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  • Sometimes the unlikeliest of people can open your eyes

    Posted On July 2, 2001

    By Karan Thapar

    “If ever you want to prove we’re nuts” said my friend Pertie, with his usual all-knowing smile on his thin lips and his eyes twinkling with mischievous delight, “then go and see the two movies everyone is talking about.”

    “Why?” I asked.  It seemed a strange thing to say particularly for someone who hates hindi films.  How did he know?

    “Because both of them are weird and yet they’ve become big hits.”

    Normally I would not have been tempted by such a chance remark – least of all one made by Pertie – but last week I found myself checking out his judgement.  I must admit he was right although it’s possible we may differ on the reasons why.

    Lagaan and Gadar are about the most unlikely stories anyone could have chosen to make into films.  Set in the Raj of the 1880s, Lagaan is based on a ridiculous cricket match which is the outcome of a challenge thrown by a racist British captain to the hapless farmers of a drought-stricken Gujarati village.  I won’t argue that the Raj was not arbitrary but it certainly did not behave ludicrously.  The film, however, is based on the most unlikely incident.  It simply is not plausible.

    Gadar is, if anything, worse.  It’s the story of a sikh truck driver and a well-born muslim girl who fate brings together, first in comic circumstances and then in deeply tragic conditions.  They fall in love and marry but the marriage is rejected by the girl’s parents who have migrated to Pakistan.  When the daughter visits Lahore to meet her separated family she is kidnapped.  When the husband comes to rescue her seemingly the entire Pakistani army, half the air force and most of the people turn against them. Despite such odds the couple triumph and return home to India. 

    Neither film is believable.  That’s my first complaint.  But then believability is not a criterion by which hindi films are usually judged.  If anything, to enjoy one you have to suspend your sense of disbelief.  The ridiculous and the impossible have to be accepted as the norm.

    No, my real problem lies elsewhere.

    Let me start with Lagaan.  Despite the ludicrous story it’s an enjoyable film except for the fact it’s far too long.  The producer and the director seem to operate on the principle that if an idea is good more of it must be better.  Sadly, that doesn’t work in a movie.  A clever ploy that goes on interminably may be funny at first, tolerable thereafter but eventually it starts to pall.  In Lagaan the songs very definitely do.

    The heart of the film is a cricket match which is pure vaudeville and burlesque.  There’s no doubt it’s funny – or do I mean droll? – but its appeal is slapstick. After a while the buffoonery overtakes the tension that should be building up and given that you know the Indian team has to win – after all, it’s not possible for the Raj to beat the locals – the clowning around doesn’t help.

    Nonetheless Lagaan is enjoyable even if long, a trifle childish and utterly unbelievable.   Gadar is not.  In fact, you could argue that Lagaan is a good film despite its lapses.  Gadar is not.  All said and done I would not discourage you from seeing Lagaan.  I might even recommend it.  Gadar I would not. 

    To be honest, Gadar is a terrible film.  Not just bad, not just boring but hateful.  And I don’t use that word lightly.

    The film incites hatred of Pakistan.  It’s designed to make you revolt against the country, its people and their supposed hatred of hindus.  Yet so widespread is dislike of Pakistan that this may not be noticed by very many.  What is worse is that the film suggests all muslims are fundamentalists and fanatics; narrow-minded in their adherence to their faith, mean spirited in their attitude to love and implacably opposed to any alliance between one of their girls and a sikh boy.  I cannot recall a single muslim in the film who is portrayed to attract your admiration or even your sense of sympathy.  They are all black caricatures.

    Quite frankly, this is not just silly.  It’s not just wrong.  It’s a horrible attempt to paint an entire community with the same black brush of dislike.  I don’t know if the film is offensive to the islamic faith – it may or may not be – but on purely human terms it’s deeply offensive to me. In four simple words, I don’t like it.

    So now if you think back to Pertie’s comments you can see why I think he is right.  We are very definitely nuts if films like Lagaan or Gadar become hits.  The only thing is that the word nuts means different things in each case.  Lagaan is nuts in the pleasant, happy colloquial sense in which the word is frequently used.  Most comedies – usually the good ones – are nutty films.  So too is Lagaan.   Gadar, however, is nuts in the seriously mentally disturbed sense.

    But don’t ban the film.  Expose it.  Let it be seen widely and let it be criticised openly.  Let it be an example of the sort of film we should not make.  Of course, that is only my opinion and you have every right to disagree.

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