Nawazuddin’s Arrogant Performance Cannot Hide Thackeray’s Blatant Chauvinism


Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Amrita Rao

Directed by: Abhijeet Panse

Rating: **(2 stars)

Bal Thackeray…sorry Balasaheb Thackeray(in the  film an unsuspecting character gets slapped  by a  Shiv Sena soldier for saying the Demi God’s name without the  reverential  suffix) played the  chauvinistic   card with  a masterminded focus. He  knew  how to tap theMarathi Manoos’ latent pride  and also how to harness it into a  violent outpouring.

Many of his opponents, including the  unfortunate Morarjee Desai(unfortunate, as  he is played by Rajesh Khera)  thought of his campaign to cleanse Maharashtra to be almost a ratification  of  Hitler’s Nazism.

Think Jews. Think Bihar and UP’s Bhaiyyas and the South Indian Udipi restaurateurs being  chased  out of  Mumbai by violent Sainiks. Think Hitler. Think Trump. If you  spot the  difference, let me  know.

The  film on Balasaheb certainly doesn’t squander the opportunity to  portray    the man as infinitely  intolerant  of migrants.Yes the Great Man  wanted scums out of  his state. That he was indeed in favour of  ousting migrants  from Maharashtra was a well-known  fact. But  did anyone ever  think that his blatant chauvinism and his politics of ethnic cleansing would one day be so  unabashedly  celebrated  on  celluloid?

Writer-director Abhijeet Panse celebrates  Balasaheb’s spirit of separateness with a straightforwardness that we  immediately recognize as a sign  of  traditional entitlement which sanctions certain behaviour among males as  “normal”. Just as it is “normal” for women to fry pakodas in the kitchen while men crack sexist jokes  in  the drawingroom, it is  “normal” for a national leader to make flagrant speeches about bajoing the pungi of  people in a lungi.(The censor board  of course forgot that the Constitution allows freedom  of expression only as  long as it doesn’t hurt the sentiments  of  any community  or individual).

For  outsiders—and who is not an outsider these days?—the normalizing of cultural marginalization  may seem like a celebration of a  culture of anarchy and  despotism.Sanctioning bloodbaths is not something  we associate with charismatic national leaders. But here he is, Nawazuddin  Siddiqui  playing Balasaheb as a man who  wanted Maharashtra  only for Marathis.

Mr Siddiqui plays  Balasaheb as  impatient intolerant man  of  many words and even more action. At the start we see  him quit his job as  a cartoonist to start his own Marathi paper. In Panse’s  Maharashtra in the  1950s there are migrants  everywhere jostling pushing and bullying Marathis on the streets  and  out  of their jobs.Something has to be done and who better equipped  to tap into Marathi  pride with a hammer?

 Apparently  the inflammatory speeches are  all  used in the  film just as  the Great Man  made them. Balasaheb had  a hypnotic hold over the audience. Nawaz seems to think he has a similar sway . In his last  film he recited Saddat Haasan Manto’s revolutionary thoughts with a fervent  lucidity that  gave the actor  a sense  of ownership  over the  words.  Here theBalasaheb speeches  sound deeply ironical coming from an actor has been marginalized on  many  levels in different stages  of his life.

Nawaz and  the film’s director  choose to over look the  irony  of  an ethnic  leader saying nation always comes first to him.

“I always  say Jai Hind first, and then Jai Maharashtra,” Nawazuddin’s Balasaheb tells Avantika Akerkar’s  Indira Gandhi proudly.

Mrs G’s arched eyebrow at that declaration is truly a chart-topping moment in  a film that legitimizes hooliganism and elevates extra-constitutional muscle power to the summits  of validation.There are  some interesting unknown actors playing Balasaheb’s devotees and I just loved the  veteran  who plays  his father  and  mocks the ‘Saheb’ in his son’s name in a way no one else would dare.

Nawazuddin plays the cartoonist-politician-deity with  the crafty  casualness of an over-confident actor who is rightly arrogant  about his skills. The other actors, including poorAmrita  Rao as  the Great Man’s shadowy wife walk by in the gallery of bhakts anointing and celebrating the cult of Thackerayism  with a  religious fervor.

Come to think  of it,this  could have been  a great mythological  film if only there was  not so much violence and bloodshed. But hey, there is  also redemption. After  a brutal communal  riot we see Balasheb bring a  Muslim family to his home . He even allows the  man to do hisnamaaz in  his livingroom.

And  you still think  ethnic cleansing is unethical?

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