Even though the imagery of popular Hindi films is often far removed from reality, but when it comes to a reel politician, everything shown on the screen is assumed to be the truth.
Intriguing enough in spite of films being distant from reality, the real neta does not leave any stone unturned to replicate their reel counterpart. But this is about to undergo a transformation too.
Five years ago when he emerged as the dark horse and became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, a state that has been touted as the breeding ground of future national leaders of Indian politics, Yadav was seen as the great new hope.
Akhilesh Changing the Perception Reel Netas Projected
Now, 60-months later the manner in which Akhilesh has gone about getting ready for the upcoming state elections that include taking on the old guard (read his own father, Mulayam Singh Yadav), he has nearly presented himself as the great new hope yet again.
The recent shenanigans of Akhilesh Yadav – suspending his uncle from the party, who clearly enjoyed his own father’s support, snatching away the microphone from his father at a rally in full public purview, etc – have been different from how a bahubali is supposed to be.
The arrival of Akhilesh Version 2.0 is but the rise of a new kind of bahubali. The term bahubali debuted in Bollywood with E Nivas’ Shool (1999) where Sayaji Shinde played Bachhu Yadav, a borderline psychopath criminal-politician, said to have been modelled Mohammad Shahabuddin, the criminal-turned-politician.
The reel neta was not a much-liked character in any case but with Shool, the onscreen politician came to be identified as the single entity responsible for all things wrong in this country.
The film showed Yadav (Sayaji Shinde), an MLA of the ruling party, overseeing the killing of another MLA who was given a ticket in his place without batting an eyelid and not just that but also chiding his lackey for stabbing the man in the right side of the chest instead of the left side where the heart is.
What’s more, he even enacts Madhuri Dixit’s Dhak dhak karne laga from Beta (1992) to confirm the location of the heart.
The Old Bahubali Neta Was the Biggest Evil
By the late 1990s, the bahubali neta had firmly been enshrined as the biggest evil in popular Hindi films and especially the ones that had the Hindi hinterland at the centre of the story.
He had replaced the previous greatest evils – the moneylender or the lala from films such as Mother India (1957) and Ganga Jumna (1960) of the 1950s and the 1960s –and later the curse of unemployment of the 1970s and the 1980s that saw the poonjipati or the businessman make money hand over first.
The neta came into emergence in the 1960s where a film such as Leader (1964) showed the unholy nexus between the business class and the politician that nearly fixes the national elections.
This imagery continued till the late 1980s with Tinnu Anand’s Main Azad Hoon (1989), where a media baron (Manohar Singh) invents an alternate power centre in the form of a common man Azad (Amitabh Bachchan), who was ‘created’ by a journalist (Shabana Azmi), to take on the political class.
The Reel Neta’s Brute Power
The malaise of unemployment was further exploited by the neta to lure the student with both vocal and muscle power first during the elections as depicted in Gulzar’s Mere Apne (1970) and then to consolidate the position that was the mainstay in Rahul Rawail’s Arjun (1985).
This was the period that laid the foundation of the cinematic bahubali. Any semblance of the rules and order was pushed out of the equation and what emerged was the unmistakable power of the neta.
Fascinatingly enough, the two characters that best captured this genesis were both played by Anupam Kher – Shivkumar Chowgule in Arjun and Purshottam in Bhrashtachar (1989).
The former was a smooth-talking upcoming leader who wanted the youth to help him set the system right rather than getting involved in it himself. He got the educated-but-unemployed Arjun (Sunny Deol) to ‘win’ over the opposition and enemies by all means and the latter was a firmly established popular leader who could do no wrong as far as the public went.
In Bhrashtachar, Purshottam is simply beyond worrying about the public not voting for him for that is not an option that has been bestowed upon them. And therefore, he believes that his power can see him get away with not only loot and plunder, but also rape and murder.
The bahubali of Shool could very well be the student leader of Mere Apne who stuck around long enough to graduate to the next level or the gullible youth in Arjun, who chose to shake hands with the corrupt politician rather than taking him on.
This transition is visible in Haasil (2003) where the chief minister of a state (Sudhir Pandey) is held to ransom by two student leaders – one of them from his party, Gauri Shankar (Ashutosh Rana), who is also his nephew, and then later Ranvijay Singh (Irrfan Khan). Gauri Shankar kills some family members of his opponent, Ranvijay, and coerces his uncle to help him and later when Ranvijay kills Gauri to become the unopposed youth leader he threatens the CM to fall in line lest unleash his cadre.
These two phases of the bahubali are also seen in Omkara (2006) and Apharan (2005). In Omkara Bhaisaab Tiwari (Naseeruddin Shah) is an outwardly sophisticated politician who is busy grooming the next generation of the bahubali in Omkara Shukla (Ajay Devgn) and Keshav Upadhyaya (Vivek Oberoi).
In Apharan, Tabrez Alam (Nana Patekar) is a powerful MLA and influential Muslim party leader and is also an underworld don controlling a large kidnapping racket, who tries to kill the conscience of Ajay Shastri (Devgn) before letting him become his heir.
Akhilesh Appears to be a Thinking Politician
The days of the brute power of the bahubali are perhaps drawing to an end. The fashion in which Akhilesh Yadav has gone about to distance himself from the ways of his father by trying to appear to be a thinking politician rather being old-fashioned where ‘might is right’, is a testimony to that.
His decision to take his family on and be a lone wolf, but still oscillate towards the Congress, the blow hot and blow cold partners of his father still makes him different but same or same but different, depending on how you chose to see.
Akhilesh Version 2.0 might be exciting and new for the political news section, but it would take Bollywood a while to show interest. You see, it has already witnessed the new bahubali in Shankar’s Nayak: The Real Hero (2001) and going by the collections it seems that the Bachhu Yadavs, the Bahisaab Tiwaris and the Tabrez Alams and such would be preferred for a while longer.
(Gautam Chintamani is the author of the best-selling Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna (2014) and Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak – The Film That Revived Hindi Cinema (2016). He can be reached on Twitter, @GChintamani.)
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