Saturday, May 21, 2011
A Note on JHENDA (Marathi; 2010)
For all the hype about director Avdhoot Gupte's thinly-disguised film on four young men caught up in the turmoil over the split in the Shiv Sena, with the party passing on from founding father Bal Thackeray to son Uddhav Thackeray, and the more charismatic nephew Raj Thackeray forming his own splinter Maharashtra Navnirman Sena ("MNS"); Jhenda is deeply disappointing. That is to say, disappointing in the way that so much of Maharashtrian politics is, and that so many Indian "political films" are: emptied of any charge against the political class but cynicism, and hence ostensibly drained of politicized content, the "political films" (Rajneeti and Satta come to mind from Bollywood) end up re-inscribing the narrative into precisely the sort of reinforcement that ideologies bent on effacing themselves qua ideologies (i.e. focused on presenting themselves as simply "natural" effects of "given" phenomena, such as a linguistic, ethnic, or religious identity) thrive upon.
To be honest, Jhenda doesn't even try very hard at effacing much. As with its Bollywood kin, its only charge against the politicians (more the characters standing in for MNS supremo Raj Thackeray and an establishment Congress-ish minister, than the Uddhav stand-in; although the film's Raj is clearly the charismatic center of the film) is opportunism and moral corruption. Men like the film's politicians have betrayed the ideals of a Marathi-centric politics, and of the Hindu rashtra Savarkar had envisioned. But those ideals themselves are never called into question. Indeed, the fact that they are accepted as givens; to the point where the viewer is supposed to empathize with the disgust of one of the film's protagonists when his boss Rajesh (the rebel politician) embraces a Muslim political leader (the latter himself as disgusting a caricature as can be imagined); is a vivid reminder of how deep the rot is in Maharashtrian politics. [Not to mention how total the impoverishment of any liberal sphere is, the ruling Congress/NCP combine seemingly content to play rent-a-state with major corporates. On some days, it seems the two Senas are the only major political parties to have hitches their stars to the state's aam aadmi, however narrowly he is defined.]