After having listened to Gaston Roberge say that there is something about the popular films which is in tune with the collective cultural unconscious of this nation which makes the public accept them though a lot appears illogical [as the heart has a reason which reason does not understand], I was preoccupied with that thought. I could see some point in it because I too have been a fan of popular cinema.
With those thoughts [and other thoughts] I boarded the train to Bangalore where I was sharing the compartment with three Hare Ram Hare Krishna devotees! I was recollecting my conversation with Sir and was thinking about popular culture.
One of the things that I always kept wondering, in spite of my great love for Hindi film songs, as to how could twenty strangers suddenly pop up from nowhere and dance along with the hero and heroine when they would be singing to each other about a private emotion!! This question came back to me. And may be because of the presence of Hare Ram Hare Krishna people my unconscious connected some dots and I felt that the Indian psyche somehow had accepted these strangers dancing with the hero and heroine in their expression of love because it is a reminder of the raas-leela from the mythology where the whole of the village dances around Krishna and Radha. [I am referring to the two not as religious figures but as mythological figures.] So to the Indian psyche Krishna and Radha are like Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha etc. and in their expression of love through dance there is a presence of the villagers who also dance with the lovers. So in Indian cinema when love is in the air suddenly from nowhere 20 dancers descend and dance knowing the steps very well. And Indian audience accepts it because, I guess, in the collective cultural unconscious, it somewhere reminds them of the raas-leela!
With that thought dawning I suddenly felt that Salman Khan could actually be playing the Krishna archetype, like SRK is a Rama archetype. So then I started recollecting KICK, the latest of Salman films which I had watched.
The film begins with the scene of Salman driving a weird vehicle – something like an auto- with a to be married couple and the heroine [bride’s friend] to the shaadi ka mantap as the bride’s parents are chasing them [obviously they dont want the marriage to happen]. He is playing the saarathi here. And as the film unfolds we see Salman, like most of his film, is a very playful character which is a quintessential Krishna quality during his Gokula days. In one of the songs we see Salman bending and biting the short skirt of the heroine [yeah… that is a step in the dance] I was wondering if the public, with its newly gained feminist sensitivity and political correctness would accept the same if it were someone other than Salman. Probably no [correct me if I am wrong]. Because Salman in the past few years has been playing this Krishna archetype it is kind of okay with us. Krishna also used to steal/ hide the clothes of women who were bathing in the river and we find it “oh-so-cute.” So Salman as the commercial Krishna archetype gets away with it even in our newly found political correctness and feminist sensitivity.
The playful Salman almost during the interval changes the gear and leaves behind his playfulness and wages a war against the system to correct something which has gone wrong. It is like Krishna leaving his flute behind in Gokula and taking up the conch [blown to mark the beginning and closing of the day at the war field] as he moves to Mathura. The playfulness of Krishna becomes quite strategic as he master plans the war for justice [dharma yuddha]. Salman in the film also becomes a strategist and does illegal stuff to restore justice. This illegal method becomes accepted to the Indian psyche because Kurukshetra was a WAR for restoration of justice and Krishna was master planning it “dharma samstaapanaarthaaya” [for the restoration of dharma] Probably because we are okay with war for justice so we are okay with illegal methods to restore justice also! To kill the Kauravas you need to play their way! So its okay! – that is how the Indian mind thinks, I suppose, and hence Salman Khan’s path in Kick becomes acceptable and no objection is raised.
Partially a Robin Hood kind of character but Salman is playing more of Krishna than Robin Hood as this playful man who wages a war against the system to restore justice and in this process leaves behind his playfulness and becomes a strategist who master plans the war and wins it too.
So Kick and Salman works for the Indian mind because the Indian mind if familiar, unconsciously, with the Krishna archetype and Salman and Kick plays to it.
[I thank my friends Pallavi Rao and Shireen Azam and my Sir Ashwini Malik who patiently heard my loud thinking of Salman Khan as the Krishna archetype, which I narrated to them passionately even while being skeptical of making any sense in what I was uttering and if I was stretching it too far.]
It is the centenary year of World War I.
While speaking of wars and geopolitics, history hardly speaks of the small actors. Foot-soldiers are not even a footnote in the recorded history.
David Omissi has compiled and edited a collection of letters written by the Indian soldiers in World War I to their families in India. While speaking of the letters written by soldiers from India one cannot help but wonder, how did the illiterates communicate with their families? How did the ones whose mother tongue did not have a script write to their families?
What I try to record here, however, is not just the story of the struggle of the soldiers to communicate. This story is also about the ripples such a situation created. This story is around the letters that an Indian soldier wrote to his family in Jharkhand from the fields of World War I.
While researching for a creative work I came across an advocate in Khunti [Jharkhand]. When asked if he was the first generation literate from his family, Dhanik belonging to the Munda tribe said, “No. Second.” Pausing for a while he said, “In fact you can say third.” When asked to explain “you can say,” Dhanik, knowing the focus of the research- formal education and the tribals- said, “But my grandfather did not go to school.” Not wanting to lose focus of the research I asked Dhanik how his father’s family, which he said lived in a remote tribal village, realize the importance of education and send his father to the school. The questions led to an answer which enveloped an explanation to the previous answer too.
Very casually, without making it sound any grand, Dhanik began narrating the story, “It seems during the first world war the Bristish took my grandfather to fight the war as a soldier.” According to Dhanik his grandfather did not know to read or write. So one day when the family received a letter from the grandfather they were as much surprised as they were happy. But, the joy came with some amount of disappointment as the letter was written in English! “It seems he was taught English there. He wrote letters in English,” explained Dhanik.
When asked how the family read the letters Dhanik spoke of an individual in the nearby village who read the letters and translated it for the family in Mundaari. The man also wrote letters to the grandfather for the family. The man, Dhanik said, charged good amount of money because the grandfather wrote in English and not in any Indian language. The replies also had to be in English as the grandfather did not know to read any other script. The man who read the letters would come at his convenience and also read, translate and write at his convenience. He wouldn’t care for the urgency of the family. Dhanik quoted his father telling him that the man who read letters acted quite pricey because he knew his importance and because there was nobody else to do the job.
“My grandmother was annoyed by this man for his attitude. And reading grandfather’s letters and writing to him was becoming a costly affair. That’s when my grandmother decided to send my father to school. It meant she need not pay a huge sum for reading and writing letters and also did not have to wait for the pricey scribe,” said Dhanik. At that point seeing me laugh probably Dhanik thought the authenticity his story is being doubted. “Really. Till few years ago the medal and a certificate that the Bristish had given to my grandfather for his work was lying here somewhere,” he tried convincing.
On realizing that his account of his grandfather is not being doubted Dhanik continued. His father had just learnt basic reading and writing when the grandfather returned home. Though school going had no practical purpose for the family Dhanik’s father continued going to school. And when Dhanik was born he sent him also to school. Dhanik laughed concluding the story saying, “Had there been no World War I guess I wouldn’t have become an advocate.”
[Originally written for The News Minute]