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For Mumbai,a film on Shivajigiri

In the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections,the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance suffered a 0-6 rout in Mumbai...

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
May 31, 2009 1:11:38 am

In the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections,the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance suffered a 0-6 rout in Mumbai,which was for long deemed a stronghold of the Shiv Sena. The Congress-NCP combine,which has for the past ten years run the worst government in Maharashtra’s history,should thank only one person for its spectacular success: Raj Thackeray. His Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (MNS),established only three years ago as a breakaway from the Shiv Sena,managed to snatch away a huge chunk of votes of the Marathi-speaking people. “I am simply stunned by the massive support that Raj has gained in the Marathi-speaking community,” said Kirit Somaiya,my party colleague in Mumbai,a Maharashtrian of Gujarati origin,who too was defeated despite his popularity as a crusader for many a worthy cause. “We in the BJP must study this phenomenon in-depth and objectively before we can chalk out a future strategy. There are deep-rooted social,economic and cultural factors that have made even staunch BJP-Shiv Sena supporters get attracted by Raj’s message.”

As a half-Kannadiga and half-Marathi who,after spending the longest period of his life in Mumbai,is now working out of Delhi,I have observed Raj Thackeray’s rise with both trepidation and curiosity. Trepidation,because I detest and reject his campaign against outsiders,North Indians in particular,believing that Mumbai belongs to all,just as India belongs to all. Curiosity,because I want to know why he is able to strike a sympathetic chord in Marathi Manoos (Marathi-speaking person) of all classes-from common job-seeking youth living in Mumbai’s sprawling slums to highly qualified professionals in business and finance. Marathi Manoos is as nationalistic as any you can find in India. Yet,today he is nursing a sense of hurt and injustice at being marginalised in Mumbai,which is making him assert his regional and linguistic identity.

My curiosity was whetted by the posters I saw last week of a new Marathi film,provocatively titled as Mee Shivaji Raje Bhosale Boltoy—Himmat Asel Tar Adawa’ (I am Shivaji Raje Bhosale speaking—Stop me if you have the guts). A friend told me that the film,by far the most important political movie in Maharashtra’s 50-year-old history,made a major contribution to Raj Thackeray’s electoral strength in the Lok Sabha polls. As I came out of the movie hall after a three-hour riveting cinematic experience,it wasn’t difficult to see why. And if Raj Thackeray re-orients his politics according to the film’s positive and progressive message,it is also not difficult to see him soon emerge as the leader Maharashtra is waiting for.

The film has two heroes. One of them,Dinakarrao Bhosale,is an ordinary middle-class Marathi Manoos,whose job as a bank clerk condemns him to a life of relative deprivation and humiliation,both economic and cultural. His son,despite securing more than 90 per cent marks,cannot get admission in an engineering college because he cannot pay hefty donation that wealthy non-Marathi business families can for their non-meritorious children. His talented daughter cannot realise her dream of becoming a Bollywood actress because her name (Chandrakala Bhosale) is considered too “downmarket” by a director,who,it later transpires,has changed his own name from ‘Gaikwad’ to ‘Gidwani’ in order to gain a foothold in the film industry. Bhosale lives in an old part of Mumbai in a decrepit hundred-year-old chawl,which he owns,but a rich Gujarati builder has his eye on the property. The builder,well-connected with the city’s corrupt political class and the underworld,has plans to construct two spanking skyscrapers in its place,and offers to give Bhosale a lumpsum amount and a small apartment in a far-off suburb. Much of old Mumbai has seen such migration of middle-class and poor Marathi families,and the new commercial and residential towers that have changed the landscape of the erstwhile working-class areas of Lower Parel,Parel,Lalbaug and Worli have a distinctly non-Marathi character. Bhosale’s character typifies the angst of the Marathi-speaking population of Mumbai,which feels that it is being squeezed out of the city,both at the top and the bottom. More hurtful than economic marginalisation is the Marathi people’s realisation that the “outsiders” coming into the city look down upon Marathi language and ethos. In a moving scene in the film,Bhosale bemoans the current helplessness of Marathi people,in spite of being inheritors of the proud legacy of a galaxy of great men and women such as Raja Shivaji,Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar,Lokamanya Tilak,Jyotiba and Savitri Phule and many poet-saints.

The other hero,indeed super-hero,of the film is Emperor Shivaji,played superbly by filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar,whose cousin Santosh Manjrekar has directed it. He appears in the narrative in the same surreal but didactic way that Mahatma Gandhi does in Lage Raho Munnabhai. Just as the Mahatma teaches Munnabhai ‘Gandhigiri’,Shivaji,who shares the surname Bhosale with the film’s protagonist,teaches him ‘Shivajigiri’ – “Don’t blame outsiders for your problems. Rather,develop a positive attitude and excel in all that they are good at. Be proud of your name,your language,your history and your ethos. Do not berate others,but never let others berate you. Shed fear and be brave and determined to fight for your principles and ideals,even at the risk of your life.”

In the end King Shivaji Bhosale transforms Commoner Dinakar Bhosale (a brilliant performance by Sachin Khedekar) and turns this self-pitying Marathi Manoos into a fearless crusader for justice and dignity. The best part of the film-and this is where Raj Thackeray can learn a lesson or two to emerge as a reformed and more widely respected leader-is that Shivaji’s message is inclusive and not exclusive. It is not “anti-outsider”; rather,it exhorts that all the people living in Maharashtra,belonging to all caste,religious and linguistic backgrounds,should be treated justly and equally. The flip-side is also true: all of them,especially non-Marathi people,should be proud of being Maharashtrians. Thus,Shivaji,the great fighter for India’s national liberation that he was,re-appears in the modern era as a messenger of unity transcending the diversity of Mumbai and Maharashtra. Frankly,as Shivaji stood atop his imposing fort in the last scene of the film,surrounded by the majestic mountains of the Western Ghat,I bowed my head before this great warrior in redoubled gratitude and admiration.

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