Quote of the week...please share your favourite line from Ayn Rand's writings

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Film Mohandas – An Angry Voice Against Injustice

‘Institutional crime’, ‘political corruption’, ‘impersonation’, ‘fraud’, are all words commonly heard, thrown about as they are in newspaper reports, news debates and sundry discussions about the country. We all know these crimes take place, and mostly we have learnt to accept them as part of our system. When we hear about them, we just shake our heads. There is either a sense of resignation or a sense of guilt, but we are not angry.

Mohandas is a film that is angry. No, it is not an intense drama with raised voices and passionate speeches, neither does it make sympathy seeking appeals on the viewer’s consciousness. It is, very simply, crisp storytelling that is quietly dedicated to presenting facts – the facts about the life of a conscientious man from a poor background, Mohandas, whose identity, and job, are stolen by a thug. It pulls you into his world, and the world of the few unknown people who are trying to fight the ironic battle of proving that he is himself. None of them are presented as caricatures, lamenting their bad lucks and cursing the world. In fact, they are all optimistic people who have their happy moments. They are hopeful because they cannot imagine how such a battle can ever be lost. The story keeps you pinned to your seat, as you are intrigued by these unusual circumstances, much like the journalist in this story who comes to a nondescript village to explore this case, and left guessing about what will eventually happen; at the same time, it progresses, relentlessly and unforgivingly, towards the answer you constantly dread.

Mohandas wins, and it is a happy moment. But it is temporary. It does not let him – or you – escape facts. Then his story plunges into a hard-hitting, bitter defeat, and that is permanent. The dark curtain finally drops, and you are left wondering if another end was even possible. If you are still doubtful, the director leaves you with a little note saying that the film is dedicated to the memory of three people – Safdar Hashmi, Satyendra Dubey and Manjunath. Safdar was bludgeoned to death while performing a street play, Halla Bol, in 1989. Satyendra Dubey, an IIT graduate, was murdered point blank in 2003 after he attempted to expose the contract mafia in an NHAI scam. Manjunath, a Sales Manager with Indian Oil Corporation was murdered on-the-job in 2005 while dealing with the petrol pump mafia.

The effect is complete.

After you leave the theater, it takes you a while to realize that the film did not make any attempt to fill you with a feeling of futility or pessimism. All it did was transport you into a world that you may have only seen from a distance – the world of living in a system where you have no recourse to justice. Ayn Rand spoke constantly about how imperative it is for a government to protect individual rights. She defined individual rights, the proper role of a government and the need of a system of justice to be inviolate. This film shows you the invisible walls that stifle a human life when the people running the machinery of a government makes a mockery of justice by aiding the violators of rights instead, or turning a blind eye towards the victims. It does not have to leave you pessimistic, but it certainly makes you feel that urgent need to do something.

We had a debate on optimism vs pessimism in our last Monthly Atlas meeting. This film is extremely pertinent to that. Whatever side of hope one chooses to adopt, it is important to be aware of the facts. Pessimism will still mean a capitulation to hopelessness, but let optimism be out of defiance rather than ignorance. Knowledge, no matter which direction it points, is always a value.

Click here to explore a blog dedicated to Manjunath, and here to find out about the Satyendra Dubey murder case. Here is a link to the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust.

1 comment:

  1. Not having seen Mohandas, the film, I can only say that Hindi films have thrived on the angry young men, who take on the unjust system, and deliver rough and ready justice. So perhaps Mohandas is a very well made film, in contrast to the usual caricature one is used to in staple fares from Bollywood.
    On the other hand, like many others I am appalled at the tragic circumstances in which Safdar Hashmi, Manjunath and Satyendra Dubey, lose their lives. But unlike many others, I am not really sure if these three, and many of those who identify with them, really recognise the nature of the ills to which these three fell victim to.
    The fact is that Hashmi wore his leftwing ideology proudly, and given half a chance, his fellow travelers are unlikely to display any particular level of tolerance as those who felled Hashmi. Manjunath was a victim of an impossible system of state control over petroleum prices, market and distribution, worse perpetuating price differentials that are natural magnets for the mafia. Dubey was a victim of a perverse system of state patronage in allocating government contracts.
    Howard Roark may have had to work in the mine, but he would not allow himself to get caught in such contradictions.