The Rise of Reel Pol­i­tics

A prime min­is­ter is as­sas­si­nated. There’s a move­ment against ap­a­thy. An anti- ter­ror unit is try­ing to stop a dar­ing at­tack. Three re­leases mark a new wave of po­lit­i­cal cin­ema.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Ku­nal Prad­han

A prime min­is­ter is as­sas­si­nated. There’s a move­ment against ap­a­thy. An anti- ter­ror unit tries to stop a dar­ing at­tack. Three re­leases mark a new wave of po­lit­i­cal cin­ema.

The next few sen­tences are a work of fic­tion; the re­sem­blance to any per­son, liv­ing or dead, is purely co­in­ci­den­tal. It’s the early 1990s. A for­mer In­dian prime min­is­ter goes for a pre­elec­tion rally to a small town in Tamil Nadu. As he ar­rives at the bustling venue, he is beck­oned by a young woman with thick- rimmed glasses. She steps for­ward to gar­land him, and bends to touch his feet. The woman, a Tamil sep­a­ratist from Sri Lanka, presses two but­tons— one on her back, and one on her stom­ach. There is a mas­sive ex­plo­sion. The for­mer prime min­is­ter is as­sas­si­nated. His white sports shoes have streaks of blood on them.

This scene is the cen­tral plot around which Shoo­jit Sir­car’s Madras Cafe, which re­leased on Au­gust 23, is con­structed. The film comes with a work- of- fic­tion dis­claimer in bold let­ters but ev­ery­one in­volved in its mak­ing, and any­one who watches it, im­me­di­ately knows it is about Ra­jiv Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion at Sripe­rum­budur on May 21, 1991. The cre­ators give the for­mer prime min­is­ter no name, re­fer­ring to him as “ex- PM”. In one scene, his shawl is tucked un­der the right shoul­der in Ra­jiv’s sig­na­ture style. Protests against the film have started al­ready, but one way to look at Madras Cafe is as a Bol­ly­wood land­mark: A film that dares to de­pict a re­cent po­lit­i­cal in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a national leader, and to tackle a real story, even if in the garb of fic­tion. One could even call it a trail­blazer, paving the way for mod­ern- day po­lit­i­cal cin­ema in a coun­try fa­mous for its in­tol­er­ance to mun­dane on­screen por­tray­als.

Madras Cafe comes at an in­ter­est­ing time for the Hindi en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try. Prakash Jha’s Satya­graha, an Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgn star­rer that loosely mir­rors the peo­ples’ move­ment sparked by Anna Hazare in 2011 and the Delhi gan­grape ag­i­ta­tion in 2012, will hit theatres on Au­gust 30. The film is about a young cor­po­rate pro­fes­sional and an ide­al­is­tic older man who join forces to fight against cor­rup­tion and govern­ment ap­a­thy. It will be fol­lowed in mid- Septem­ber by 24, a slick new TV se­ries in which a Mum­bai anti- ter­ror chief, played by Anil Kapoor, will try to save a young prime min­is­ter from a deadly as­sas­sin over the course of 24 nail- bit­ing hours. Its first episode re­veals that the young prime min­is­ter’s fa­ther was killed by sep­a­ratists. His mother is his po­lit­i­cal care­taker. His sis­ter, also in pol­i­tics, is walk­ing the thin line be­tween her fam­ily legacy and an er­rant hus­band. View­ers are free to draw their own par­al­lels.

So, one would think the time has fi­nally come for more Hindi movies and TV se­ri­als to take the plunge into un­charted ter­ri­tory. To pick up where the so­cio- po­lit­i­cal cin­ema of the 1950s and 1960s had left off. But in re­al­ity, the gap be­tween Bol­ly­wood and re­al­is­tic po­lit­i­cal dra­mas is still ex­tremely wide.

It took Sir­car, 46, the di­rec­tor of Ya­haan ( 2005) and Vicky Donor ( 2012), seven years to make Madras Cafe. Apart from 18 months of metic­u­lous In­ter­net fact- find­ing and book- read­ing to de­ci­pher the twists and turns of the Tamil con­flict by a ded­i­cated re­search team that in­cluded co- pro­ducer Ron­nie Lahiri, the list of prob­lems was long. Big pro­duc­tion houses didn’t want to touch the script for fear of a po­lit­i­cal back­lash, and dis­trib­u­tors were shy­ing away be­cause of all the pre- re­lease has­sles they ex­pected from the cen­sors. The film was fi­nally made by Sir­car’s own pro­duc­tion com­pany,

AN UN­NAMED TAMIL BOMBER, RE­SEM­BLING LTTE AS­SAS­SIN DHANU, WAITS TO GAR­LAND THE ‘ EX- PM’ATA 10 P. M. RALLY IN ATOWN IN TAMIL NADU, IN ASTILL FROM MADRAS CAFE

THE ‘ EX- PM’AT HIS LAST RALLY MIN­UTES BE­FORE HE IS KILLED, IN ASTILL FROM MADRAS CAFE

AR­JUN RAM­PAL ( LEFT), AMITABH BACHCHAN ( CEN­TRE) AND AJAY DEVGN LEAD APROTESTIN ASCENE FROM SATYA­GRAHA, REM­I­NIS­CENT OFTHE DELHI GANG- RAPE AG­I­TA­TION

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