Indu Sarkar movie cast: Kirti Kulhari, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Supriya Vinod
Indu Sarkar movie director: Madhur Bhandarkar
Indu Sarkar movie rating: 2 stars
Indu Sarkar is a prime example of why there cannot be a truly trenchant political film made in India: regardless of the government in power, there is simply no way that an authentic true-to- its-time-and-place film can be made and put out there, because almost all ‘netas’, cutting across party lines, have the thinnest skin, and the ability to take offense at the slightest opportunity.
You dare name someone, and the wrath of the Almighty is visited upon you, and your film is skinned and slaughtered till there’s almost no meat left.
That’s the problem with Indu Sarkar. The inherent constraints of the Bhandarkar style of story-telling could have been ignored, if the film had chosen to be a close analysis of the events that led up to one of India’s most turbulent periods, and its consequences. But it is reduced to an overwrought story of one woman called Indu Sarkar and her fight against the excesses of the Emergency. The big picture is subsumed, so much so that it almost vanishes.
Even with a sympathetic government and a pliant CBFC, what we get is a watered-down, bloodless version of that time. The long-winded disclaimers, in Hindi and English, before the film begins, tell us firmly that it is all a figment of the filmmaker’s imagination: how are we to take what follows seriously? Then it becomes a case of looking for those intermittent moments which catch the flavor of the events as they unfold (the bulldozers at Turkman Gate, the dreaded raids to corral all males in sight to fulfill ‘nasbandi’ targets and so on), leading to some drama, which Bhandarkar has been capable of creating in his better films (Page 3, and the under-rated Satta).
Just as Kissa Kursi Ka could only be made when the Janata government came to power, Indu Sarkar is clearly a gift of this political dispensation. Even so, it has had to make its way to a release via a chorus of Congress party protests, and after getting a pass from the Supreme Court.
Indu Sarkar is set during the Emergency, and shows us the horrific violation of freedom put into motion by then prime minister Indira Gandhi, aided and abetted by her younger son Sanjay: insiders say he coerced her into a declaration, because if the formidable Mrs G had a weakness, it was Sanjay. The forced sterilization (nasbandi), the breaking up of ‘jhuggi-jhompris’, the sweeping up and arrest of all those in opposition, and the entire system being suborned and subverted: it’s all there.
A better film could have unpacked the horrors better. Indu Sarkar doesn’t break fresh ground, even as it does bring alive some of the most disturbing aspects of the time. And we relive it, even as we cringe at the heavy melodrama, and the over-simplification of many of the issues the film raises.
The smartest thing about the film is its name. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was also known as Indu (only a favoured few could address her thus). First name Indu surname Sarkar (Kirti Kulhari) is an ordinary Indian woman with extraordinary courage and tenacity. Only because she’s called Indu do we never forget that other Indu aka Indira, who hovers about the film, but remains She Who Shall Not Be Named, even though there are dramatic dialogues about ‘ma’ and ‘beta’ and ‘ghulami’.
Son Sanjay Gandhi is also not named but called, comically, Chief. Neil Nitin Mukesh makes a meal of the part. The resemblance of the actor to the person is eerie: the pushed back hair, the thick rimmed glasses, and that thin smile, instantly make you remember the man who was the power behind the throne. His coterie is also immediately familiar: the woman in the ‘goggles’ and the saris looks a lot like the real life Rukhsana Sultana, and the actor playing Jagdish Tytler nails that distinctive beard.
Being forced into hiding fact and passing it off as fiction weakens the film. Indu has an interesting back story, and her romance and marriage with an ambitious civil servant, the very sarkaari Sarkar (Tota Roy Chowdhury) is a nice early diversion. Indu is both an insider and outsider. Her husband is the most vocal votary of the emergency, and she slowly but surely sees the other side of the rosy picture that the government wants painted.
But here’s the thing: how can you make a film on the Emergency without calling Indira and Sanjay by their names? That’s exactly the way Shoojit Sircar’s 2013 film Madras Café gave us an entire film on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi without once giving us his name.
Kulhari works hard at getting into her character, and her earnestness is a good fit. But she’s made to do too much, and the others around her too little. Some balance, and a sharper perspective would have made Indu Sarkar the what-happened-during-the-Emergency-film for this generation.
For that, I’d suggest you reach out for Sudhir Mishra’s hard-hitting 2005 film Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi.