Jhenda ooncha rahe…
Ram Gopal Verma’s Sarkar and Sarkar Raj are broadly thought to be based on the life of Bal Thackeray. In large portions, the theme might be taken from episodes from the Sena tiger’s life but the intelligence and dexterity of managing politics that has characterised Amitabh Bachchan’s portrayal of Sarkar in the two films have never been Bal Thackeray’s forte.
Thackeray is an instinctive politician whose reactions have always been spontaneous rather than well-thought out. Moreover, he has thrived not on his programmes or issues of his making but on the mistakes of other parties (in large measure, the Congress). For example, the one and only time that the Shiv Sena came to power in Maharashtra in alliance with the BJP was in 1995, soon after the 1992 riots and the 1993 bomb blasts when people thought and believed that the Congress was playing far too many games and still remembered the protectionist campaign of Shiv Sainiks through those burning weeks.
If the Sena was unable to return in 1999, 2004 and 2009 again, it is because in these years, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, in alliance in Maharashtra, have largely done little wrong and Thackeray has found no gap in the fabric to tear it apart.
But the Shiv Sena’s massive defeat at both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections can be largely attributed to art — or at least politics posing as art. Just before the Lok Sabha polls, Raj Thackeray had helped to produce a film titled Mee Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy (I, Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale, speak), with Mahesh Manjrekar playing the title role, that was an indictment of the complacence and laid-back attitudes of Maharastrians. It portrayed, through film, the political point that Raj had been hammering at for months: that the Maharashtrian is content with just a table, khurchi ani pankha (a table, a chair and a fan). That he did not strive for much more and allowed others to walk all over him. The film exhorted Maharashtrians to become more combative in their own interest and, like Oliver, never stop asking for more
It released in Maharashtra’s cinemas just before the producers-multiplex imbroglio and so ran for weeks and weeks and had a great hand in influencing a large number of Maharashtrian youth who went right out and voted for Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Now the Shiv Sena has come out with its counter to that film – benami again, like Raj’s production of Chhatrapati, but with no kid gloves on this time. It appears to be a real-life account of the war between the two cousins – indeed, from the stills released so far, it is very difficult to spot the differences between the actors who play Raj and Uddhav and the original cousins.
Titled Jhenda (Flag), it seems to be a mixture of truth and exaggeration and some of the alleged falsehoods have already compelled the producer to make some cuts and changes and promise to re-release the film without the offending portions.
But while everyone — from Narayan Rane’s son to sundry Sena leaders — are objecting to their unfair portrayals, the one man it lampoons the most – Raj Thackeray – is uncharacteristically silent.
I haven’t seen Jhenda yet but I am told that there is a scene where Raj’s character dons a skullcap and attends an Iftaar party. I don’t know how true that portrayal is, for in all my years I at least have not seen Raj Thackeray in a skull cap at an Iftaar party. When Raj launched his MNS he did mean to be all inclusive and there are many Muslims in his party who are devoted to Bal Thackeray’s nephew. Yet they have all taken a so-called `mature’ decision not to agitate or protest.
It could be because Raj well realises that any protest will only help the film at the box office and more people will end up seeing his portrayal in an unflattering light than they would if he just gives it the royal ignore. But, a little bird tells me, Raj has also been cut down to size and is no longer sure what his protests will lead to.
At the constitution of the current Assembly in Maharashtra, he protested against Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Asim Azmi taking his oath in Hindi. That has led to another non-bailable warrant from a court in Madhya Pradesh (in addition to cases pending against him in courts in Bihar and Jharkhand, just transferred to Delhi by the Supreme Court)) and suddenly he has no Godfathers.
It is largely believed that the previous Congress government egged him on against the Shiv Sena but the Assembly elections proved that Raj was eating into even the Congress and the NCP voter base. So they have no reason to nurture a Frankenstein’s Monster. But it may also be true, as I have heard, that the Congress is also squeezing his business interests to gag him into submission. Moreover, he needs to keep is silence, again, to buy freedom for those of his MLAs who were suspended for four years from the Maharashtra Assembly for beating up Azmi for taking his oath in Hindi.
When I asked a top functionary in the government why those MLAs were not expelled outright, he said, “If we had done that, it would have led to by-elections and Raj Thackeray might have come back with a bang and got more arrogant. This is our version of suspended animation; he cannot now afford to create more trouble out of fear that there might be more action that will actually pinch.’’
Without the alleged protection offered by the previous government, I think Raj is now truly feeling that pinch. And the Sena is not far behind in hoisting him with his own petard and, in addition, hoisting its own flag — both the party standard and the celluloid variety.
But, still, I believe Chhatrapati …. was a far more intelligent film – for one, it needed no cuts, for another it touched a chord with Maharashtra’s youth — than Jhenda could ever be.