Aakrosh A Director's Pain

In the hurry to see how actors deliver their lines, we forget the director’s pain. Tyler Perry, Nandita Das, Mani Ratnam, Vipul Amrutlal, Karan Johar, Ashutosh Gowariker etc. have all made films in frustration about the state of the world and their countries in particular.

Tyler Perry’s pain is obvious in Daddy’s Little Girls where drug lords sell drugs to school children. Nandita Das explores the pain of ordinary people, both Hindus and Muslims in Firaaq. Mani Ratnam bleeds in Ravaan for class systems that divide his people. Anil Sharma explores how ordinary people get caught in the middle in India-Pakistan relationships in his war film, Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo.

Karan Johar looks at how Americans of Indian origin were treated after 9/11 the bombing of the World Trade Centre in the film, My Name is Khan. Ashutosh Gowariker gives us the historical context of the Muslim-Hindu conflict in India in his sumptuous film Jodhaa Akbar. Aakrosh, directed by Priyadarshan is a recent example of a film about a director’s pain.

The film is about the so-called ‘untouchables’ in India who I understand prefer to call themselves Dalits ‘broken people.’ It is about a father’s dream, Pratap Kumar’s father who believed that education will help his children shake off the yoke of belonging to India’s lowest social class.

Police cover-up
Priyadarshan starts off the film with a demonstration in Delhi about three students who went to Chanchar and never came back. Delhi sends the CBI to the area to investigate. The team is headed by Siddarth Chaturvedi played by Akshaye Khanna. He works with Captain Pratap Kumar (Ajay Devgan).

The two men are from two schools of thought. Siddarth does not understand why everybody in Chanchar runs away from them when they ask questions. Pratap Kumar has been down that road before and he knows that villagers are paralysed with fear.

Priyadarshan uses Pratap’s youth to help the audience understand the Dalit story. Pratap is ironing his shirt when he tells Siddarth about Ganga and Jamna a Dalit family in a village called Shabrampur. He says they worked very hard until they were able to buy a little farm. They had some buffalos after that and things were going well until a Thakur got jealous.

What made the Thakur mad is that Ganga said he can never stop being a Dalit, but with education, his children might be richer than the Thakur. Ganga thought it was a joke. The Thakur did not. Their farm was burnt to the ground buy persons unknown.

Ganga brought sweets for his family and told them not to worry. He had laced the sweets with poison and the whole family died, but one boy survived. “What happened to the boy who survived?” asked Siddarth. “He’s ironing his shirt,” replied Pratap.

Siddarth is frustrated because he wants to do everything by the book so that he can nail Ajatshatru Singh, the evil policeman played by Paresh Rawal and the minister’s brother-in-law. He wants to find the people who killed Deeno and his two friends. Deeno is a Dalit. Pratap is always on reverse gear because he knows about Dalits because he is one himself. He survived because of education.

It becomes clear as the film unfolds that Roshni’s father killed Deeno because he was in love with Roshni played by Amita Pathak. Her family is Brahmin and wants her to marry Vijay Singh. During the hearing Roshni says she didn’t kill Deeno. She loved him. “He was very intelligent. That is why he was admitted in medical school. I thought that my family would accept him once he is a doctor.”

Disregard for the law
Aakrosh is difficult to watch because of how women are treated. Ajatshatru Singh slaps Geeta (Bipasha Basu) his wife. In one scene he used his belt all over her body including her face. Pratap can relate to Roshni’s and Deeno’s love because he loved Geeta when they were young, but her father asked him to forget her. Somebody higher up was interested in her.

Geeta’s father said, “Life in the village is merciless, here an entire family will have to pay the price of someone’s mistake.” That is what happened to Deeno’s family. Deeno came down to Chanchar to take Roshni away. Roshni’s father hacked him to death.

They killed Deeno’s brother-in-law when they heard that Siddarth and Pratap tried to talk to him. They strung him to a tree with Johnny his young son. Jamunia, Deeno’s sister’s was brutally attacked. They cut her tongue so that she couldn’t be a witness.

You can see the director’s pain in various scenes. Siddarth enters a barber shop. The minister is getting a shave and Ajatshatru the policeman is watching cricket. The minister is very happy to hear that Siddarth is a Brahmin. Siddarth comments about the cricket team, “There is Muslim, Dalit, Sikh and Shatrya. I wish we could learn from cricket.”

Dalits fight back
Priyadarshan decided to show Dalits fighting back, marching and defending themselves from the police. More than 300 people were killed in Chanchar and the CBI top brass came down to scold Siddarth and Pratap.

It is effective the way the director demonstrates that the issue of higher and lower caste won’t go away. There is a scene where the minister spoke for a long time, using his hands but we could not hear what he was saying. It was obvious that he was defending being a Brahmin.

I don’t know much about the issue because I’m an outsider. I am however a South African. Africans, the majority of people in the country, are not and were never inferior. We had land God allocated to us. Britain, France, Germany and other western countries had guns and other artillery. They took it by force and made us slaves. Bas!

Drum, the 2004 film directed by Zola Maseko, starring Tumisho Masha, Moshidi Motshegwa and Taye Diggs demonstrates what the whole world knows but turns a blind eye, because South Africa is now free. Drum is also a good example of a director’s pain.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness the Novel.

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