The Dera Sacha Sauda complex in Sirsa, Haryana, is deserted. The pistachio green walls are bare except for a flexiboard advertising civil service coaching classes and a giant hoarding of MSG: The Messenger of God, the debut film of the faith’s spiritual leader, Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan. There are no police, none of the anticipated protests, just silence. Then, suddenly, a drum beat is heard and the dust on the street stirs upwards into a smoky screen through which a small group of middle-aged women and men strides forward, chanting “MSG! MSG!”, halting momentarily to break into a jig before resuming their journey. Then it is silent again.
At a glance, Sirsa, a dustbowl located 275 km from Delhi, offers little in terms of beauty or development. The roads are pockmarked with bumps, there are no trees on the main streets and the winter sun is no longer weak, the heat rising through the afternoon. The only colour apart from the grey buildings that stand amidst those inching their way into existence is lent by the multi-coloured posters of MSG splashed all over the city. Sirsa might look like it’s down on luck, but have a little faith, a man from here might just have what it takes to become “god”, one frame at a time.
At the Delhi premiere of MSG on Thursday night, Dinesh Insan, an IT professional in his mid-40s and a staunch Dera Sacha Sauda follower, explains why “Guruji” decided to make the film. “A bunch of children would visit Guruji every day at the main centre in Sirsa. One day, the kids didn’t show up, they had gone to watch a film. Guruji then thought of making a film that promoted the Dera values and has targeted this project at the youth,” says Dinesh.
It is Friday afternoon and at OHM theatre, a multiplex 8 km away from the main road in Sirsa, where Haryana Police constables are shepherding moviegoers towards the main entrance, the box office is all but closed. “Ticket saari bik chuki hain, kisise kehke organise kijiye (the tickets are sold out, ask somebody to organise them for you),” says the man behind the counter. OHM is screening the film thrice a day in three auditoriums simultaneously; the only other release this week, Roy, is relegated to a night show.
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An army of Sacha Sauda devotees of all ages, sporting fitted T-shirts with “Guruji” on them, in his windswept curls and technicolour vest, is trooping in.
“I’ve seen the film once but I’m hanging around to see if I can get hold of tickets for more shows,” says Vinod Kumar Insan, 26, who is impressed by how “accurately” Insan has understood what the youth wants in films. “The Censor Board that refused to give MSG a certificate had allowed such dirty films to be screened in the past. Now the board has changed and we can see immediate change, a dharmik film has been released,” he says.
Inside the humble multiplex that boasts of a dinky car square and a few chaat stalls, the air is thick with barely contained excitement and the sound of happy selfies being clicked on mobile phones. Inside Audi 1 and 2, the film has begun and Insan appears on the screen to a raucous cheer of “Dhan dhan sadhguru tera hi asra” and a sea of arms rise. In the film, Insan is dressed in bejewelled vests and a variety of pants in a range of bright colours — all that glitters is him alone. He is shown to spearhead the community’s various charitable events — including a mass blood donation camp, a grain collection drive, a dramatic rehabilitation of sex workers that ends with the women crying tears of disbelief and gratitude, and a national integration effort through the same musical number performed in four ends of the country.
The audience is beyond itself. A young woman catapults from her seat to salute “MSG” after a particularly poignant social message; a few scenes later, people get up to dance, just like they would at a real “Rubaroo night”, a musical evening where Insan performs his songs, including the hit Love Charger. “In the actual Rubaroo nights that take place in Sirsa, nearly 2 lakh devotees come and Guruji conducts a lottery for some of his devotees to get a chance to speak to him directly,” says Sonia, a young journalist with Haryana News.
The celebration is a bit muted in the Gold Class at the audi. There’s no dancing, only clapping. “I love the film, especially what Guruji said about daughters. I have three of my own and his words brought tears to my eyes,” says Mithuram Insan, 54, who is looking for tickets to bring his family to the screenings.
In the coming years, six other films will be released. The sequel, tentatively titled MSG2, is nearing completion. “About 80 per cent of the film has been shot, largely in Rajasthan. This time the plot is centred around Guruji’s work among the tribes in Kotra and Jhadol tehsils in Udaipur in 2000. They were addicted to mahua, ate meat, there was no institution of marriage and malnutrition rates were high. Guruji set up 400-500 relief camps and worked on restoring social values,” says Dr Aditya Insan, spokesperson.