“Jab zero diya mere Bharat ne, Bharat ne mere Bharat ne (when my Bharat gave the zero, by Bharat, by my Bharat).”
Zero here doesn’t mean the numerical value of the number and Bharat, of course, doesn’t mean Manoj Kumar, the recipient of this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke Award for contribution to Indian, nay Bharatiya, cinema. And what a line to remember for the man of the moment, who didn’t receive so much attention for this big achievement as some of his predecessors did. Surprising isn’t it, when we all are so animatedly debating patriotism and nationalism. Could it have been timed that way by the jury comprising not one but two iconic Mangeshkar sisters, writer Salim Khan and singers Nitin Mukesh and Anup Jalota that seemed more like a mix-up than a well-thought out combination? But let’s respect them for their decision to confirm the prestigious award on Mr India; my apologies, Bharat Kumar (Anil Kapoor is Mr India and India is not Bharat)
Returning to the magnificently composed Kalyanji-Anandji number penned by Indivar from Kumar’s very own Purab Aur Paschim? And check the full song. It might appear to many like an RSS “vaiyyaktik geet”, personal song perhaps in English, or maybe song for every person (take your pick the way you understand the RSS jargon). The film depicting a clash of Bharatiya and western cultures or probably values makes no bones of the moral superiority of the former, an interpretation that could warm the cockles of not only the RSS followers but also many beyond it.
In this particular song enacted by Kumar in his stiff-necked style, however, it is not just the social or spiritual Indian values that are eulogised. Here, it is that lately-discovered (‘afterthought’ maybe, but the word is best avoided in the honour of “nationalist”) past Indian glory in science that gets stated with supreme pride.
“Deta na dashmlo Bharat to, yu chand pe jaana mushkil tha (if India wouldn’t have given the decimal system, conquering the moon would have remained a far cry),” the song goes on. It’s that simple, you know. Any question to the effect as to why Bharat himself (or herself depending on if it’s Bharat Mata or the patriarchal Bharat Varsh) didn’t take its knowledge of mathematics and astronomy to surge ahead of others centuries ago when it was seized of it all would be dubbed “unintelligent” or even “anti-national”. It would mean you think science should have been preferred over spiritualism by our knowledgeable ancestors. And as the likes of Fritjof Capra have certified, for sages in India, understanding the universe was a matter of atmanubhuti (spiritual discovery) not experimental science. Be that as it may, but we have finally adopted the latter and would soon land on the moon, or maybe should we say Chandralok. After all, we are indebted to our sages not the Western science that has built its scientific empire on the edifice of Bharatiya shunya.
But we have transgressed a lot from where we began. So, what does Manoj Kumar try to say through Purab Aur Paschim? “Kale gore ka bhed nahin, har dil se hamara nata hai (we don’t discriminate between the white and the black),” the Indivar number goes on. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So what if we have the ever-enduring caste system? It’s not such a black-and-white issue it is made out to be. It started off as a “scientific” division of labour not intended to discriminate among the four Varnas. It’s another matter it degenerated into the caste system. Unpatriotic are those who ask questions about how a civilisation that started off on such magnanimous foundation progressed towards a narrow, sectarian clash among its bearers. They, in fact, are guilty of washing the dirty linen in public. We should never point out flaws in our culture. It’s “anti-national” to do so, more so in the current times. That’s exactly what Prime Minister Narendra Modi was saying the other day at the Art of Living mega cultural show. “Itni mamta nadiyon ko bhi jahan maataa kehke bulaate hain (we are so full of love that we even call our rivers mother),” the song further goes on. That’s why we hold many of our religious programmes in the lap of those mothers, who suffer silently for her worthy children. The only time the song slips into self-pity is when it says, “Kuchh aur na aataa ho hamko, hame pyaar nibhaanaa aataa hain (we may not be good for anything else, but we do give love to all).” But otherwise, it’s just the kind we all must sing proudly in the honour of motherland. Less wonder then that the man, who portrayed the East so shiningly against endemically degenerative West has been honoured with the top award.
But then, why did the same Manoj Kumar make “Upkaar” that so poignantly brought out the faultlines within our joint families and society, rooted in greed and selfishness of its members? What about the great family values of Bharatiya sanskriti? And why did he make Roti, Kapda aur Makan that only underscored the systemic and social ills dogging us all? And the magnum opus Kranti that meanders through its own imaginary plot of the great Indian War of Independence, where revolutionaries sing such ridiculous songs as Chana chor garam babu? The pop-patriots may ask: So what? We were ruled for hundreds of years by Muslims and British, so some contradictions are bound to creep in. Point well taken. So, Bharatiya Sanskriti isn’t foolproof, after all.
But what happens to the zero diya-wallah Bharat when he grows older? He turns to the religious sub-text of Godly miracles and once again falls into the same old philosophical straight-jacket that owes everything to god and makes the human a mere kathputli (puppet) in God’s hands. Shirdi ke Saibaba, which Kumar wrote, pays glowing tributes to the mystic character of Indian (not Bharat here since Saibaba was revered by both Hindus and Muslims) mind.
Commendably, however, Kumar’s Bharat Kumar tag didn’t stop him from inviting Pakistani actors Mohammad Ali and Zeba Bakhtiyar to act in Clerk, a flop by all accounts.
But Kumar was otherwise a very successful film-maker with most of the films he made becoming hit at box-office. Idealism, patriotism and nationalism apart, it’s commerce, stupid! Else, why would the same Indivar later write something like “Taki, taki’ (Himmatwala) and “Tamma tamma loge” (Thanedaar).
Clearly, when Manoj Kumar covers his face with his hand, we shouldn’t mock at him like Shah Rukh Khan did. It only has a limited sense – don’t take Kumar on his face value.