etc. My Muslim friends would go home and study the Koran with their Maulanas. My Hindu friends, like me, would probably just light incense in the evenings and eat Maggi. We were never mandated to learn Sanskrit or read the scriptures. Hinduism, to many of us, was our heritage (something you take for granted), not our religion (something you take seriously). We were Hindus because we were Hindus.
This cluelessness becomes rather apparent and in fact, jarring, when one is in a relationship with a non-Hindu. More often than not, the partner will know more about his or her religion than the Hindu counterpart. And since any religion is interpreted through its people, the interpreters of Hinduism are usually inarticulate in matters of their own theology. I think that’s why there’s this notion that Hinduism is only about idolatory, ritualism, and casteism. It’s not.
It’s getting a little problematic discussing this with some people of other religions. I get the feeling that just because I’m a member of the ‘majority’ community, I shouldn’t get too bothered about Hinduism being misinterpreted. What could possibly go against me? It’s not as if I’m going to be headhunted anytime soon.
Maybe there are prejudices against all religions, but I feel that I’m allowed to have fewer prejudices about theirs than they are allowed to have about mine. Why is it okay to ask, ‘What’s with the polytheism, man?’ and not wait for an answer. Why is it difficult to accept a religion because it does not have clear cut tenets all neatly listed in one book? And why is it wrong to think this way and be deemed to be a fanatic from the RSS squad?
Yesterday, a friend told me that other religions had only one God and were therefore more evolved than a religion that had 64,800 Gods. I told him that we believed in 1 God too – the deities were only manifestations of certain facets of God, etc. etc. He wasn’t listening. So I simply asked him that even if this were a polytheistic religion, why should it be deemed lower than the others?
He then asked me if I was happy being a Hindu. Truth be told, that was the very first time I thought about it. ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Typical’, he replied and changed the subject.
Since I didn’t get a chance to explain myself then, I’ll do it now and hope that my pal reads it.
Like everyone, I see my religion through my prism. To me, Hinduism is benign and tolerant. It allowed me to seek my own level in it at my own pace and when I was ready. I never had to do anything compulsorily – learn shlokas or listen to priests on an assigned day every week. When I got curious about certain mysteries of life, when I felt that man does not live by bread alone, when I felt empty inside, I read the Geeta. I found some solace there. I think I would have believed in ‘karma’ irrespective of what religion I followed. But I got my answers in Hinduism without any co-ercion or ritualism. And that’s why I am happy to be a Hindu. If you think that by thinking this, I believe Hinduism to be better than any religion in the world, then you’re right. And I also hope you are better at spotting sarcasm than understanding what is actually being told.
I would be wrong if I thought that Islam was only about having four wives and slaughtering goats. I would be stupid if I thought Christianity was about Santa Claus and eating beef. Similarly, Hinduism is not that kookie religion that advocates astrology, holding cows sacred, and breaking coconuts in crowded temples. And if I think you are way off the mark in thinking this, it doesn’t make me intolerant.
Conversations get heated. I remember how I was first enamored of the idea of a Uniform Civil Code (hereafter referred to as UCC). In reality, I do not think that all religions are equal. They may be the same in essence, but they are not equal in status. Or as Atticus Finch said of people in ‘To kill a mocking bird’, ‘Some are more equal than others.’ In different contexts, some religion will feel short-changed and some other will feel like it’s bending backwards to overcompensate the others. By virtue of this, the personal laws scenario just gets to be an appeasement gimmick.
In a country that is truly secular, UCC shouldn’t be a problem. In a country that isn’t, it could be the only solution.
From the looks of it, people will always be in the dark about somebody’s God (or Gods, as the case may be). That’s why you need one code to rule them all, one code to find them, one code to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.
I also watched ‘Ho(hum)stage’. As gripping as a greasy handshake and just as avoidable.