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The Rise of Saffron in Indian Cinema

The Kashmir Monitor




By Samarth Grover

This year is going to witness a different kind of commercial Indian cinema with the release of movies like The Accidental Prime Minister, Uri, and Thackeray. The Modi “wave” that apparently hit the shores in 2014 has taken its course to translate itself into cinematic narratives of hyper-nationalism and toxic masculinity that negotiates the line between good men and bad men, and divisive propagandist politics.

AnandPatwardhan, Indian documentary filmmaker known for his socio-political, human rights-oriented films, said while talking to Newsclick, “I have not seen any of the three Bollywood films to be released in time for the elections, but I am almost certain that all would fall into the category of pro BJP propaganda, just as 95 per cent of all electronic and print media do. If not for such sustained propaganda, the distress and unrest brewing in the country would have been front page news.”


Based on the life of the late politician Bal Thackeray, founder and chief of Shiv Sena, the biographical drama film is scheduled for release on January 25, 2019 – 93rd birthday of Thackeray.

The bilingual film (Hindi and Marathi) targets two sets of viewers separated by linguistic, temporal and regional locations. The trailer features dialogues of nativist politics, which were the foundational phase of the Shiv Sena in 1960s, and stirs anti-migrant sentiment as a persuasion to unite “one’s own people” or one’s own voters in case of BJP and Hindutva-nationalism.

Bal Thackeray has been projected as the saviour of the common man, possessing strong and militant ideas of justice. The trailer flashes attributions such as, ‘Ideal’, ‘Revolutionary’, ‘Activist’, ‘Fighter’, ‘Leader’, and glorifies a man who wielded more power than leaders of the state.

The Srikrishna Commission Report that came out in 1998, clearly underlined Shiv Sena’s role and Bal Thackeray’s leadership as responsible for the riots of December 1992–January 1993 in Mumbai. Still, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who was recently critically acclaimed for his role as the lead in Manto, seems to have undone the legacy of Manto by delivering the xenophobic comments through his character in the film, such as “Uthao lungi, bajaopungi (Strip them, s***w them)”, and has therefore been called out by several social media users and actors such as Siddharth, who said in a tweet:

“Nawazuddin has repeated ‘Uthao lungi bajaopungi’ (lift the lungi and *’#$ him) in the film #Thackeray. Clearly hate speech against South Indians… In a film glorifying the person who said it! Are you planning to make money out of this propaganda? Stop selling hate! Scary stuff!”

In the teaser launch event of the film, Nawaz had said that to play such a character was an actor’s dream, “Duniyaka koi bhi actor karnachahega! (Any actor in the world would want to play this character!)”

“This apolitical distancing of the art from the artist or of art from reality, is a long cloak of hypocrisy worn with pride by mainstream Hindi cinema, because as the January roster of Hindi films go with Uri, and The Accidental Prime Minister all lined up, these pretensions are soon falling off,” writes KanikaKatyal from Indian Cultural Forum.

With the already over-hyped “surgical strike” that the Indian media hysterically indulged in to represent BJP’s patriotic muscularity and valour in defending the country, the film ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ is set to release hit theatres on January 11. There are dialogues that seem to be invoking the spirit of hyper-nationalism such as: “Yehnaya Hindustan hai, yehgharmeinghusegabhi, aurmaregabhi.” (This is a new India, it will infiltrate the house, as well as slay inside.) “Waqt aa gayahai, khoonkabadlakhoon se leneka.” (It is time to take revenge with blood.)

The celebratory charade by the Army leadership, and BJP’s boastful politicisation of the surgical strike might get people to believe it to be a success. However, many have questioned its effectiveness in deterring terrorist attacks.

Even the official data put out by the Home Ministry (Annual Report 2017-18) shows that terrorism-related incidents shot up from 222 in 2014 to 342 in December 2017 while infiltration attempts went up from 222 to 406 in the same period.

The former foreign secretary S Jaishankar said to the Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, calling the strikes: “Target-specific, counter-terrorist operations (CI ops) across the Line of Control which the army had done in the past too, but this is the first time the government has gone public about it.”

Directed by Aditya Dhar, produced by Ronnie Screwvala and starring Vicky Kaushal, Uri weaves its narrative around the “surgical strike” carried out across the Line of Control (LoC) in September 2016. The warfare film will further BJP’s nationalistic narrative, glamorising the already hyped ‘feat’ and validating BJP’s ‘courage’.

“The more the government politicises the army by using its sacrifices to further its electoral objectives, the more it erodes the army’s potency, and hence its’ deterrent value,” writes Pravin Sawhney for The Wire.

BJP’s blatant propaganda The Accidental Prime Minister, the trailer of which was released on December 27 was further shared in a tweet by the BJP’s twitter handle on the same day: “Riveting tale of how a family held the country to ransom for 10 long years. Was Dr Singh just a regent who was holding on to the PM’s chair till the time heir was ready? Watch the official trailer of #TheAccidentalPrimeMinister, based on an insider’s account, releasing on 11 Jan!”

This promotion of the movie and the insinuation at the primitivism of dynastic politics, in an environment where BJP’s being asked tougher questions on their tall promises and a long list of failures, is undoubtedly and unsurprisingly BJP’s attempt at turning people in their favour.

Many from within the BJP have objected to the official Twitter handle promoting the film, for the obviousness of their motive and the uninvited certification of nationalism. SanjayaBaru, the author of the book from which the film is adapted, was Dr Singh’s media advisor from May 2004 to August 2008. As Baru has claimed in an interview with The Indian Express, he has tried to defend Dr Singh, give him credit for his achievements and exonerate Dr Singh’s label of being the ‘silent PM’.

However, the dramatisation of the film not only echoes the BJP’s age-old narrative of Congress being a ‘family-fiefdom’ and Rahul Gandhi being the ‘shahzada (prince)’, but in light of Dr Singh’s passivity, it depicts Sonia Gandhi as the woman who impiously controlled the seat rather than occupying it herself.

A lawyer named Sughir Kumar Ojha has filed a case against AnupamKher and 14 other associated members of the film on January 2, Wednesday. The case against the movie for damaging the image of top bureaucrats was filed in Muzaffarpur’s chief judicial magistrate court. Surprisingly, the court has admitted the case, and has fixed January 8 as the hearing date.

The petition was filed under IPC sections 295, 153, 153A , 293, 504 and 120B relating to promoting enmity between different groups, sale of obscene objects, insult with intent to provoke breach of peace and criminal conspiracy, reported The Indian Express.

Sanjay Kak, a renowned self-taught filmmaker, who won the National Film Award for best non-feature Film in the year 2000 and one in 1985, spoke to Newsclick. He said, “These are election films, first and foremost, one for the Shiv Sena, the other two for the BJP. And like elections, the box office will decide if the spin works.”

He further added, “Who can take on the truth-claims of Sanjay Baru’s kiss-and-tell account of the “Accidental Prime Minister’ when the BJP and its cronies are enthusiastically rooting for it. And who can, once again, ask if the ‘surgical strike’ after Uri was indeed the triumph that TV channels claim it is.”

These films are about our present, one that is hugely argued about, but they have not been made with the intention to have a conversation about. They are propaganda films as BJP’s tweet clearly implies.


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The Kashmir Monitor



By Shabbir Aariz

This indeed is proverbially a herculean task to describe or define John Elia in any particular frame. Whosoever while mentioning him, is either trapped in contradictions of one’s own opinion or is able to confine to a few verses of John Elia to judge him. But the more one tries to understand John, the more confused one is and I believe that you need another John Elia to explain him. He is a phenomenon, a thing like a live fish to hold in your hand or an elephant amongst blinds to be described. Wusatullah Khan, a noted broadcaster, holds that knowing John is as good as dating with a liberated lady. And it is quite obvious that a man who in him is a philosopher, a scholar, a biographer, a linguist with command over Urdu, Arabic, English, Persian, Sanskrit and Hebrew and needless to say that the Ismaili sect of the subcontinent could not find anyone other than John to translate Ismaili treatises from Hebrew, it becomes a tedious affair to be conclusive about John. Common perception though with an element of truth is that John is a progressive Marxist, an unconventional poet and always in denial of everything including himself while himself saying in three line verse,





(Anyone prepared to argue and prove that my existence is imperative for life). His poetry is admittedly very close to life and his verses in the words of a legendry poet, Majrooh Sultanpuri, are like a dialogue which no other poet has the distinction to be capable of. John has an extra-ordinary craft of connecting with his audience that has created an unprecedented fan following which no other contemporary poet can claim to have. So magical is his poetry and its rendition that it has created a cult of his admirers with such an obsession and longing for the life of melancholy lead by John Elia himself. It is no secret that he was never a happy man with defiance and protest against everything and anything around. Loudly a nonconformist when he says
“unjaman main mayri khamooshi…..

burdabari nahin hay wehshat hay”.

His style made him famous and popular. He appears to be disgusted even with creation when he says … “HASILE KUN HAY YEH JAHANE KHARAAB….


His admirers strangely wish to pass through the same pain and despair that is hallmark of John’s poetry besides satire and the disdain for the system which contributed to his sadness in life. He has so glorified and romanticized the pain and sadness that it leaves his audience in frenzied ecstasy.

John Elia was born in the year 1931 and died in 2002. He originally belonged to Amroha in the state of Uttar Pradesh, younger brother of Rayees Amrohi, a known journalist and writer. John migrated to Pakistan in the year 1957 and settled in Karachi where he is buried now. But Amroha never left his heart and mind. He never felt comfortable after leaving Amroha partly because his stay in Karachi brought him in conflict with the system too. Many other things have also contributed to his sadness in life. He was married to a well-known writer of Pakistan, Zahida Hina but in mid-80’s , the relation between the two became bumpy and ended up in divorce which left John devastated and for ten long years thereafter went in depression without writing a word.

As is true about many in the history of literature, John earned his name and fame more after his death than in his life time while he was not received well and felt a strange type of suffocation when he says,



Thanks to the electronic boom and You Tube that brought him to the lime light and enabled audience to reach him and his works. As if this was not enough that his first poetic collection only came to be published when he reached the age of 60. It is worthwhile mention that he has as many as seven poetic collections to his credit namely SHAYAD, YANI, LEKIN, GUMAAN, GOYA, FARMOD and RAMOOZ. Except one, all other are published posthumously. This is besides his scholarly works in prose which may require greater insight to go into.

John all his life remained honest, direct and straightforward in expressing his views on matters of public interest. He also never demonstrated any pretentions or reservations while expressing the truth of his personal life. He never made any secret of his fantasies, love affairs or drinking habits. Yet he was never at peace either with the times or with himself. John Elia, in my humble opinion lived ahead of times and even the desire of dying young without being bed ridden was not granted to him except that he strangely enough wanted to die of tuberculosis and which he did.

(The author, a senior lawyers, is a well known poet and writer. Feedback at: [email protected])

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Manto: Why I wanted to read a ‘lewd’ writer

The Kashmir Monitor



By Naveed Hussain

I first read Saadat Hasan Manto as a teenager and the spirit of what I’m writing now was etched on my memory in those years.

I was too young to understand the intricacies of his stories but I enjoyed what I read and craved for more. Back then, Manto wasn’t available in the small town of Haripur where I lived. A friend introduced me to a schoolteacher, a bibliophile who had a modest collection of Manto in his personal library.


“Why do you want to read Manto, he’s a ribald, lewd writer,” he quipped. “This is exactly why I want to read him,” I replied, almost impulsively. He smiled and agreed to lend me Manto’s books. Thus began my journey to explore Manto. The more I read, the deeper my love for him became.

Manto was a nonconformist, an unorthodox and ruthlessly bold writer. He didn’t believe in the so-called literary norms of ‘decency’ and ‘civility’ set by didactic writers of his time. For him, truth is truth. No matter how bitter and despicable the reality, Manto never dilutes the truth. Like a muckraker, he pokes his nose into the muck, rakes it, and then holds it up to the reader – in all its profound ugliness and twisted beauty. “If you don’t know your society, read my stories. If you find a defect, it’s the defect of your society, not my stories,” he says.

Manto wrote on socially taboo topics like sex, incest and prostitution, which earned him the wrath of contemporary traditionalists, conservatives and even progressives. For some of his ‘lewd’ and ‘obscene’ stories he had to face lawsuits – among them were great stories such as Thanda Gosht, Bu, Khol Do, Dhuan and Kali Shalwar.

But it is to miss the point to simply say that Manto wrote about sex. He wrote about the sexual debauchery of men and the sexual exploitation of women; about our patriarchal society where women are often treated as a ‘sex toy’, not a human being. Unlike many, I don’t compare Manto with DH Lawrence, because Manto is not lustful, even though he explicitly writes about the female anatomy. He’s more like Guy de Maupassant, who sees the throbbing heart, not the sensuous body, of the prostitute.

Manto blames the ‘diseased mind’ for reading ‘ribaldry’ into his stories. If a sex maniac derives morbid gratification from Venus De Milo, should we blame Alexandros of Antioch for chiselling such a ‘graphic’ sculpture? No, certainly not.

For contemporary literary pundits, Manto was also unacceptable because he wrote ‘indecent’ language. “They [the critics] criticise me when my characters verbally abuse one another – but why don’t they criticise their society instead where hundreds of thousands of profanities are hurled on the streets, every day,” he wonders.

I also love Manto because he was honest. He was an unflinchingly true writer who believed in calling a spade a spade. Sketch-writing was introduced as a genre in Urdu literature much earlier, but Manto created his own peculiar tell-all style. He didn’t write only the good qualities of his characters. “In my bathroom, everyone is naked. I don’t clothe them because it’s the tailor’s job,” he writes.

Manto’s sketches, which he initially wrote for the Lahore-based Daily Afaq newspaper, were later collected and published as Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wasn’t a hypocrite. He minced no words while writing about his dead friends. “I curse a thousand times a so-called civilised society where a man’s character is cleansed of all its ills and tagged as ‘May-God-Bless Him’,” Manto wrote in Ganjay Farishtay. Manto wrote sketches of filmstars Ashok Kumar, Shyam, Noor Jahan, literary figures such as Meera Ji, Agha Hashar and Ismat Chughtai and some politicians. “I have no camera that could have washed smallpox marks off the face of Agha Hashar or change obscenities uttered by him in his flowery style.”

Before embarking on his literary career, Manto had read Russian, French and English masters like Chekhov, Gorky, Victor Hugo, de Maupassant and Oscar Wilde and translated some of their works into Urdu. Surprisingly enough, despite his love for revolutionaries, Manto was not a Marxist ideologue. He was a humanist who was pained to see social injustices, economic disparities and exploitation of the underprivileged. He hated the obscurantist clergy and parasitic elites alike.

Although Manto had migrated to Pakistan after 1947, he couldn’t understand the rationale of partitioning a land along religious lines. His stories of bloodshed and cross-border migration, such as Teetwaal Ka Kutta and Toba Tek Singh, made him unpopular with ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis. To this day he remains a shadowy figure on the official literary lists of Pakistan: our school curricula, our national awards, our drawing room conversations.

Manto was acknowledged as a creative genius even by his detractors. And he knew this, which is perhaps why he wanted these words to mark his grave: “Here lies Saadat Hasan Manto and with him lie all the secrets and mysteries of the art of short story writing. Under tons of earth he lies, still wondering who among the two is the greater short story writer: he or God.”

Manto’s family feared his self-written epitaph would attract the unwanted attention of the ignorantly religious, so on his grave one finds a Ghalib couplet. He faced censorship all his life and even now has chunks of his stories taken out by the authorities. But as we mark his centenary year, I can say this with the instant certainty I felt as a young man in Haripur: the words and stories of Saadat Hasan Manto will outlive us all.

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Gauhar Raza: Giving Poetry the Power to Protest

The Kashmir Monitor



By Asheesh Mamgain

If things were different his poems would have been different, or maybe he would not have been a poet at all. But things are what they are. And that is why Gauhar Raza, the poet is writing, and it is why he writes his poetry of protest.

“Maybe I would have written about love, the beauty of nature and science. But as things stand my poetry is predominantly about resistance and protest,” said Raza, who is faithful to the tradition of resistance poetry to the extent that he has throttled, without much difficulty, the romantic and the scientist in him. “The need to write poetry always arose when something happened around me which affected me, to the core. I have never written and will never write poetry just for the sake of it.”


“The murder of Safdar Hashmi, the breaking up of the Soviet Union, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the killing of an activist in Afghanistan, the death of Rohith Vemula are some of those things,” he said.

Raza’s second published collection of ghazals and nazms (71 in all) came out in November 2017 and is titled Khamoshi, or Silence.

Is there a lot of anger in his poems? Yes, there is definitely a lot of anger. But then there is also hope. That is where Raza becomes special.

“For me, a poem that merely complains or rants about the injustice, violence and persecution happening all around is not enough. A poet has to go beyond this; he has to give a vision. The vision of an alternative world, of a better world. Only then will his poetry be successful and meaningful. A poet has to show the consciousness he wants to bring into society.”

So how does he define good poetry? “Well, a good poem should be able to raise the level of the reader at least one notch higher, and also give him a fresh perspective about the aspect being dealt in the poem. Something new to dwell upon,” said Raza.

The influences that shaped his poetic thought came pretty early, at home and at the Aligarh Muslim University where he studied. Raza’s father, Wizarat Hussain, worked in the education department there and was a second-generation Leftist.

“The question about the existence of God came up very early in my life and soon I became an atheist for life,” said Raza. Literature was read with passion at home and by the time he was 15 he had read all the Urdu literature available at the AMU library as well as a solid portion of Russian literature.

“During my growing years, Leftist thought had a major presence in the university. On the other hand, the fundamental forces were also steadily getting stronger. I was smitten by the leftist idea. I was part of a literary study circle, we served tea at the secret meetings of leftist groups and listened to discussions at home between my father and other intellectuals such as Irfan Habib and Iqtidar Alam Khan.”

There was a lot of churning in his mind and soon he started pouring the remnants of all that into his poems. When it comes to poetry some of Raza’s major influences have been Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi. He is often seen reciting their work at length during his various lectures, with Sahir Ludhianvi’s long poem ‘Parchhaiyan’ or Shadows one of his favourites.

“Writing the kind of poetry I do is not easy. Each time a write a poem I must relive all the pain and emotion I went through when the particular incident happened that forced me to write. All those disturbing images come rushing back to me. It is a difficult thing to undergo.”

Nor is poetry Raza’s only means of reaching the people. He recently retired as chief scientist from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. He is also into documentary filmmaking, his documentaries on Bhagat Singh and the 2002 Gujarat genocide being very well known.

Where does poetry stand today, as a means of communication with the reader? According to Raza, “for one, social media has helped. It has helped poets reach a wider audience. Also, the tradition of musharias and kavi sammelans (poetry meets) is still very strong in India. So even if a poet is competing with the multimedia world, it is easy to reach one’s audience with one’s poetry, provided you have something pertinent to say.”

More broadly speaking, however, “I have to say that things have progressed in a disturbing direction. A poem I wrote 20 years ago, I could rededicate it to Rohith Vemula and then to Gauri Lankesh. This disturbing trend is seen all over the world. I believe that the fall of the USSR has been a major turning point in the way our World has evolved.”

A few lines from one of his poems brings out his concern and struggle.

Mein phool khilata hoon jab bhi,
Woh baad e khizan le aate hain,
Mein geet sunata hoon jab bhi,
Yeh aag se ji bahlate hain.

Whenever I make a flower blossom
They bring the autumn wind
Whenever I sing a song
They give the soul succour with flame.

But Raza is still hopeful. “There has been a resurgence of resistance poetry in Urdu in the recent past. The trend of religious poetry in Urdu has also reduced in recent times. The youth today has become more involved in this attempt to bring a positive change. I have seen young people reading protest poetry and reacting to it. Once again universities have become a place of resistance and struggle for change.”

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