The UPA-2 government reminds me of the band performing at Danish Khan’s wedding in the film Gangs of Wasseypur (and if director Anurag Kashyap specialises in anything, it’s the vérité depiction of small-town musical bands): slightly out-of-tune, slightly out-of-talent, slightly out-of-audience. Isn’t that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lip-synching to a screechy female voice singing salaam-e-ishq on a 45-rpm record in the background?
Wasn’t that, till recently, soon-to-be President Pranab Mukherjee playing the drums, trying to hold things together with a proper rhythm even though keyboard players like Salman Khursheed and Digvijay Singh kept going off on a tangent? Isn’t that Home Minister P Chidambaram on guitar? The problem is now that there’s no drummer the prime minister wants to run the band himself, while the screechy voice is telling him to get a new drummer (essentially one of the other band members, or someone just as bland). Will Manmohan Singh get his way? Will the new band make music for foreign investors? Will inflation come down? As we say in India: suspense is there.
Another scene of Gangs of Wasseypur that reminds me of the UPA-2 is the one where, after a local girl is kidnapped, Sardar Khan commandeers a loudspeaker-fitted rickshaw, which is supposed to be advertising the Mithun Chakraborty film Kasam Paida Karnewale Ki, and goes about town asking (on megaphone) the villain/politician Ramadhir Singh to have the girl returned in a couple of hours… or else! (As he announces this, a sidekick dressed Mithun-style, dances Mithun-style.) Sardar Khan is of course our prime minister, and the girl whose return he demands is perhaps the finance ministry. No villain/politician is going to hold her ransom! Or rather, no villain/politician is going to hold the nation to ransom. All you need to do is watch P Chidambaram as he dances, Mithun-style, to know that Sardar Khan means business.
How about the scene where Sardar Khan and his men use country-made pistols for the first time? In a display of good old Indian jugaad, they use steering columns from heavy trucks to manufacture pistol barrels; but when it comes to tracking down a gang rival and trying to shoot him down, each pistol barrel explodes and causes more hurt to the shooter than to the target. Much in this way is our UPA-2, a gang that cannot shoot straight. One of the guns it developed was the General Anti-Avoidance Rule (GAAR), which exploded in Pranab Mukherjee’s face and which the prime minister is pretty much discarding. Similarly with the re-auction of 2G spectrum because of the absurdly high base prices Pranab Mukherjee set (only one “reliable” telecom player was not unhappy). We certainly hope the hike in diesel prices following this week’s presidential polls go differently.
Then there’s the scene in Gangs of Wasseypur where Sardar Khan seduces a Bengali woman, but this ultimately has dire consequences for him. I’m not drawing any parallels to real life.
There is a scene, not for the queasy, in the Wasseypur abattoir, behind the warren of butcher-shops run by the Qureshi gang. After Sardar Khan murders (with an ice-pick) a pehelwan belonging to his rival gang, the body is dismembered and disposed of in the Qureshi’s slaughterhouse; the police go there looking for clues. They find a finger. Political parties across the spectrum are like that, whether the crime is corruption or rioting: they stand in the middle of blood and entrails and say, “What body? What evidence?”, when a solitary finger points at them. You can only feel stupefied by such brazenness in a movie theatre; in real life, you feel cynical.
In Gangs of Wasseypur, sons have missing fathers but inevitably get swept into the family business. Sardar Khan’s father disappears early on, so the son grows up and forms his own criminal posse. Sardar Khan’s sons don’t see much of their father, but unfinished schooling drives them into the business. The villain/politician’s son is also a villain/politician, though he can never plumb the depth of his father’s low standards. They are all gang-land dynasties. Again, there are no parallels to be drawn with real life. A certain crown prince, having failed a major test several months back, has pretty much given up on the family business; he has all but publicly renounced any desire to become prime minister.
This brings us to one last bizarre scene from the film. At Danish’s wedding, his brother Faizal spots his own dream girl. Suddenly he is sitting there, wearing his Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses, shoving into his mouth one massively lengthy pakora after another. The girl, for some reason, also puts on similar aviator sunglasses. Amitabh Bachchan is crooning his part from salaam-e-ishq in the background. It is surreal. Like the UPA-2 government, a small-town band playing out-of-tune covers, trying to revive the economy. As I said, in the movies it is engrossing; in real life it is just gross.
— The writer is the Editor-in-Chief, DNA, based in Mumbai