India at 70 – Into that heaven of freedom…

“The 70th anniversary of Independence, Madam Speaker, call for soul-searching introspection rather than chest-thumping celebration,” said Sugata Bose, Trinamool MP from Jadavpur in Lok Sabha during a discussion to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Quit India Movement. His words resonate in my ears as I sit down to pen my thoughts on the meaning of freedom, 70 years after the British left India.

“The social habit of mind”, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his essays on nationalism, “which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life.”

FREEDOM FROM MOB VIOLENCE

The visionary that he was, Tagore’s words sound like a prophetic warning for the times we are living in. Not many weeks ago, a teenage boy, Junaid, was lynched in Ballabhgarh on the suspicion of carrying beef. Like Pehlu Khan in Gujarat, Akhlaq in Dadri, or Asgar Ansari in Jharkhand, Junaid’s fault was his religion.

2017 witnessed one of the most grievous riots in the State of Uttar Pradesh where the upper-caste Thakur communities razed and burnt Dalit villages in Saharanpur, bringing back memories of Dalit attacks in Una last year, and the suicide of Rohith Vemula before that.

A spike in mob lynchings, specially by the state-sanctioned vigilantes who call themselves ‘gau-rakshaks’, and attacks on Dalits and minorities, has bruised India like never before. These incidents lead me to think, are we truly free?

FREEDOM FOR WOMEN

Chandigarh was in the news recently after a Facebook post by a girl went viral. Varnika Kundu, the girl in question was chased through the streets of the city, in the wee hours of the night, for seven kilometers by the son of the State BJP President, and his friends. While the stalking case shocked us to the core, it also brought back memories of 2012 Delhi gangrape case. While Varnika waged a war against the system, too eager to shield the neta’s son, the ruling party at Centre, and its cyber army, was out in full force to tarnish her character.

FREEDOM FOR CHILDREN

Incidents like Varnika’s are a reflection of how morally degraded the society at large has become. More so, when one hears of politicians being involved in child trafficking rackets, charging anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh as commission. While children are not safe from the clutches of self-serving politicians, even new born babies are sacrificed at the altar of inept governance. The 70 odd babies who were suffocated to death in Gorakhpur might be wondering what freedom means.

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT

চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির, জ্ঞান যেথা মুক্ত…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free…

Rabindranath Tagore had dreamt of an India that thinks freely, fearlessly. Sadly, in the ‘New India’ that is being trumpeted around the world, freedom of thought is just a euphemism. Debate and discourse are disbarred on campuses; a student who chooses to speak her mind on social media is insulted and threatened by none-other-than a Union Minister.

While funds for research are denied to scholars, the government engages itself in mindless exercises like installing the national flag on campuses and Vice-Chancellors suggest placing tanks inside campuses to instill a patriotic fervour in students (sic). Is this the free-flowing knowledge that Tagore imagined in India?

FREEDOM FROM FAKE NEWS

We live in a post-truth world. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, every user has virtually become a broadcaster of news. But as Peter Parker’s uncle told him, with great power comes great responsibility. With complete lack of accountability, the digital space has become a breeding ground for the virus called ‘fake news’. Morphed images, fake photos, false videos and articles filled with bigotry and bile spread like wildfire, often resulting in communal clashes and violence. Freedom from fake news is pre-requisite for building a strong and resurgent India.

FREEDOM TO LOVE

India is a land laden with ironies. The country that produced the Kamasutra squirms at the very mention of the word sex. There have been petitions from right wing outfits to ban ‘obscene’ statues at Khajuraho temple. A girl and a boy in love need social sanction to be in a relationship; often they meet a tragic fate based on what caste or religion they are born with.

And hapless, unfortunate hacks like me, who were ordained by nature to fall for species of their own gender, have to live like a criminal in this country. Freaks, psycho, mental, impotent – definitions are many, compassion none. Gay means happy as per the English dictionary, but more often than not, our lives are devoid of happiness, because of the constant struggle with the society, for our right to love.

Whether it is a boy who loves a boy, a girl who loves a lower caste boy, a Hindu boy who loves a Muslim girl or a girl who desires another girl – any freedom is incomplete unless one has the right to live with the partner of their choice, without being judged or ostracised.

INTO THAT HEAVEN OF FREEDOM

A country is nothing without her citizens. Seventy years ago, India had her tryst with destiny at midnight. It is for us to bring to fruition the dream that our founding fathers envisaged. Freedom will present herself to us if only we make ourselves worthy enough. If that requires standing up to the State, we should not dither.

Bandh bhenge daao….

Movie Review: Dhananjoy by Arindam Sil

15 August, 2004 brought the curtains down on the life Dhananjoy Chatterjee after 14 years of trials and tribulations. The central character to a heinous crime that shook the ‘Bhadralok’ city of Kolkata, Dhananjoy’s name evokes emotionally-charged responses from people even to this day. Accused of raping and murdering an 18-year old Hetal Parekh, Dhananjoy (who served as the security guard of the building where Hetal lived) claimed innocence till the day of his hanging.

 

dhananjoy movie reviewA still from the movie

 

The trial of Dhananjoy Chatterjee left many questions unanswered (he was unprecedentedly awarded death sentence solely based on circumstantial evidence when many key witnesses had made contrary statements in the court). There was a groundswell of clamour for his hanging at the time in Kolkata, led by none-other-than the wife of the then Chief Minister of the State, political pressure from the Gujarati vote-bank and a huge media pressure which led to the final culmination of Dhananjoy’s fate. Was he guilty? Or was he just another scapegoat sacrificed at the altar of our inept judicial system? Arindam Sil’s film explores the unsolved pieces of the puzzle.

The film is a gripping courtroom drama that compels you to challenge the notions you have lived with till now. It makes you question the system and assume a ringside view of life as it unfolds. The film can be separated into two parts: the first half explores the Dhananjoy trials as it happened in a flashback while the second half is a work of fiction where the case is reopened and available evidences re-examined and questioned in a trial. Although the film is judgmental, the director lets you be the judge of what could have transpired on 5 March, 1990.

The first half of ‘Dhananjoy’ has shades of inspiration from ‘Talvar’. It also has a ‘Roshomon’ style narration of the fateful incident. However, Arindam Sil shines in his story-telling with the daft writing and striking background score. Although the film indulges in melodrama at times, it is balanced by performances that will keep you to the edge of your seats.

A courtroom drama is expected to be dialogue-heavy, which can often get tedious for the audience to digest. In ‘Dhananjoy’ the scenes are interspersed with witty one-liners that keep the film from slipping into monotony. Kanchan Mullick and Mir (Kaushik Sen and Deepanjan Ghosh post intermission) play their parts well as the lawyers in the case. In fact, the legalities in this film were more believable and ‘real’ than most films are. Kabya Sinha, played by Mimi, is emotional yet focused. Mimi does full justice to her part.

Anirban Bhattacharya and Sudipta Chakraborty steal the show with their nuanced yet emotive performances. The stoic villainy portrayed by Sudipta is enough to send a shiver down your spine. Anirban Bhattacharya’s eyes do the talking for him. His slow walk to the gallows with Manna Dey’s ‘Mahasindhur Opar Hote’ will haunt your memories for days to come. These are performances that will define the year 2017 for Bengali cinema.

However, Kabya’s motivation to work in this case, that too four years after a man has been hanged, is a bit too much to handle. A more convincing back story could have added to the film. Why require a full-fledged trial to re-examine the evidence? With the research she had, she could have written a book instead. Also, was the public prosecutor in the second half only there for providing comic relief through objections? He hardly made a case. Moreover, the opening disclaimer says the film is purely a work of fiction, while the name as well as the promos belie the claim.

All controversies aside, there is an inherent honesty in the making of the film which sets ‘Dhananjoy’ apart. One must watch it with an open mind and separate the facts from the fiction while walking out of the theatres.

My rating: 3/5 stars

DISCLAIMER: All Images Used In This Post Have Their Respective Copyrights

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