Classical liberals always strive towards creating a genuine “minimum government, maximum governance” society where the primacy of individual freedom and rights and a strong and effective law and order system is held in utmost regard. But we should stop demanding such nonsensical things in India. Why? Because two of my favourite films from the last ten years would not have been made without the failure of the Indian governance system.
(***WARNING*** MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD)
Court (directed by Chaitanya Tamhane) is the story of a Marathi activist/folk singer in Mumbai who is slapped with a legal charge because he sang a song that allegedly compelled a sewer worker to kill himself by going down a manhole and inhaling its noxious fumes. What follows is a Kafkaesque nightmare of endless court appearances, frivolous, jargon-leaden legal arguments and above all, a brooding sense of fatalism which is shared not just by the defendant, but also by the viewer himself. The judge in this case is the sort of man who dismisses a plaintiff’s case because she’s wearing a sleeveless top in court and who suggests to an ailing friend that he wear a ring with a special “healing” gem in order to get better.
At a time where serious cases like murder, rape and terrorism take not years, but decades to get resolved (if at all), Indian courts are dealing with a crippling shortage of personnel and a sizeable proportion of Indian politicians are career criminals themselves (one of them having been selected for Padma Vibhushan just this week), isn’t it just great that at least the judiciary is on its toes by hounding poor, inconsequential men legally over songs, videos and paintings? We liberals harp on about creating an efficient and accountable judiciary as the bedrock of a modern, progressive democracy, but spare a thought for the poor filmmakers of the country who would be deprived of such surreal, absurd material from real life for their inspiration.
Last year, Sairat (“Wild”, directed by Nagraj Manjule) broke the record for the highest grossing Marathi movie ever. A fresh reinterpretation of a standard Bollywood formula, this is a story of a low caste boy and a high caste girl in rural Maharashtra who fall in love but the girl’s father (a rich landowner, who’s also a local MLA) objects to the match and obviously makes life hell for the couple (including imprisoning the boy and his friends on false rape charges). Somehow, the couple manage to escape the village and start a life for themselves in a new city, but when the girl’s family finds out about her whereabouts, they send her brother and some of his chamchas to perform an “honour killing” on the couple. The movie’s hauntingly memorable final scene has the couple’s baby boy walk into the house to witness his parents’ bloody corpses lying on the kitchen floor.
This movie, apart from stirring up a whirlwind of emotions, also got me thinking. If a classical liberal government had governed India, murderous scoundrels like the heroine’s father would be behind bars, not running for political office, as competent people would actually be interested in contesting elections instead of slaving away in a dead end corporate job. The young population of India would be in much better control of their own lives, as economically and socially advanced nations necessarily require a high mobility of its working age population from rural to urban areas for better opportunities, along with the financial independence that comes with it. People in power (and their family members) would think ten times before harassing or murdering someone, as governance and law and order systems in place would ensure that such peoples’ careers and reputations would not only be destroyed, but they would also rot in prison for the rest of their miserable lives once apprehended and proven guilty (of course, justice being swift and not intolerably slow like the present).
But then again, masterpieces like these two films would never have been made. So fellow citizens, let’s just throw in the towel, watch the country get destroyed at the hands of incompetent, criminally inclined fools who are meant to govern it and enjoy the movies that will continue to be made which reflect India’s misery in hope that at least one of these would get “noticed” at some international film festival and garner some awards.