Kamlu is delighted after watching the film Sanju. I ask why. Gulping a cocktail of drugs, a ganja chillum in one hand and wine glass laced with cough syrup in another, Baba Kamlu begins his sermon.
“Bollywood is soul searching. It’s going deep within itself,” he declares after his first drag. “So far it only sourced stars from inside the industry, now the incest will extend to stories as well. Did you know they are planning a sequel to Sanju called…”
“Never mind the sequel,” I interject, “I am the screenwriter here and I get to choose if I have a problem with incestuous scripts. And your objections don’t count. Even in places like Chennai that doesn’t watch too many Hindi films, it’s been getting standing ovations. Sanju’s a big hit.”
“Oh that’s because every teen, man, man-child, druggie-man-child is dragging his girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, partner to theatre screaming; ‘it’s my story, it’s my story. I am a misunderstood man like Sanju.”
“Hain?” I have lost Kamlu completely.
“Sanju is the ultimate couples fantasy film. Both men and women can relate to it. Indeed so good it is they should have released it around Valentine’s day. Would have made more money.”
“Think about it. The dude Sanju is the perfect asshole. He f***s and dumps his women faster than women can change their lipsticks. But the writers make you feel sorry for him, not the women. He even sleeps with his best friend’s girlfriend and the friend forgives him in a jiffy. It is…”
“I disagree. The women in the film are strong, like the characters of Dia Mirza and Anushka Sharma.”
“Exactly my point. One opposes the man but her resistance breaks before his innocence. And the other one, what is her strength? Defence of her man? The worst is Sonam Kapoor’s character. She could have simply left angry after the toilet seat humiliation. But no. The writers had to defend their moron of a hero. The girl not only instantaneously forgives him, she protects him. It is like a Sooraj Barjatya film for assholes: everyone loves our hero and the only real villain is misunderstanding. Do you see the strength of any woman in the film not directed to protect this retard?”
“Hey retard is a bad term,” I protest.
“So are misogyny, male-chauvinism, sexism and bigotry, especially when you spend millions to promote it. Sanju is every man’s fantasy come true. He can go around doing whatever he wants but back home he would expect to be treated like a misunderstood genius. And what is his genius? Being a perfect asshole,” he says and claps.
“Fine. You might have a misunderstood point there,” I concede before Kamlu. “But women have also loved the movie in large numbers, and not just the ones being dragged by their men.”
“Sanju is for women what Harry Potter is for kids.”
“What was Harry Potter for kids?”
“An escape from truth, reality… It was their ultimate fantasy.”
“That does not compare to Sanju and how it relates to women.”
“Didn’t you read the UN report about India being as bad for women as Syria and Afghanistan? Whether you believe it or not, go talk to women and see if you can find a single one who hasn’t been sexually molested in some way or another.”
“We are talking about Sanju, not the #MeToo movement,” I remind him.
“Fine. What I want to say is India is sick for women. Even educated women have it terrible. Patriarchy is a vicious toilet seat around the necks of women that few, if any, are able to remove. Even the most successful ones are made to feel guilty about their success at the family’s expense.”
“You are beating about the bush.”
“So, if you cannot escape something what do you do? You justify. You decorate your cage with the brightest trinkets, do your best to make your prison-stay comfortable. And there has never been a better justification for women staying with abusive, misogynist and terrible men than Sanju. Why, the character of Dia Mirza happily approves of the 350 women he has slept with and when Sanju tries to serenade Anushka, tells her he means no harm. Means no harm? What the crap?”
“But these are not what the film is talking about it is…
“Isn’t art about understanding what is not said, delving into our subconscious and pointing out the unstated truth? Like people, movies too have a huge, rarely noticed subconscious.”
“Yes. I mean no. I mean the films universe was about Sanjay Dutt being a terrorist? Whether he was one or not?”
“Who cares? I mean you’re living in a country where people are being lynched for the dumbest of reasons. People – always minorities; Muslims, Sikhs, Christians - have been killed in thousands over the decades, yet absurdly it is the majority who feel unsafe. Who cares whether a film star had a few guns?”
“Poor Sanju. He went to prison for no crime.”
“There are thousands upon thousands, lakhs perhaps, of under trials rotting in prison for longer and lesser crimes than his. Perhaps his sentence was unjust. But why add to the injustice of the whole issue by refusing to talk about what led to him keeping the guns?”
“They did talk about it. It was to keep his family safe.”
“Safe from who? Who went on a rampage in 1984 Delhi, or 1991-92 in Bombay, or 2002 in Gujarat. They could have dwelt on the fear factor a half-Muslim like him feels. And in knowing that, perhaps people would have known the fear full-Muslims face in India today? But what do the filmmakers do instead? They pander to cheap melodrama like as saas-bahu soap. And that scene with the Hindu don? Metaphorical take on him standing up to the Sanghis? Really? Because in real life he bowed incessantly before Hindutva outfits. So much that the same Sanjay Dutt who used to roam around as a cool Muslim youth, now has become a pakka Hindu with red vermilion on his forehead. What changed him? Isn’t that a better story?”
I am silent. Kamlu is high. And you can’t pull down people who are that high.
“Crackheads can make the strangest stories, justify their weirdest actions with the most innocent of emotions. Never believe a crackhead. The makers of Sanju did and made a regressive film that thrashes all their previous good work. They will rest happy with their clever manipulation, the money and the great performances but will never realise they are making the world a worse place than it already is.”
My Kamlu is getting too serious. I need to divert him. “Okay tell me about the Sanju sequel.”
He claps in delight. “It’s called Sallu – the biopic of another misunderstood star – Salman Khan. The tagline would be ‘No one drove the car’ or ‘blame it on Herbie’. The Joshi-Hirani-Chopra trio are already at work on it.” “Really?,” I ask innocently.
“Ha ha ha…,” he laughs, “didn’t I just tell you never to believe a crackhead.”
I slap my forehead.
(Satyen K Bordoloi is a writer based in Mumbai. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)Read more by Satyen K Bordoloi: