Letter to the Editor: Outlook

by vpundir | July 13th, 2001

Ref: Outlook Vol.XLI, no. 26 dated July 09, 2001

Apropos your cover story “Gadar: Riding High on Controversy”, I’ve got several objections. I’m listing them out for you, though I know you’re not going to publish my letter.

Collection Stats

Let me begin right at the beginning (where else?). I’m really disappointed with the collection stats shown in the box. Gadar collections are hugely under-depicted for the simple reason that the box shows only the first week’s earnings. The film was released on the 15th of June, while the issue was dated July 9. Surely you could have given more recent stats? As far as I know, Punjab has never seen such frenzied adulation for a movie – not even Border. I mean, at a lot of places, the average occupancy is over 130-140%. At some theaters they are running 6 screenings a day! Also, Gadar collections strengthened greatly in CI, Nizam and UK during the second and third weeks.

Cover Story

And yes, I definitely protest against the cover story title “Riding High on Controversy”. This title implies, not so clandestinely, that Gadar is becoming a hit due to the controversy shrouding it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Gadar was already a major hit when the protests began.

Box Office

“Till yesterday the film had been the quintessential box office underdog”. Says who? Definitely not the distributors who shelled out 2.75 crore per territory as against Lagaan’s more modest (“more realistic” according to the authors) 2.25 crore. Doesn’t the larger amount say something about the distributors’ belief in the film?

It’s true that Gadar was definitely an underdog in public perception, but that was only because of the momentous pre-release publicity blitzkrieg for Lagaan launched by Amir Khan. While Amir Khan took great pains to publicize his film through events, contests, personal appearances, high profile previews and PR campaign (read articles in newspapers and magazines), Zee did virtually zero PR for Gadar.

Trivia

The authors have even got their facts all mixed up. Yes, Dil was released on the same day as Ghayal. But Ghayal had pipped it to the post as far as collections are concerned. And Sunny had beaten Amir at Filmfare. Then Raja Hindustani was pitted against Ghatak (they were not released on the same day though), and again both were runaway hits. Raja Hindustani, however, was a much bigger hit than Ghatak. And of course, Amir then scored over Sunny at Filmfare.

Grays?

The authors lament “there’s no room for grays..” I’d categorize this as sheer ignorant audacity. After all, the villain goes through the entire gamut of shades – successful Indian businessman & loving father to Pakistani politician full of hatred and venom for India (because the partition’s aftermath had deprived him of his son, his daughter and all his worldly possessions) to a reformed father moved by his son-in-law’s love for his daughter. On his part, the hero is shown to be braying for Muslim blood in his very first appearance/ sequence in the film. The director has very ably shown that there were no culprits in the bloody aftermath of partition. The guy who can forgive and forget is the hero. The one who can’t is the villain. What more could anybody ask for?

Obviously, I won’t comment on the demolition man stuff. It seems that I’ve seen many more Arnie and Sly movies than the authors, to even begin to bother about that.

Communal (Anti-Islam)

The “conversion to Islam” sequence that a lot of so called moderates, including Shabana Azmi, have objected to, saying that it implies that “…any Muslim is automatically a Pakistani”, has nothing objectionable either. The qazi is happy to take the jat into Islamic fold. The mass finds nothing amiss. It is only Amrish Puri, a politician – who incidentally is shown to be villain – who undertakes the slogan campaign to work the jat up. Probably the “moderates” would next complain and protest against a Muslim being shown as a villain!

Anyway, in this same sequence, the hero lambastes the villain with “(Pakistan) se jyaada Musalmaan Hindustaan mein rehte hain, unke dil ki dhadkan hamesha yahi kehti hai – Hindustaan Jindabaad. To kya wo musalmaan nahi hai?” Now this, very specifically and categorically delineates religion from nation and politics. How can anybody complain that this film mixes communism with patriotism?

When asked to utter “Hindustaan Murdabad”, the hero says, “Apka Pakistan zindabaad ho hamein ismein koi etraaz nahi, par Hindustaan zindabaad tha, hai, aur rahega”. The director is very visibly glorifying the point of view that we shouldn’t be obsessed with Pakistan’s downfall, and should instead concern ourselves with our progress only. In fact the hero even chooses to say “Pakistan zindabaad”. Crass patriotism?

The authors say that Gadar is a cunningly made film as it is pitched against Pakistanis only. Would they have preferred it if the movie had spat venom against Indian Muslims?

And obviously there are other, even more ridiculous objections like the one on the choice of the leading lady’s name. What’s wrong with naming her Sakina, even if that is the name of the prophet’s great-granddaughter? What was wrong even if this were to be the name of the prophet’s mother for that matter? I mean, are there or are there not Muslim girls called Sakina? If it’s acceptable in real life, what’s the problem with having a Sakina, or Maria or Mohammed, or Mustafa on screen?

Problems with a Sikh driver marrying a rich Muslim kid? Cut to real life. Ever heard of Buta Singh? Or at least about the Gurdas Mann, Divya Dutta starrer Shaheed-e-Mohabbat Buta Singh?

Then again, where is the use of sindoor prohibited in Islam? Which part of Koran, Shariah or Hadith bans it? Isn’t it natural for a lady to follow the customs of her husband’s house, even if she continues to practice her own religion?
Come to think of it, Islam does explicitly prohibit idol-worship, and therefore the custom of mannat at mazaars should be “haraam” for Muslims. This custom is a totally Indian twist (shall I say adaptation?) to the religion and an example of how people rarely desert the cultural underpinnings hardwired into their neural system.

Hero

Another laughable aspect of the article is calling Sunny Deol histrionically challenged. Sunny is typecast, and is not in the same class as Amir, but he’s a national award winner. And hello, he’s given great performances time and again. Remember Ghayal, Damini, Ghatak, Jeet, Border, Arjun Pandit…?

Clash of the Titans

Another thing that I’m unable to understand is: why is everybody comparing Gadar and Lagaan as if they are some sort of ‘firsts’? Gadar is about the courage to stand alone. So was Ghulam. Lagaan is about the strength of unity. So was Zor. Gadar is about love in the times of war. So was QSQT or Sanam Bewafa. Lagaan is about the irrepressible human spirit. So was Vijeta. Big deal!

While on it, I’d like to say that Lagaan is an exceptionally beautiful movie. But there’s something clinical and antiseptic about it. Gadar has an earthy, and hence more realistic, feel.

Join the issue

I don’t think that Bal Thakery’s statement about the “Pakistan Zindabad” scene is true. But if it is, his anguish is understandable. Your preference of a cricket team definitely doesn’t depict your loyalty to a country (and Mr.Thakery was definitely erring when he endorsed the original Tebbit test). But here, we’re directly talking about two (proxy) warring nations. If this doesn’t say which side you are on, I’m sorry that I fail to understand, what does? The authors needn’t have been cynical about Mr.Thakery’s statement.

Timing

There are also some voices saying that the timing could have been better, in view of the Vajpayee-Musharraf summit. What can the producer do, if the government decides to do a volte-face on the eve of his film’s release? Just why should he delay it to conform to the official policy?

But that’s beside the point. The fact is, there couldn’t have been a more opportune time to release the film. This is the time we must remind ourselves what caused the partition and what followed it. This is the time to learn from the past and pledge not to repeat the mistakes. Most of the younger people are ignorant about the partition aftermath and as a result don’t feel the pain and anger. That’s probably why Gadar crowd at PVR is of the elderly variety while the youngsters prefer the slickly made Lagaan (and that’s probably why Gadar is such a major draw in Punjab which is at the border).

These people find the events too gory and unrealistic to identify with them. They have started finding the Kashmir struggle a waste of time, and think that options like freezing the LOC into international border (as suggested by Outlook) can be possible solutions. These people have to be told that partition was also supposed to buy peace. Just look at what it has led to.

Basically, Pakistan has now shown that it isn’t particularly trustworthy. There’s no guarantee that upon getting an immediate benefit, it will honor a commitment stretching into the future. Also, we must keep in mind that our problems won’t end even if we make Kashmir an independent state. We must have the perspective right before thinking about any solution. This film is definitely a help, as it reminds us of some long-forgotten and some perennially-ignored facts.

The Last Word

Gadar is essentially a “prem katha”…though of the Sunny Deol variety. The story is oft-repeated – a love marriage out of your class and religion, and the ensuing family pressures, and how, finally, the families bow before the lovers’ grit. The director has just changed the background and suitably adapted the script. That’s all there’s to it and I wish that people won’t draw inferences that lie outside ambit of logic. Yes, Gadar has its flaws, but all this hoo-ha seems to be unjustified and motivated.

Frankly, I don’t think that Namrata and Manu have even seen the film (due to the long lines at the booking counters, or otherwise). And this makes me seriously doubt their journalistic credentials.

The original article “Gadar: Riding High on Controvercy” is now available at: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20010709&fname=Gadar+%28F%29&sid=1&pn=1 It is also presented below:


Hot Cake Aesthetics

Beginning as a box-office underdog, ‘Gadar’, because of its jingoistic idiom, has appealed to the prevailing mood and become a super-duper hit

NAMRATA JOSHI

One just needs to stand outside a cinema hall to gauge the success of a film. Houseful boards, the throng of families trying to jostle their way in, long booking-counter queues and manic scalpers offering to get you the best of seats in the balcony—scenes of a filmi frenzy that you thought had gone out of fashion. The euphoria is palpable, in fact, it only gets magnified once the reels unspool in the 70 mm darkness. “Baap baap hota hai, beta beta hota hai… Beta baap se nikalta hai…Hindustan Pakistan ka baap hai…” The hero’s comic sidekick thunders these brazen lines. The audience reciprocates with cheeky wolf-whistles, deafening claps, loud catcalls and roars of approval. Welcome to Gadar—Ek Prem Katha, the millennium’s superhit clarion call to patriotism.

Till yesterday the film had been the quintessential box office underdog. Gadar’s Rs 18-crore flashback to the Partition got somewhat dwarfed by the Rs 25-crore epic sweep of Lagaan’s cricket at Champaner. Uttam Singh’s tepid music provided no competition to A.R. Rahman’s inspired compositions. Worse, Sunny Deol’s fading charisma couldn’t stand up to the media blitz unleashed by a savvy Aamir Khan. What’s more, Gadar was sold at about Rs 2.75 crore per territory to Lagaan’s more reasonable average of Rs 2.25 crore.

But after almost two weeks, Gadar seems to have a clear edge at the box office (see infobox). While it’s early days yet to club them with the all-time blockbusters, the films have all the makings of one, having connected with the audience in a way that Kaho Na Pyaar Hai did one-and-a-half years ago. The other semi-hits of the year, Jodi No. 1 and Mujhe Kuch Kehna Hai, have overnight become as stale as yesterday’s leftovers.

They’re calling Lagaan “lambi race ka ghoda (the long-distance runner)”, but it’s the success of Gadar—kept in the headlines by a controversy that’s still unspooling—that’s the surprise. While the media and the filmdom itself has fallen hopelessly in love with Lagaan, it’s Gadar that seems to be emerging as the distributors’ favourite. Outlook talked to the well-known trade analysts and the verdict has been unanimous: it’s a close duel in which Gadar could become the bigger blockbuster.

The trivia-gatherers have a little nugget to offer on this much-celebrated match. Aamir and Sunny have had two similar outings together. First time it was a case of Aamir’s Dil pitted against Sunny’s Ghayal. Then Raja Hindustani crossed swords with Ghatak. While Aamir had been ahead in the earlier bouts, this time it’s Sunny who has taken the lead. In fact, Gadar might be Sunny’s biggest hit till date, bigger than Border and Ghayal.

To be fair, Lagaan’s slightly lower collections are also because it has only three shows a day as against Gadar’s four and the timings of the shows are also proving to be a bit inconvenient for the viewers. Nonetheless, Gadar’s success in some pockets has been unbelievable. In Nizam, Hyderabad, a Muslim-dominated area, the film had a remote chance of making it, so the run began with a mere 10 prints on Friday. However, by Monday, the prints had to be upped to 12 and by Thursday 14 prints were in circulation. “In Punjab the occupancy has been 140 per cent with the theatre owners putting up extra seats and sofas to accommodate the overflow,” says Amod Mehra, a trade analyst. “It’s creating havoc, going over-capacity in East Punjab territory,” says Komal Nahata, editor of Film Information. According to Taran Adarsh of Trade Guide, in Punjab Gadar is set to surpass the run of the biggest hit Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.

While Gadar has set north India afire, Lagaan has hooked the spectators in the west and the south. In upmarket halls like Delhi’s PVR Anupam and Priya, the clash of audiences is not so pronounced. Both are faring equally well with the young people going in for Lagaan and the older lot preferring Gadar. The overseas market is more Lagaan-inclined while Gadar’s hold has been very pronounced in the small towns. Bareilly is a classic instance. According to Trade Guide, Lagaan could log in only 40 per cent collection here to Gadar’s 84 per cent. Similarly, in Bhilai Lagaan mustered 62 per cent collection while Gadar lined 99 per cent. “Lagaan is the film of the gentry, Gadar is for the masses,” says Mehra. “Lagaan is working better in the A grade centres while Gadar is faring better in B/C class cities,” says Nahata. According to Mehra, in the long run, Gadar is likely to rake in about Rs 7-8 crore from each of the five major territories in the country with Lagaan making about Rs 5-6 crore. Incidentally, HAHK has the record of raking in the most moolah with an awesome Rs 50 crore in earnings.

So what’s the fuss all about? While Lagaan’s cinematic quality shines through, the peculiar tug of Gadar is slightly difficult to reconcile with given the fact that it is one of the most aesthetically challenged films of recent times starring a histrionically challenged hero. But Bollywood, like its movies, has easy explanations for its success stories. “It’s the action climax which has clicked. After a long while we don’t just have gunfights and car chases but raw fist fights,” says Mehra. “It’s the content and the massive scale of the film,” explains producer Nitin Keni of Zee Telefilms, the moving force behind Gadar. “Maine Pyar Kiya brought in a barrage of love stories, with HAHK came the family films, with KKHH youth became the flavour of the day. Gadar has brought in a new story and a new way of story-telling,” says Adarsh. This novelty, however, is less about stirring the dormant imagination than about appealing to the collective gut which is currently obsessed with the national (read communal) counterpart. Says Vinod Mirani of Box Office: “It has appealed to people’s mood. Our guy just picks up his girl from under their noses and scores over the Pakistanis.”

At the outset, what wins the day for Gadar is a potent packaging of mush and jingoism masquerading as patriotism. The first half of the film is nothing more than a soft-focus romance between a rough and tough but good-at-heart and musically-inclined truck driver and the coy, beautiful, vulnerable and waif-like Ms Goody-Two-Shoes heroine, who also happens to be a rich Muslim—a token coming together of two communities in strife-ridden times. Never mind the obvious lack of chemistry between Sunny and Amisha Patel (who looks young enough to be his daughter), the relationship is too cloyingly sweet, pretty and ponderous to hold the viewer’s interest, its ostensible political correctness notwithstanding.

What ignites the viewers is the second half, a lethal brand of nationalism built on hatred and a patriotism in the form of unbridled violence—not just physical but linguistic as well. Gadar is a cunningly manufactured film. One which desists from saying anything negative about the Indian Muslims. Instead, the battle is pitched against the Muslims on the other side of the line. “The common Indian Muslims are taking to it because the Muslim girl is protected by the Sikh and he is even willing to convert to Islam,” says Mehra.

Perhaps that’s the reason why the protests against the film appear to be so misplaced. Clearly, the protesters are holding the wrong end of the stick here. The umbrage at the heroine being called Sakina and objecting to the scene where she offers namaaz while wearing sindoor is too facile and lends further credence and legitimacy to Gadar’s jingoistic game. “When a film is successful everyone wants to use it to their advantage,” says Keni. Latest to jump into the fray is Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray himself. In a report carried in the party mouthpiece Saamna, he gave a clean chit to Gadar finding nothing provocative in it. He said the protesters (from their organisational mirror image, Ali Sena) “should be kicked out of the country”. He further wrote that when the protagonist is forced to say “Pakistan zindabad”, a section of Muslims in the audience applauded—his version of the Tebbit test which he has employed in the field of cricket earlier.

Fact is the protests are working in the film’s favour. Its success is a shot in the arm of the new, emerging genre of patriotic films that play on the animus against Pakistan. From the stodgy and cardboard Bharat of Manoj Kumar to the panoramic and pretty 1942, A Love Story, Roja and Bombay, patriotism has now moved on to represent a duel between “them” and “us”. Border, Pukaar and Sarfarosh played on the same sentiments, but while their messages were reluctantly concealed, with Gadar the anti-Pakistan rhetoric gets a blatant new idiom that strikes an immediate chord with the masses. Sample some gems: “Hindustaniyon, kaatna humse seekho,” says one rioter. “Kis Pakistan ki baat kar rahe ho. Agar humne tumhe 65 crore rupaye nahin diye hote to tumhare sar par tripal nahin dalti,” roars the hero.

According to film critic Deepa Gahlot, jingoistic tendencies started creeping into Hindi films “when terrorism raised its violent head”. “The horrors of cruel and random killing of innocents needed to be presented in a manner that would serve to console a disturbed national psyche. And that meant the home side always had to triumph and cause the other side maximum damage,” she writes.

There’s no room for shades of grey, the portrayals are completely black or white. Pakistanis are villains and traitors, a Pakistani woman seems to know nothing more than producing a huge brood of kids. And our hero is the quintessential Indian, one who has forgotten the hatred for “them” and moved on. He never initiates violence but is forced to retaliate when provoked by the enemies. He is willing to embrace Islam, say ‘Islam zindabad’, even ‘Pakistan zindabad’ but when they coerce him to say ‘Hindustan murdabad’, he can’t help but uproot the nearest hand-pump and turn into a demolition man, an act that’s sure to give Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone an inferiority complex.

“The film exploits hatred commercially. It does not have any element of courtesy,” says film critic Shreesh Mishra. While defending the right for Gadar to be screened, actress and MP Shabana Azmi says she found it provocative. “It subliminally reinforces the canard that any Muslim is automatically a Pakistani. It confuses issues of nationalism, religion and identities,” she says. Keni feels that Gadar doesn’t take any potshots at Pakistan or at Muslims. “It’s pro-India. Can’t I say Hindustan zindabad in my own country? We have been far too defensive about this for far too long,” he says.

At a time when President Pervez Musharraf comes calling, Gadar shows that the ghosts of Partition have still not been laid to rest. They continue to haunt us in new shapes and forms.

First Week’s Collection

Territory Gadar Lagaan
(28 shows) (21 Shows)
Bombay Circuit Rs. 2 cr 1.75 cr
Delhi-U.P. Rs. 2.25 cr 1.50 cr
East Punjab Super Hit Hit
C.P. Berar
(parts of MP & Maharashtra)
Rs. 1 crore 60 Lakh
C.I. Rs. 20 Lakh 25 Lakh
Rajasthan Rs. 50 lakh 30 Lakh
Nizam Rs. 40 lakh 50 Lakh
US Rs. 90 lakh 1.5 cr
UK Rs. 50 lakh 1 cr

*Approximate figures, Source: Trade journals

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