No Money Without Land

I am an NRI, translated into: no-real Indian. I follow Indian cinema in my quest to find only one million original films before humanity as we know it disappears. I will use the term Indian cinema sparingly because I only have access to Hindi films, not Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati and other languages.

I thought Om Jai Jagadish, directed by Anupam Kher was about Om (Anil Kapoor), Jai (Farheed Shah) and Jagadish (Abhishek Bachchan) trying to save their beach front home they lost when Shekhar, Om’s boss played by Parmeet Sethi tricked him.

He gave Om money to pay for Jai’s school fees in the United States. Om trusted his boss so he did not even read the piece of paper he was signing. It had a clause that Shekhar will own the house if Om defaulted on the loan. Indeed Om fails to pay off the loan. Shekhar and his girlfriend Tanya (Achint Kaur) want to demolish Om’s home and build a five star hotel. I realised after more than twenty screenings that the film is about land or real estate.

Mother India Land
The land issue is one of the reasons why Mother India is an epic. The advent of wealth that came with the British, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and other colonialists had one lie, that paper money was wealth, when in fact it is land, with its rivers, plains, rocky terrain, everything. Mother India should therefore be seen in that perspective. The issues that were relevant when Mehboob directed this epic film is are still potent.

When it was time for Shamu (Raaj Kumar) to get married, his mother wanted a wonderful wedding for her only son, so she borrowed 500 rupees from Sukhilal (Kanhaiyalal) the money lender. That was the end of her life because he took three parts of her crop. “That’s the interest. The principal is as is,” said the Sukhilal. She could not pay off the loan. Shamu her son could not either. He even lost his arms trying to remove boulders so that he could plant on difficult land which was not part of the loan with the money lender.

His children loved him nonetheless and had fun lighting cigarettes for him. He left in the middle of the night one day never to return. Mother India is about how Radha played by Nargis toiled all her life to pay just the interest to Sukhilal’s loan.

Birju her youngest son played by Sunil Dutt has always hated Sukhilal. He grew up seeing his mother giving Sukhilal three parts of her crop. He watched Sukhilal trying to get her into bed, confiscating her buffalos when the crop was late, even taking her pots and pans. What he hated the most, was seeing the black thread around her wrist because Sukhilal took her bangles.

Swades land
Swades, a film by Ashutosh Gowariker also deals with the land issue. Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan) who works for NASA in America has just received his U.S. citizenship. He goes back to India with the intention of bringing back his nanny Kaveriamma, played by Kishori Ballal. She realises that he has been gone from India for so long he is clueless about the country’s problems.

Kaveriamma sends Mohan on a long journey to go and collect rent from Haridas, a tenant farmer who is using Gita’s land. He is shocked at the abject poverty of the man and his kids. The farmer tells him that he cannot pay because he switched trades. He was a weaver and his skill became redundant when machines arrived. He took Gita’s land and became a farmer. “The village elders did not accept this and looked upon me as an outcast.”

Josh, directed by Mansoor Khan seems to be a film about gangs, who have divided an area in Goa into ours and theirs. Max (Shah Rukh Khan) is the head of one gang. He lives with his twin sister Shirley (Aishwarya Rai). The opposite gang is controlled by Prakash (Sharad Kapoor). Shirley falls in love with his brother Rahul (Chandrachur Singh).

The film is full of fights between these two but, it turns out that Shirley and Max are Vasco’s children the Portuguese man who had so much land in Goa, his stature is in the town square. He did not marry their mother because he wanted to marry a Portuguese girl.

Rahul discovers by accident that a piece of empty land where kids play soccer actually belong to Max and Shirley. Vasco gave it to their mother. Her name is in the title deed.

Directors deal with land in two ways.  It can be outright like in Mother India and Swades, or it can be hidden like in Ravaan the cinema masterpiece, directed by Mani Ratnam.

Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.


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