Bring up politics and you are likely to experience the kind of response a Bible salesman would face at the Al-Qaeda conference. One distinct exception to this rule is John Oliver whose wildly popular show, "Last Week Tonight" has a massive following in the US, a country whose interest in politics is tepid at best.
When Oliver urged his 4 million plus viewership to protest against the government's proposal to finagle net neutrality, the FCC website crashed as did big telecom's efforts to control internet access.
Sadly, desi political shows lack any bite; oh wait, there's Arnab Goswami who barks ferociously but bites like an 86 year old dadi-ma who has misplaced her dentures or her Vicco Vajradanti. Come to think of it, other than "Kissa Kursi Ka", very few films with a political theme have been made in India which is why filmmaker Saad Khan and comedian Danish Sait's political satire,"Humble Politician Nograj" deserves credit for breaking fresh ground. The release is well-timed given that major state assembly elections are around the corner in Karnataka.
At the outset, I should declare an interest: I play a minor cameo in the film and when I say minor, I mean miniscule: if you're eating popcorn you could miss my celluloid moment. The dialogue is snappy and kudos to the script writers for tackling the complex, yet banal, subject of corruption with a degree of maturity and commonsense.
Nograj, played by Danish, embodies the practical aspects of political corruption, which as any ‘fulekno’, is the price one pays for democracy without the public funding of elections. Some years ago, when Karunanidhi was accused of corruption in the helicopter spraying case, he floored his detractors with this masterly zinger in a speech at Marina Beach, "I am feeding the people honey with my own hands. When the jar is empty, should I not lick my fingers?" Nograj is not quite as eloquent; his patter consists of a series of hilarious malapropisms coupled with a penchant to improve his assistant Manjunath's English. "It is not an honour to work on me, Manju, it is an honour to work in me…"
Danish has been an internet sensation among hip urban audiences from the time he created the character of Nograj for his prank shows on radio: the fount of inspiration for the social commentary in his politician avatar. Humble Politician is a hit because Nograj is shamelessly corrupt while being refreshingly honest about his motivations. The good guy, Arun Patil, played by Roger Narayan in the movie, is one-dimensional in comparison with all the punch and pizazz of a Krispy Kreme.
The film skewers our inherent hypocrisy with Nograj's song, "You'll do everything you want, but when we do it, it's a problem.
"No other nation wastes as much time and energy discussing corruption as we do: the hot air generated by this fruitless pursuit is one of the principal causes of global warming. Despite occasionally clunky dialogue, any discerning viewer would conclude from the electoral battle between the honourable NRI, Patil and the rogue Nograjthat all politicians are not inherently corrupt or evil. Sadly the script fall short of nailing the real culprit: perhaps in order to progress the first thing we need to do is demystify the rules, regulations and statutes that we have inherited from the Raj. In fact cynics suggest that our bureaucracy has grasped this colonial legacy to their bosoms with hoops of steel and then proceeded to pervert it with their own desi bells and whistles.
There are many decent men and women in politics: unfortunately few possess the will and the skill-sets to transcend or rebuild the system which is why in the case of Nograj as well, art tends to mirror life. The movie could have benefited from judicious editing as well as better dubbing but if the function of cinema is to hold up a mirror to society, Humble Politician succeeds in calling a spade a spade.
Do try and see it:
Nograj, his assistant Manjunath (Vijay Chendoor) and his missus, played by Sumukhi Suresh will have you rolling in the aisles.