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It’s a hattrick—The problem with liberal Bollywood filmmakers like Anubhav Sinha

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A well-intentioned self-proclaimed “liberal” filmmaker made another film (Thappad) on a crucial burning issue but ends up promoting the very problematic RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) agenda by speaking their language. After watching his films I’m not certain anymore if it’s intentional or he just doesn’t know any better. The absurdity pops out more because while Anubhav Sinha would certainly describe himself as a liberal, the RSS—Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation—is deeply opposed to liberal values.

Mr. Sinha has made three films in the last three years. They addressed the issues of Islamophobia/Hindu-Muslim unity (Mulk), Casteism (Article 15), and Domestic Violence/Male Entitlement/Misogyny (Thappad) respectively.

Let’s take a moment to reflect upon how the RSS propaganda machine views these issues?

  • On MUSLIMS: WE don’t have any issues with them. They are like our younger brothers. In fact, we have a separate branch for them. But as they are brainwashed into terrorism or violence against Hindus, we can’t stay quiet when they get violent so we are then bound to take action in self-defense.
  • On DALITS: WE don’t believe in any caste discrimination at all. In fact, Dalits form a majority in an organisation like ours. It is because we feed them by organising public meals for them frequently. But because they lack skills, they have to do such petty jobs. Also, whenever they are in trouble, we come to their rescue.
  • ON WOMEN: WE treat women like goddesses. So we can’t do any wrong to them. Even if we do, laws are so easy for them. Police can arrest the culprit on a mere complaint. So, it’s the “men” who are the victims here. Also, we don’t believe in the dowry system and accept the payments of alimony for divorced women.

Who on earth is the “WE” here? It is obvious that the RSS identifies itself as the real representative and champion of the Upper Caste Hindu male. But herein lies the problem. Who gave the RSS the authority to decide for them? In their claim to represent all “Hindus”, they advocate their primitive views and then claim ownership of India because they form the majority horde. From here they take on the mantle to look after, protect, and speak for the “Muslim/Dalit/Woman” or any other collective minority group. This is then couched as a viewpoint of all “Hindus” and hence of “Hinduism” itself. This cheap trick is applied over and over again to legitimize their pedestrian and banal understanding of Hinduism and their sanctify their illegitimate claim to power.

The same ridiculous device is used by Mr. Sinha, intentionally or not, in his films on Muslims (Mulk) and Dalits (Article 15). Here too, we see a “WE” an upper-caste Hindu saviour/protagonist coming down to protect or speak for Muslims and Dalits respectively. While in his latest film on domestic violence (Thappad), India’s Law and Order is so efficient that a woman can easily come out of this mild and light Domestic Violence.

No, Mr. Sinha, it is not so easy. Women facing repeated domestic violence face another level of harassment with the police and court. Right from the day a woman files a complaint to the day she appears in the session court, she is made to testify around 15-20 times. It becomes so tiring for her that she has to give up the case and such cases are thrown in the category of the fake cases. And the victim has no other option but to return to her abusive husband. And this is how the never-ending cycle of patriarchy, entitlement, and domestic violence carries on. But in figments of Mr. Sinha’s and his writer’s imagination, society is so good and polite to the victim that she easily comes over and reforms everything around her including her husband. How cute!

Here are some examples of such problematic themes recurrent in RSS’ ideology and mirrored in abundance in Mr. Sinha’s “progressive” films:

Dalit activist whines to a softy Brahman cop — “Ham Kabhi Harijan ban jaate hain, kabhi BAHUJAN ban jaate hain, bas kabhi JAN nahi ban paate”. Oh please! Now Harijan is a derogatory term. The illegitimate children of Priests and Devadasis are referred as Harijans. Whereas BAHUJAN comes from a bloody revolution where people from the so-called lower castes all over India were brought in with the confidence and unity that comes with an awakening. This new identity as Bahujan means the people in abundance. RSS has been trying to discredit the Bahujan movement ever since its inception by politician and social reformer Kanshi Ram (1934-2006). Anubhav Sinha helps their cause so easily with such hollow dialogues. Yes, it is like a woman whining— “Kabhi ham sex object ban jaate hain kabhi feminist ban jaate hain, bas kabhi insaan nahi ban paate” or imagine a Bhagat Singh saying — “Kabhi ham Aatankwadi ban jaate hain, Kabhi Krantikari ban jaate hain, bas kabhi Hindustani nahi ban paate”.

Around four or five years ago, I received this message on a WhatsApp group quoting Baba Saheb Ambedkar - “I will be the first person to burn this book of constitution if it is misused ever”. It sounded suspicious and I looked all over. I read all the works of Baba Saheb Ambedkar and realized that what he had said was something in completely different context, in a heated debate and deliberately and mischievously twisted by the WhatsApp sender. By any discretion, this cannot be used as his quote. While the RSS has been using this same fabricated statement whenever any government proposes any constitutional amendment which doesn’t bide well with their Hindutva agendas. Again, in Anubhav Sinha’s film the protagonist, an IPS brahman cop quotes the same WhatsApp forward with utter confidence—once again helping spreading an RSS lie to the public.

Activists like Bezwada Wilson have been fighting day and night to stop manual scavenging and to declare it illegal. RSS has been trying to malign him through all their dirty tricks. In the film, Article 15, the saviour, our hero sends Dalit sanitation workers back into the manholes where they belong after he promises them their safety just like the way RSS does. Because hey, if Dalits won’t do it then who else will?

The Savior of Dalits, our protagonist is a brahman IPS officer and he is free from all caste prejudices. Impossible! How do you become an IPS officer in this country? You prepare for the UPSC exam, clear the exam and then undergo a training at the NPA (National Police Academy). There, right from the coaching to the interview, lower caste category students face constant taunting for coming from the reservation quota by their upper caste fellow students, teachers and the examiners. Next level, inside the NPA the IPS cadets are told about the notified criminal tribes (According to the Indian Police) who are deemed of lower caste. How Anubha Sinha’s protagonist, an upper caste IPS officer be naively aloof of such knowledge is best left to Anubhav Sinha’s imagination. I am sure he would have heard of endless cases of dalit IPS/IAS officers attempting suicides.

When thousands of innocent Muslims are arrested in fake terrorist/violent cases, Mr. Sinha chooses to tell us a story of a North Indian family where one of the young boys has become a terrorist. The young boy was brainwashed through internet and WhatsApp forwards. Mr. Sinha, I don’t think you have any idea what kind of damage you have done here. Research and you will find that the rarest of rare Muslim youth in India have taken up arms. And that too after the pogroms of their families by various Hindutva outfits all sprouting from the RSS ideology. Your film blames everyone to an extent including his family but doesn’t talk about the real culprit, the biggest perpetrator of this ugly game; the Hindutva organisations, which have been playing a major role in ghettoizing and alienating the Muslims of India to force them to either live a miserable life or to take crime in hands.

Again, who speaks for the Indian Muslims in his film? A member of the Muslim family but she is an upper caste Hindu. She is a lawyer who deals in human rights but doesn’t know the difference between the manufactured fear of majority communalism and the genuine fear of minority communalism. Eventually she speaks the in the familiar false equivalence of the RSS’ language — “There are good and bad elements in both the communities, so let’s unite and live in peace and harmony”. Oh, please save us from these moral lessons.

I can carry on expanding this list of problematic instances in the works of Mr. Sinha. In Thappad, the woman victim (an upper class woman) is against alimony as she has self-respect so she doesn’t want anything from her husband. In Article 15, a dalit woman folds her hands to thank the valiant upper-caste savior Brahmin cop after he helps her. A cop takes a dig at Mayawati without realizing her contributions towards the Dalits etc. It is an endless exercise to compile such a list and eventually one gives up accepting that Mr. Sinha will always be the masked mediocre progressive filmmaker for those who pretend to be liberals.

Finally here is the crux: My dear liberal friends, it is great that you want to address these relevant issues but please educate yourselves to some small extent first on these topics. Try to understand the take of the oppressors and you shall see that extremist elements are the same. Don’t ignore them, otherwise you will end up repeating the same mistakes. Don’t end up being part of the problem. Don’t end up being another brick in the wall of oppression.

—The author has been writing for films and television in Mumbai since last 10 years. He hails from Ajmer, Rajasthan. His imdb profile is at https://www.imdb.com/name/nm7563714/