Who is a Goonda? One of its many legal definitions is to be found in the Uttar Pradesh Control of Goondas Act of 1971. A goonda ‘is generally reputed to be a person who is desperate and dangerous to the community’. But if the film and cultural communities in Assam and West Bengal have been protesting mischief, then the source of mischief can be called a Goonda, at least rhetorically if not legally. When there is more than one such public enemy, in Hindi they are called Gunday. Gunday are backed by deep-pockets whose ulterior projects are more extensive than the specific acts of mischief. More often than not, the gunday of the real-world are mercenaries for other people’s projects, even part of broader, more sinister projects of which the employed Gunday may not be even aware of.
Gunday in the reel-world is a project of Yash Raj Films, a Bollywood-centric entertainment behemoth. It is one of the greatest flag-bearers of Bollywood Hindi films, that grandest by-product of ‘Indianness’. Some perverse people like me feel that the relationship is inverse — that ‘Indianness’ is partly a byproduct of Bollywood Hindi films. The post-Partition cultural landscape has a couple of winners (English being one) and a large set of losers. The cultural and political clout of one language has expanded so much that not knowing it is seen as a sign of being politically and culturally queer. This advancement comes with the retreat of Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, etc. as playgrounds of cultural imagination and virtual annihilation of fecund tongues like Maithili, Awadhi, etc. It’s not accidental that the most successful film industry is of the same language that receives the maximum preferential subsidy for its advancement.
Gunday is a Bollywood Hindi film. For West Bengal, it was dubbed in Bengali. This make-one-get-many formula by dubbing into other tongues makes economic sense for the producer and also opens a floodgate. Non-Hindi film industries will be ruined, as they cannot outcompete Bollywood in black money, film volume and the cinema-hall blackmailing strength that comes with it. This desperate aggression was in full display in Assam where Rajni Basumatary’s Assamese film Raag which was running quite well was removed by economic goondaism to make way for Gunday. Cultural diversity, even cultural competition, can only flourish in a level economic playing field.
Dubbing my story in your language and then forcing it down your throat using my economic muscle will silence you. You won’t be able to tell your own stories. You will adapt to my stories. Too bad if you have your own tradition of telling stories. If that doesn’t make me a Goonda, I don’t know what does.
Pakistan has sought to protect its film industry by trying to restrict ‘Indian’ (read Bollywood) films. The states of the Indian Union have no such power, just like they do not have the power to protest the huge subsidy and preference given to one desi language. Apparently, this language ‘unites’. We know how this unidirectional unity works. No Assamese film will ever be dubbed in Hindi and released to multiplex audiences in Delhi and Mumbai. Not in this Nation State. If slow but sure annihilation of certain cultures is a pre-condition to some kind of a ‘national integration’ project, then that nation is an enemy of those cultures. It is up to the Indian Union to decide what integration project it wants to promote — a predatory one or a harmonious one. It is up to you, the viewer, to ask whether your film ticket is filling a goonda’s pocket.
The author is a brain scientist at MIT