The Village Aakrosh and Swades
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 Malayalam, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Konkani, Nepali, Khasi, Dogri, Garo and other languages.
Aakrosh, directed by Priyadarshan had a scene where Dalits packed their belonging and left the village, which is ruled by Ajatshatru Singh (Paresh Rawal) the corrupt policeman and his friends. That is no fiction. Thousands of people leave their villages in India, China, Africa and all over the world to either go to the cities or other countries.
Reasons for leaving depend on the individual, but it could also be to escape suffocating village norms. There is a wrong assumption that villages are models of tranquillity, everybody loves another and there is no crime.
There is a lot, mostly crime against women. Geeta, (Bipashu Basu) was in love with Pratap (Ajay Devgan) when they were growing up. They did not get married because her father gave her to Ajatshatru, the cricket-loving corrupt policeman. Her father loved Pratap but told him that his whole family will suffer if Geeta refuses the policeman.
Years later, she overhears her husband and his friends confess to the murder of Deenu, a medical student. Deenu (played by Swapnil Kotriwal) had come to take away Roshni (Amita Pathak) his girlfriend. Her father didn’t like Deenu because he was a Dalit, a lower social class.
Geeta breaks up a jug she is holding when she sees Pratap after all those years. Pratap and Siddarth, played by Akshaye Khanna have come to Jhanjhar to investigate Deenu’s disappearance. Pratap regards Geeta as a potential witness. She lies. He knows she is lying because he once loved her and knows her facial expressions when she is lying.
Geeta finally tells Pratap all she knows about Deenu and his friends’ murder. Pratap and Siddarth closed on the murderers after that. When Geeta’s husband, the corrupt policeman heard about it, he took out his belt and beat her.
Rukumlal, Roshni’s father killed them because Deenu dared to love his daughter, a Brahmin. The film was largely advertised as an ‘honour killing’ story. I did not understand what that was until I screened Aakrosh.
It basically means that Roshni’s father had the right to kill Deenu because he sullied his honour one, by loving his daughter, black as he was and two because he came from Delhi to take her away. The film Aakrosh upholds justice over village tyranny or 'honour killings'. Murders were committed and justice had to prevail.
NRI's and 'back home'
Ashutosh Gowariker handled village tyranny in his film Swades. Critics accused him of preaching. Swades worked because it questioned two things, should NRI’s jet in from America and accuse India of the caste system, corruption, incompetency and other ills and fly back to New York or do they come back home and help solve problems?
The village in Swades is not murderous like the one in Aakrosh however, it has a bouquet of issues. 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.
Mohan at first praises everything about the United States. Gita, the local school teacher who lives with Kaveriamma defends the government. Mohan cannot get over the fact that children of the lower class do not attend the local school. They don’t sit with higher class children at the village open air cinema.
Local and religious leaders are not happy with Mohan’s criticisms, but they slowly warm up to the idea that lower class children should attend Gita’s school. They also agree to his plan to generate electricity with the available water resources. Villagers lay pipes, do the welding, collect rocks, everything needed to lay down infrastructure for electricity.
Aakrosh and Swades are as different as night and day. There are social and religious differences in Swades but the status quo is not maintained through the barrel of the gun. The director also dealt with Mohan’s dilemma. Should he remain in the United States in his prestigious job with NASA or go back to his love Gita, her little brother and Kaveriamma?
What is ironic is that people leave their countries for lack of opportunities, corrupt politicians, or to run away from an Aakrosh-like village, but when they settle in Canada, Australia, South Africa wherever, their country is wonderful, it can do no wrong. They constantly criticize the country that gave them refuge. “Back home,” they sigh.
Nonqaba waka Msimang is the author of Sweetness The Novel.