Mayank Shekhar | Last Modified - Oct 24, 2012, 09:22 PM IST
Falling in line for attendance at an armed Maoist camp, Kabir (Abhay Deol, outstanding and under-stated), the new recruit, realises his comrades can’t even count beyond 20. After going from 1 to 20, they start counting from 1 again. For a lot which is this uneducated, Kabir rightly wonders, how much of communism – Mao, Lenin or Marx – are they likely to have learnt about, understood, to take up guns, and give up their lives for. Education, like development, you can tell, is both the problem and the solution. The pistol will always be a problem.
We’re located in the forests of Chhattisgarh that have remained off the Indian map, despite six and half decades of independence. The citizen is the enemy of the state in these parts, where the government unleashes police and army against its own. Locals, mostly tribal populations, sympathise with militant guerrilla groups. One Rajan (Manoj Bajpayee, delivering a remarkably subtle performance) heads one of these outfits. Kabir’s best friend Adil (Arjun Rampal, who’s come a long way as an actor) is posted as superintendent of police in this area, where health facilities are negligible, and cops live in perpetual fear: If Naxal's bullets won’t get them, malaria would.
Kabir joins Maoist militants as unofficial informer for Adil. Clearly, he is courting serious dangers. You can imagine someone raising their neck to save their best-friend’s. But a regular fellow, who sells or makes cellphones for a living, risking the cop's gun and third degree torture first, and then jumping into the jungle to possibly face similar treatment from ruthless Naxalites thereafter, sounds a bit ridiculous.
Kabir could’ve been a cop himself. He’d walked out of the training academy. He is mercurial by nature. Adil is married to a police officer as well (senselessly cast Esha Gupta: we don’t know if she’s plays a ‘model cop’; she certainly looks more like a model than a cop). The three characters are best buddies. In the process of helping his friend out, Kabir turns into an active sympathiser of the Maoist cause and turns against the state. Adil sees this as terrible betrayal. Audiences could see in this premise, glimpses of the Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan starrer Namak Haraam (1973).
But this is, in fact, a rare, full-on mainstream Hindi film, sometimes bordering on the hyperbole, that looks very closely at the issue of India’s Naxalite problem: “The single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country” (in Manmohan Singh’s precious words, not mine). The scenes are inspired by events currently shaping the nation. Names in the movie seem to spring up from news headlines –Nandigarh (the district we’re in) for Nandigram; the industrial house Mahanta that sounds like Vedanta; the communist intellectual Govind Suryavanshi (Om Puri), who could be Kobad Ghandy... You’re not surprised. The film is directed by Prakash Jha (GangaaJal, Apaharan, Rajneeti), by far the most politically inclined of India’s popular filmmakers.
Bollywood, like any other, is a Right Wing industry. While Jha’s account is reasonably balanced, the ideology of the film tilts more to the Left. Though unlike Aarakshan, this is much less a talkie and far more a pacy drama. It delves briefly into extortionist tendencies and megalomania within Maoist ranks, it adequately exposes the crony capitalism and corruption among politicians and industrialists who act on behalf of the Indian state.
As usual, the land, rich in minerals, is at stake. There is yet no clear-cut right or wrong, black or white, for a larger theme. As an audience, you don’t see Kabir as the hero. You realise, the state must have monopoly over violence; its excesses can be more easily controlled than that of “non-state actors”. Adil is not the hero either. Surely one can’t ignore or exploit millions of people over years and wake up only when they turn into rogue terrorists. Both the lead characters are correct and conscientious in their own ways. Circumstances separate the two. The issues remain as complex as they are.
This intellectual honesty is the film’s finest achievement. For most parts, the director ensures the audiences engage with a masala, action thriller – packed with the sound and fury of guns and bombs. This doesn’t force him to dumb down thought as well. The film – informative and entertaining at the same time – ends up reflecting the world we live in. These are the sort of Bollywood films that continue to document our times, and therefore survive much beyond their opening weekend