B-Town and Political Family Drama

Manik Sharma

May 31, 2019 14:24:20 IST

In the first episode of the original web series, City Of Dreams, Poornima, daughter of a powerful Mumbai-based MP named Gaikwad is telling her younger brother how they must react to an assassination attempt on their father. She quotes Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War: “Appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak.” In another scene, a Muslim man accused of terror reads a book by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari in prison.

Hotstar’s City Of Dreams reiterates the Hindi filmmakers’ recurring fascination with politics and political families. Betrayal, sex, drugs and mafia nexus highlight the show, which explores the dysfunctional family set-up often defining homes of the high and mighty. Its language suggests a deeper philosophy at play, exploring the different dimensions of power.

At the heart of the show is a political family whose dysfunction is a consequence of its corrupt nature. Released in the month that sees the swearing in of the 17th Lok Sabha, where many dynasties lost power and a few won, City Of Dreams is a timely rejoinder to the spectacle that is Indian politics, carrying forward the cinematic legacy of films such as Aandhi, Raajneeti, Apaharan, Gangaajal, Rann and the Sarkar series.

On TV, various shows including Sarkarr, Amma, 24, and Saam Daam Dand Bhed have touched upon the theme, but really impressive introspection of the political protagonist was left to satires such as Ji Mantriji and Kakkaji Kahin — although these shows were strictly not about political families.

B-Town and Political Family Drama

Aandhi

You could argue the sheer intrigue of Indian politics is hard to match in fiction. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s public disapproval of son Akhilesh, the bickering Thackeray cousins, the operatic conflicts of within the Nehru-Gandhi clan divided across the Congress-BJP lines, are all fodder for big ratings on live TV.

No wonder then, cinema often digs into this space for inspiration. Director Prakash Jha, who contested a couple of elections, has contributed significantly to the Indian political film with efforts such as Apaharan, Gangaajal and Aarakshan. His 2010 film, Rajneeti, was an atypical thriller about a single family whose power-hungry protagonists fight for the throne left vacant by a dead patriarch. Ram Gopal Varma’s atmospheric Sarkar (2005), perhaps his last great film, was about a political family patriarch surviving against all odds, including his own scheming elder son. Modelled on The Godfather’s Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), Sarkar had Abhishek Bachchan playing the diffident, ivory-educated Shankar, who eventually blocks a coup by his older brother (Kay Kay Menon). In Rajneeti, Ranbir Kapoor played a similarly reluctant son who is thrown into the deep end by circumstance. Predictably, he rises to the challenge.

The film that set the template on portraying dynastic politics, way back in the seventies, is Gulzar’s Aandhi. Most felt Suchitra Sen’s protagonist, Aarti Devi, was a cross of ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and politician Tarkeshwari Sinha. Aandhi was banned during Emergency (1975) a few months after its release. In a scene, Aarti Devi despondently describes her public life, saying: “Kuch nahi reh jaata isme apna”. As far as clichés go, the reluctant politician is a trope that, though relatable, refuses to disappear from cinema even today.

Political families remain the genre’s most entertaining draw, mainly because they are relatable. The dichotomy of the reluctant and the angry sibling was perhaps inspired by brothers Sanjay and Rajiv Gandhi, and the Thackeray cousins. Many believed Sanjay Gandhi, known for his ferocity, would succeed his mother Indira, before his untimely death propelled ‘outsider’ Rajiv to the Congress throne. In Maharashtra, Bal Thackeray’s son Uddhav and nephew Raj fought over Shiv Sena supremacy after the patriarch’s exit before Raj broke away to found a party indistinct in principle and ideology. Sarkar, it is believed, was based around the Thackerays, while Rajneeti clearly took inspiration from the Gandhi clan.

In City Of Dreams, there has been slight gender alteration of the characters, with a volatile brother and a levelheaded sister taking centrestage.

Despite clichéd approach, the nexus of crime, duplicity, lust and greed makes dysfunctional political families eternally entertaining. They come precariously close to philosophising politics, in turn making it accessible even to politically-apathetic viewers. In Rajneeti, Manoj Bajpayee explains: “Rajneeti mein murde kabhi gaade nahin jaate... unhe zinda rakha jaata hai, taaki time aane par woh bole.” In Sarkar, the actor Jeeva claims: “Aadmi ko maarne se pehle uski soch ko maarna zaroori hai.”

Casually, political cinema communicates truths in a powerful and fascinating way. No wonder, TV news has turned to replicating such drama at the expense of ground reporting.

Updated Date: May 31, 2019 16:42:45 IST