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  Opinion   Columnists  17 May 2024  Shobhaa De | The murky political ‘Mandi’ minus ‘Heeras’ is in trouble

Shobhaa De | The murky political ‘Mandi’ minus ‘Heeras’ is in trouble

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. You can reach her at: @ShobhaaDe(Instagram) and @DeShobhaa(Twitter).
Published : May 18, 2024, 12:10 am IST
Updated : May 18, 2024, 12:10 am IST

Bollywood extravaganza and political uncertainty share themes of vanity, power and unexpected outcomes

Sanjay Leela Bhansali's new TV series 'Heeramandi' is now streaming on Netflix. (Image: Twitter)
 Sanjay Leela Bhansali's new TV series 'Heeramandi' is now streaming on Netflix. (Image: Twitter)

 

The word in the film bazaar is that SLB, the auteur of Heeramandi -- The Diamond Bazaar (touted as Netflix India’s most expensive offering), got his numbers wrong. Matlab, he expected his eight-part period series to break all records and deliver a thumping superhit. Alas, Heeramandi was written off as one man’s vanity project that failed to connect with the audience. SLB, known as an eccentric genius (a euphemism for megalomaniac) in his rarefied world of fantasy cinema, fell flat on his face trying to pull off an opulent extravaganza set in Lahore. It was a lazy and confused take on several disparate themes -- azaadi and barbaadi --with a tyrannical “Huzoor” running the show at a grand haveli, patronised by decadent nawabs in search of pleasure. What could have been a powerful tale about debauchery and power, treachery and exploitation was reduced to a shabby, shallow story that went nowhere. An unwittingly satirical take on the “nabobs and kebabs” culture of a pre-Independence Lahore, in which cardboard revolutionaries shout “Inquilab Zindabad” periodically while the “nautch girls” swirl and twirl like dervishes in richly embroidered shararas and ghararasSharaab and ittarsurma and mogras do not compensate for the lack of soul in this ode to SLB’s conceit.

Khair! The timing was perfect.

The last phase of the elections had drawn to a close with no clear victory in sight. Just weeks before the grand finale of what was described as “the biggest election on earth”, India’s political mandi was also teeming with desperate “courtesans” of both sexes, vying for the attention of patrons with pouches of money. Enticing promising candidates with allurements galore, India’s nouveau nawabs, clad not in silken jamas but organic cotton designer kurtas, strutted around the political arena, boasting and bragging about 400 seats, if not more. Like the women in Heeramandi, seats were up for grabs to the highest bidder. Political “nath utharna” ceremonies were happening across the country, as avaricious netas shopped around for potential stars who could win a seat for the party. Somehow, the numbers in this mandi too, didn’t add up.

Will the NaMo show go the way of the SLB debacle?

Has the BJP mega-show failed to connect with the electorate?

For a lot of canny political analysts, the writing was already on the wall. There were ominous but unspoken signals and signs that the BJP’s glory days were slipping away rapidly. Nobody spoke about this openly out of fear. And everybody nodded on autopilot when BJP supporters boasted about a clean sweep. It was only when the markets started to slide that the panic buttons were pressed at the headquarters. Something was not right! Why was the Sensex responding like this? Foreign investments should have been pouring in! All the purana calculations and certainties seemed to be on a downward spiral. The optimists snorted: “Nonsense! There has been a minor market correction. Everything’s on track. Just watch what happens on June 4.”

Yes, Sir! Our eyes are peeled.

There is a powerful Hindi word – “Sachai” -- which is too deep to be translated as mere “truth”.  Sachai is sachai! People get it. Feel it. Sense it. Jaspreet Singh, the 10-year-old kid from Tilak Nagar in Delhi, who become an overnight star after his video making rolls from a food cart went viral, is a great example of sachai at play. Here was a hardworking little boy who had not let tragedy keep him down after his father died and his mother disappeared, leaving him and a young sister to fend for themselves. Jaspreet took charge of the situation and started selling rolls from his cousin Gurmukh’s food cart. A stray video shot by a food blogger caught the imagination of people, garnering over 10 million views. None of this was planned or manipulated. Jaspreet’s obvious sachai touched enough hearts for people like Anand Mahindra and Sonu Sood to come forward and offer to sponsor Jaspreet’s and his sister’s interrupted education. Thanks to the attention on the social media, Gurmukh proudly says: “We have gone from earning Rs 400 a day to around Rs 8,000.” Sachai hit a home run!

Citizens who have suffered in silence over the past ten years are rediscovering their own sachai and dreaming of an India where they won’t be crushed because they aren’t toeing the line of their masters. That word “masters” should jar in a democracy where we are all supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. But are we equal? How different is the political maidan from the Shahi Haveli of Heeramandi, where one single tyrannical person controls the destiny of so many. Where nobody dares to challenge the “Huzoor” or speak up. Where treachery, murder, betrayal, malice and back-stabbing are everyday events. And oppression is the name of the game.

The debate generated by Jairam Ramesh’s foolish comment, rightly dubbed “racist”, has become a full-blown racism vs communalism issue. As if one is better than the other. The mess in Maharashtra is on another level. Who would have thought that major political players would end up fighting over Sharad Pawar? Or that it would be reduced to a “goonda vs goonda” battle about Dadagiri?

Suddenly, there is a glimmer of hope as citizens hail the beginning of a new, more peaceful era. Perhaps all of us are delusional and speaking too soon. But the upbeat mood of the public is hard to miss, and people are breathing more easily these days, and talking more freely than they have in a decade. Does this spell the end of the fear psychosis? Will we stop looking over our shoulders to see who’s following us? Tapping our phones? Monitoring every critical social media post? Too early to paint such a rosy picture, especially since an attractive alternative does not exist. Besides, ten years is a long time, and the first-generation voters now entering their twenties have grown up taking restrictions for granted during their formative years. To them, it is “normal” to hear abusive discourses and blatant misrepresentation of 200 million co-citizens who are Muslims. It’s normal to grow up with hate and divisiveness as dominant themes. It’s going to take time to break through narratives that have been drilled into their impressionable minds. And what of the altered textbooks with made-up history? Who will change those and when? Somehow, I am not at all worried. If anything, I’m pretty confident. You know why? Because, at the end of the day, sachai always wins.

Tags: sanjay leela bhansali, netflix, 2024 lok sabha elections, heeramandi