Suddenly, urban India seems so yesterday... When I came back from the polling booth earlier this week, it suddenly struck me that every single urban voter who had taken the “trouble” to get out of their lovely homes on a particularly muggy day, was irrelevant. Even the poor, overworked, underpaid polling agents were wilting and appeared totally listless as the trickle of citizens started to get thinner and thinner. Right across the street were two busy polling stations with long lines that were getting longer as the mid-day sun blazed mercilessly overhead. Choudhary, who works with our family, smiled sardonically at the contrast. He sniggered: “Woh sab zopadpattiwaley voters hain... unko paisa diya tha.”
Well, most of those queuing up just a few feet away were clearly denizens of the sprawling slum close by. Some work as domestic helps in highrises, others have managed better-paying jobs as drivers and assistants to the saablog. Choudhary is from Bihar. He has been in Mumbai for the past 20 years. But for all it matters, his mind and heart are still in his village back home. Mumbai is a transit point. He doesn’t speak a word of Marathi, and says there isn’t a single Maharashtrian family in his neighbourhood. Despite his obvious indifference to Mumbai and a lack of connect to Maharashtra, he has ambitious plans of raising his sons in this city. I asked him why when I knew his answer — “For a better future...” He is not a stakeholder in Mumbai. How can he possibly care what happens to this mad metropolis five, 10, 20 years from now? He didn’t bother to cast his vote, because he says all politicians are crooked and do nothing for the people. His neighbours had taken Rs 2,500 each from candidates who had promised to regularise their papers if they came to power. “It’s the same promise they make year after year, and do nothing.”
It’s not an exclusive Mumbai story. I watched two Bollywood movies recently and the migrant issue came up in both of them. Not directly, but obliquely. I thoroughly enjoyed both films mainly because there was so much authenticity embedded in the narrative. During the past five years, small town India has grabbed space for itself in the country’s imagination. Not just in popular cinema but also in different fields like sports. The old, exaggerated splendour of aamir log that a socialist India obsessed over has been replaced by a more realistic grip on the representation of our semi-urban communities — the same communities we used to feel embarrassed to own. When Taapsee Pannu, playing a feisty Nimmi in Running Shaadi, taunts her besotted suitor by calling him a ganwaar, it is at once a comment on two things that have upturned our society — young women who defy the rules, and guys like Amit Sadh playing the ganwaar Ram Bharose, who wins the girl in the end.
In Jolly LLB 2, it is Akshay Kumar who plays a Kanpur Brahmin struggling to find his feet as a lawyer in Lucknow. It is the nuances in this clever script that capture the immigrant dilemma without hammering a message home. Both movies use the politics of local slang to highlight discrimination. In the more telling Running Shaadi, it is the semi-literate simpleton Ram Bharose who compassionately helps out Nimmi, the daughter of his overbearing Sikh boss, when she requires an abortion after casual sex with a classmate. It’s the same Nimmi who scorns him throughout the film for his lack of education while she pursues an MBA degree and parties with affluent college buddies. There is also an endearing character named Cyberjeet, who is in a way symbolic of the mismatch between a tech-savvy young India which is disconnected with other aspects of “modernism”. This “other” India is being projected with enormous cinematic dexterity in smaller films with ambitious dreams. Suddenly, all those monstrous Bollywood productions with big, fat budgets are beginning to look depressingly fake and plastic. I, for one, would rather access the world of a Ram Bharose, just about surviving a kadka charpoy existence in a dilapidated barsaati, than the over-glamourised lives of overdressed superstars playing NRI billionaires and living in “homes” which are actually hired castles in Scotland.
The new genre of movies of all the thousands of little Indias we routinely overlook and dismiss is endearing and enchanting, authentic and identifiable. Most of the filmmakers stay true to the milieu and the scripts crackle with local wit and subtle digs that make a powerful comment on the great divide between the Mumbai brand of OTT movies and them. This is exactly what is happening in politics as well. Most experts have gone hopelessly wrong with their poll predictions and analysis mainly because they have no idea of the ground realities outside their fancy offices and studios. Just as very few people could figure out what the hell was going on in Tamil Nadu last week, the story in Uttar Pradesh is also not all that different. The results may shock and surprise us all! Ram Bharose’s time has come. And so has Nimmi’s.