Hussain, Forgive Us…

June 9, 2011 at 9:15 AMJun (Activism, Friends, Media, Musings, Soliloquy)

As I was trying to recover from my ill-health, lying on the bed, my cell blinked indicating that I had received a message. I open it to read, “M.F. Hussain passed away.” Though it was a shock, it was a shock only for a split second. Soon I remembered that he was already 95 and we could have heard this news anytime. But that knowledge did not dilute the sense of loss. But what troubled me more was a sense of shame. Yes, the death of Maqbool Fida Hussain has left us enough reason to feel ashamed other than feeling blue about the vacuum his departure has left behind.

Almost fifteen months ago a moving report in The Hindu by N. Ram broke the news of M.F. Hussain being conferred with Qatar citizenship. It was already 4 years, then, since he was on a self imposed exile. In his report N. Ram had said that it was a sad day for India. Indeed it was a sad day for India and also a shameful one. This day of his departure too becomes shameful because we couldn’t keep him in India or bring him back to India, which he said he missed terribly even after he surrendered his Indian citizenship, and he had to breathe his last in London being a citizen of Qatar.

He went on a self imposed exile following several cases being filed against him in 2006 for having “hurt the sentiments of Hindu community by painting nude paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses.” Prior to this his paintings were attacked and his house too. The most absurd of all was his controversial painting of mother India being painted nude. This painting done in the 70s became a controversial issue only after decades. Few months ago I heard a young student asking a noted journalist about this controversial painting. It was evident from her tone that she was offended by the very idea of mother India being portrayed nude.

Several attacks by the Hindu fundamentalist groups pushed him to a self imposed exile in 2006. Later in the year 2010 Qatar “honored” him with Qatar citizenship. After almost a year and a half now he breathed his last in London. For all the attacks, for having made him to apologize, unnecessarily, for his paintings, for having pushed him to a self imposed exile, for having pushed him to surrender his Indian citizenship and for having made him breathe his last in an alien land, we Indians are to be ashamed.

It is not absurd by farce that Hindu fundamentalists have been targeting Maqbool Fida Hussain because as it is known to all of us that the religious art of this country has portrayed nude and semi nude paintings and sculptures for ages. Though M.F. Hussain kept saying the same and reminding the saviors of the great Indian culture about the same, nobody listened to him. In an interview to Sahar Zaman the artist spoke of his painting ‘the birth of Buddha’ where what we see is few women carrying an eye shaped palanquin with an elephant seated inside. He says, “When Buddha’s mother conceived Buddha she dreamt that she has conceived an elephant.” How many proud of the great Indians culture, heritage and history and saviours of Indian culture are aware of such minute details which are a part of the great Indian culture? It’s such an artist who happens to be one of the founder members of the Progressive Artist’s Group who was not just attacked by also made to apologize to highly regressive fundamentalist groups.

When the great theater artist and activist Safdar Hashmi was brutally murdered in broad daylight while he was performing a street play, M.F. Hussain condemned the murder and did a painting of Safdar’s death and the attack on the freedom of speech, creativity and expression. It was this painting of his which appeared before my mind’s eye the moment I heard about the death of M.F. Hussain because his death has left not only a vacuum behind him but also several questions regarding art, creativity and freedom of expression. It’s only by raising these questions and by answering them that we will be honoring the great artist and also, to an extent, cleansing the sin our nation committed by traumatizing the great artist. His painting on Safdar did raise these questions and now we need to raise these questions.

Maqbool Fida Hussain, forgive us. I know you will because there is a common connecting factor i.e. India, the country which you loved with all your heart.

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Song Of The Broad Highway

June 3, 2011 at 9:15 PMJun (Cinema, Media, Music, Musings)

Road has been a great metaphor in the world of art and literature for progress, for journey, for future and also for development. Using the metaphor of road B. Suresh has critiqued the idea of development through his new film Puttakka’na Highway.

The film begins with the shot of the protagonist Puttakka walking in the middle of the road and later in the film in a scene we see she being asked not to walk on the road, to which she bends after expressing her anger in a few words. The film ends with Puttakka walking on a mud path, with her daughter and her friend cum neighbor, after having a close look of the fly-over. These three scenes in a way sums up one of the main aspects that the film deals with i.e. how the idea of development excludes a certain section of the society. But the film has more than this to say and it says with clarity and with the heart in the right place.

Through the life of Puttakka we see how an entire village is first forced to migrate to an alien soil due to the construction of the modern temples i.e. dam. The villagers settle down in a village called Bisalahalli and start their lives from scratch but soon find their lives being destabilized yet again for the construction of a highway this time which will cut through their village.

At this point, where the highway is about to run over the village and the lives of the villagers we see some villagers like Mada who see the road as a hope for a better livelihood and we also see others giving away their land for huge compensation money they are promised. But some like Puttakka chose to fight only to lose the battle.

But in this battle we see the politics of the village and aspiring politicians coming into play, the connection between the local politicians and the power centre and also as to how the power of money can change the course of the road to save their own land and livelihood. The weak finally make way for the idea of development to cut through their lives and reduce them to lesser humans divorced from their land and life. A villager becomes a worker at the construction site; a ritual artist becomes a security guard, helplessly accepting their inability to fight against the mighty state and capital. The ones who dreamt of constructing lives beside the construction of the road by establishing find themselves at a loss, in the end of the film and those who gave away their lands for compensation migrate to the city in search of a job there once the compensation money flows out of their hands. Thus we see that in the end the mighty road (read development) has crushed all the lives on which it has slept.

We also see that the driver of the bulldozer is from an alien soil and so is the vegetable vendor in the city. This speaks of several other major development projects in some other part of the world which has displaced them who now in search of livelihood have reached here.

The ones who move out of their families in search of livelihood, to fulfill their needs make way for shady business beside the road and underneath the fly-over. The director without making these physical needs appear devilish looks at it within the larger frame work and handles with sensitivity.

What development does is not just displacing people from their soil, their life and their language but also displaces the non-human lives also. This is brilliantly captured in the film by the cinematographer H.M. Ramachandra. The snail slowly crawling on the road, with a truck nearing it gives a clear picture of what awaits. Its not just humans and animals which gets displaced but the very place gets displaced. In one of the most moving scenes in the film we see the protagonist returning to her village, after having made futile attempts to meet the CM, and fails to recognize her own village which, after the construction of the highway, has changed drastically. The idea of development also displaces places.

We also see the power structure at the bottom level of the society where Maada is quite violent to his wife in words and at times in action too. This violence running paralelly with the violence of the state and capital makes a sbtle comment as to how the idea of development is quite masculine.

The insensitivity of media also gets a mention in the film like the insensitivity of the larger middle class whose notion of development is restricted to good roads and tall buildings. The film while giving space for their voice raises a voice against such an idea of development.

In the final scene of the film we see Puttakka who raised her voice against the construction of the road turning complete mute. We see her daughter having turned into a prostitute. As much as her silence (or being silenced) disturbs us what moves us is the most moving act of Puttakka embracing her daughter without any reaction on finding her getting into prostitution. Puttakka now knows what development can push on to. She not just knows but also understands. The director too knows and understands and that is why the film appeals.

It would have surely appealed more if for a restrained and restricted use of music. The music tried to underline the visuals too loudly when the same images could have come out more powerfully without any music, in silence. There is music in the images captured by H.M. Ramachandra and hence the director could have used minimal music making the images more intense. But still the film succeeds in making valid points and raising valid questions, the main being- development at what cost?

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