The Maoist movement: Chakravyuhs of our times

December 30, 2012

By T.V.H. Prathamesh

chakravyuh.jpg

Cinema, as a commodity, requires deployment of a huge number of labourers in form of acting crew, technical crew, spot boys, manual labourers, stunt men, post production crew, extras among others with varying degrees of skill for its creation. As with every other commodity, both the credit of creation and the profits rest with a few key players such as producers, financers, actors, music directors, singers and distributors. The reasons why lead actors can at times end up with a share in revenue and the ‘stunt doubles’ survive on pittance doled out as wages, are as irrational as any other system of wages in society and reflect the relations of production that exist in the society.

While these questions are pertinent in analysis of cinema, such an analysis is worthy of an article by itself and any ability to achieve completeness would require a more sustained research than what this article permits. In absence of such an analysis, looking at the ‘economics’ of cinema in terms of what constitutes the market of a cinema and how the content of production is largely decided by an industry stratified along class lines, might seem like a worthy exercise.

Economics of Cinema

A few decades back it was considered fairly common for members of the lower end of the then middle classes, to aspire and partly succeed in establishing themselves as directors or actors in Bombay cinema. Though most of them were invariably upper caste (even as far as Muslims were concerned) and quite often belonged to the Punjabi Khatri community. Their ‘rags to riches’ stories acquired a mythic status and went onto to strengthen the notion of Bombay being a city of dreams. In a manner reminiscent of electoral politics, the 90’s saw an increase in the barrier of entry to the Bombay cinema. The actors and directors who made a mark in the industry in this duration either hailed from a family linked to the industry or hailed from an equally well off background. This might be indirectly linked to the corporate finance replacing mafia and diamond trade as primary sources of cinema funding. The corporate capital, has limited patience to deal with the chaos of business of cinema with the involved risks. Thus funding of cinema became a more organised exercise with a pre-identified business strategy in terms of potential market for this product, content to be produced as deemed fit for this section of market and branding of the film makers/actors as palatable for this market. While it could be argued that cinema always involved some form of business strategy, but what corporatisation changed was the degree of strategization, the importance of product differentiation and restricted scope for making cinema targeting a wide cross section of audience. For a producer of a film to make profits, all he needs is a bank loan with low interest rates or equity stakes from individuals/firms, a marketable product pre-sold to distributors which usually constitutes around 30% of the costs on the film with the rest of the money coming in from music, home video, overseas and satellite rights. If a film manages to draw audiences to assure full houses over the first weekend it suffices for all those who invest to at least break even. To market a film aggressively targeting a specific cross section of society became an extremely important strategy to draw in the initial crowds.

The identification of a potential market by directors or producers often involves deployment of some form of analysis involving pop social categorisation. In a society that is stratified along lines of class, caste, gender, age and region among other factors determine purchasing power and tastes, those involved in the business evolve their own categories of identification. Though they may not exactly capture the nuances of social analysis of India, terms like ‘multiplex film’, ‘interiors’ or ‘NRI markets’, serve as an approximate substitute. While the ‘multiplex’ film did provide some leeway to considerations of a possible female audience, the large screen audience was often perceived to be exclusively male. These perceptions might definitely have a link with the permitted expenditure and time on entertainment for women across class lines as well as the social freedom to go a cinema hall without a male escort.

The kind of elite that is today involved in the business or direction of cinema lacks any experience that could connect it to the aesthetic choices of the vast majority of the population of this country. In such a scenario, the removal of price caps on tickets and subsidies to multiplexes partly came to the rescue, where it sufficed to create films for restricted audiences at overpriced tickets or the overseas markets. Riding on the ‘middle class aspirations’, the films usually were stories about the very rich, the depictions varied from semi realist (Farhan Akhtar), escapist (Yash Chopra) or sought to depict the lives of the rich (usually Punjabi or Bania) as imagined by middle classes (Sooraj Barjatya). The rights for music, overseas distribution rights and television rights, made sure that a film would be able to more than recover its costs even if it managed to do an average business in terms of its ticket sales. However, such a business model has its own limitations in terms of ensuring profits for large cinema hall owners, films spread in suburbs, assuring a steady inflow of cash when the prints start doing rounds of smaller towns and villages. The large halls in working class neighbourhoods of urban areas and smaller towns stuck to screening the prints of 90’s action films, when not digressing into porn and horror.

This remarkable split led to another stream that emerged consisting of film directors and producers who were churning out films for the large cinema halls in the city and ‘provincial territories’. Films that would enjoy steady reruns in large cinema halls with audiences from the lower ends of class spectrum, and at times even outdo the regulars in multiplexes where audience would consume these products with a sense of mock and awe. Be it the Singhams, the Dabbangs, or the Emran Hashmi sleaze boilers, these films were a creation of classes which controlled the means of production and attempted to make films catering to their imagined notions of ‘mass taste’. Whether their commercial success is actually indicative of a ‘mass taste’ or was it the case of best among the worst cannot be adequately answered. Films were also made in Bhojpuri and other local dialects at low costs with such audiences in minds. Though such films were by no means people’s art, they were atleast efforts at trying to capture the imagination of people other than the urban ticket paying classes. Emergence of such cinema is not without its economic logic. The share of revenue from ticket sales reserved for distributors is around 50% in the first week in multiplex (falls to 35% in the second week) and around 80% in large cinema halls. Many big production houses such as Yash Raj films also ventured into distribution in the last decade or so, making it more profitable for production houses to pitch films for large cinema halls.

Prakash Jha: The man and his moment

This context saw the re-emergence of Prakash Jha, a director who tried his hand at ‘art house’ films in the 1980’s. With funds drying up in parallel cinema and failed attempts at family films (like Rahul and Dil Kya Kare), he reinvented himself as the maker of commercial films set in ‘heartland’ India. The earliest of these films – Gangajal, loosely based on Bhagalpur blindings, was lapped up with acclaim by sections of upper caste salaried middle classes with roots in those ‘heartlands’ and who saw an erosion of social status and power during the rise of OBC politics in Bihar. Though the mere fact of an action based film in a non-urban setting in times when NRI mush was the norm (before films like Dabbang hit the screen), might have helped it gain a larger audience. For many others, his films were an ‘educational’ window into those parts of the country that only hears of through news on television. The fact that Prakash Jha had roots in Bihar lent a degree of credibility to his depictions. Even if it might just be an imagination of reality of a Maithil Brahmin who grew up in Bokaro Steel City in a family that was at least middle class enough to afford his way to Bollywood through Delhi University, Sir J.J. School of Arts and FTII.

Prakash Jha saw his fortune grow bigger with each of these ‘heartland films’ and created a niche for his brand of cinema. His brand of cinema refers to the kind of films which are commercially viable as action films set in a pseudo realistic context with socio political pretensions. Prakash Jha’s activities were however not purely restricted to the business of cinema. He contested Lok Sabha elections twice (once as an independent and once on a ticket from Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party) and campaigned for Nitish Kumar in the 2005 assembly election. His business investments in Bihar range from Patna’s first shopping mall and multiplex to land allotments for a Multi-speciality hospital at Hajipur. Though his ventures into business never deterred him from projecting the image of a filmmaker with a sense of political and social justice reminiscent of JP brand of socialist politics.

Chakravyuh

Chakravyuh is not the first film from Bombay to have dealt with the ‘Maoist/Naxalite issue’, though it is the first mainstream film to do so. In 1980, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas made a film called ‘Naxalites’ starring Mithun Chakraborti and Smita Patil. Unfortunately not too many copies of the film seem to survive to this day. Govind Nihalani directed several films in 80’s and 90’s, which tangentially touched the issue, including an adaptation of Hazaar Chaurasi ki Maa. Gulzar’s Hu tu tu (1999), was set in the context of Maharashtra’s political-industrial nexus, and had Nana Patekar playing a character inspired by Gaddar. Laal Salaam, a Nandita Das-Sharad Kapoor starrer set in 2002, based its plot on the binary opposition between the Naxalite violence and Gandhian alternatives while echoing anti government sentiments. The blockbuster Sarfarosh had a subplot about a tribal rebellion in Chandrapur under the leadership of a certain ‘Veeran’, whose movement was a creation of Inter Services Intelligence. However, the resemblance to Veerappan prevented the audiences from making the connect to the intended reference to the Maoist movement. Then the 2005 film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, a love story set in the context of elite Stephanians joining Naxalite movement in 1970’s, reintroduced the term ‘Naxalite’ to a certain kind of elite and middle classes.

More recently there was Red Alert, a mainstream film director’s attempt at film festival type cinema. Its absurdity can be gauged from a subplot about Naxalites striving to establish a SEZ of a Korean company to uplift a ‘backward’ district. Vidya Balan-Arshad Warsi starrer Ishqiya, with its references to a ‘sena'(militia), subsumed it under the narrative of ‘bad things happen in country side’. There was Mani Ratnam’s Raavan, a subversive take on Ramayana intermingled with vague references to the issue. Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Rakhtacharitra’ centered around Rayalseema factions, also made equally vague references to the Naxalite origins of the Paritala Ravi faction. More recently, there was Aalaap, produced by two ‘educationalists’ from Chattisgarh, which depicted a music band as an alternative to armed struggle.

In terms of story, Chakravyuh is an adaptation of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Namak Haram in today’s context. While Namak Haram was about a middle class friend of an Industrialist, who joins a trade union as an informer only to flip sides, Chakravyuh replaces the trade union with the Maoist movement and the character of the industrialist with the character of superintendent of police. The fact that a movement centered largely around Adivasi struggles has replaced the popular perception of the industrial trade union movement as the counterpoint to capitalism, in an inversion of the teleological scheme, is a topic worthy of detailed analysis by itself.

While Namak Haram staying true to the spirit of its times painted it in black and white, Chakravyuh could not afford any such luxuries. To be fair enough, at least at the surface it does come across as fairly sympathetic (as distinct from support) to the causes taken up by the rebels. It does avoid the temptation of proposing any easy solutions in form of the legal route, Gandhian alternatives or inclusive development. Neither does it seek recourse to sandwich theory or reduce the movement to a question of violence and non-violence. In a fairly simple fashion it does make the land grab motive of the corporates (Mahanta), influence of corporate houses on polity and their role in aiding private armies like Salwa Judum fairly clear. However it does stay clear of indicting the police for creation of Salwa Judum, and to the contrary it depicts the police as hostile to Judum, which is not without its iota of truth. To its further credit, it does attempt to unmask the ‘developmentalist’ strategies of the State in the form of sending benign administrators to win over the confidence as a precursor to land grab. Sometimes his sympathies touch the wrong ends too. For instance, his ‘sympathetic depiction’ of people’s courts seem to strike a chord with those who are only too eager to hang all the ‘corrupt’ in the public, a sentiment that is not uncommon in the times of Anna Hazare.

However, one might be tempted to look beyond what seems like sympathy on the surface to probe the limitations that a ruling class society imposes on the content, even when they seem to be at their sympathetic best.

The intellectual, the leader and the intellectual leader

In the opening shot of the film, we see an aging Maoist intellectual (Om Puri) being captured by the police near the Bhopal bus stand. If the reference to the Kobad Ghandy arrest does not suffice, we are soon told that this determined idealist was a product of Doon School, LSE and Oxford (the latter two bearing little resemblance to Kobad’s education in St. Xavier’s College Mumbai and subsequent training in accountancy). This depiction of Maoist intellectuals as ethical figures disillusioned with the system has been a constant feature of depiction of the movement since the Naxalbari phase. And no film (including arthouse attempts like Amma Arriyan, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi or Hazaar Chaurasi ki maa) which ever touch the topic would be complete without a reference to the fact that some of the intellectual leadership is provided by those who passed the litmus test of excellence as determined by bourgeois education systems. One might find very few newspaper articles and popular writings pertaining to the top leadership which do not mention their degrees. There is little doubt that there have been intellectuals who served as an integral part of every movement rooted in Marxist thought. But the degree of their influence in determining the course of any movement could not have been more wrongly overstated.

It is precisely such myths and facts and the combination of the two, which dictate perceptions of the Maoist movement among middle end of salaried classes or sections of what can be loosely termed as ‘national bourgeosie’ towards the movement. While the movement itself might be perceived as ideologically misconstrued, there has been a bit less certainty among the members of this class to tag Maoists as terrorists. Even when wedded to the interests of larger global capital, the lack of more direct contradiction of interests, lends a certain ambiguity towards this movement. However such a sentiment may not be shared by those members of this class who reside in strongholds of the movement. A peculiar trait of this class seems to be a demonisation of parliamentary politicians without touching on exploitative nature of institutions or systemic features of the State. Maoists, when projected as an opposition to a system led by corrupt and greedy politicians, are also bound to be seen in partially favourable terms by this section. It is no surprise that even a maverick like Arindam Chaudhari, the director of IIPM, talks in favourable terms about Maoists while reserving his abuse for the greedy politicians. Even though his opinions in general may not be reflective of this class at large, but such sentiments do find an echo among a sizeable section of this class. However these sentiment that only border on sympathy should not be misconstrued for support that would spill out on the streets
to protest against Operation Green Hunt or Soni Sori.

The logic of projections overplaying the role of intellectuals, also however, make it fairly consistent with another flawed narrative of the movement as an intellectually determined movement, where the highly intelligent misguided ideologues make use of the illiterate as cannon fodder for their ambitions. This narrative itself is as much a product of this romanticisation of its leadership as much a product of class interests which seek to colour the reality to suit their interests. By all means those who get ignored are the social groups which form the real force of such movements.

If the romantisation of intellectual involvement is one aspect, fascination with the leadership is another. The film does not fail on that count either. So the complex battle is at times reduced to one between the respective leaders- Zonal Commander Rajan (Manoj Bajpai) and SP Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal). In one of the scenes, where Rajan seeks advice from a Human Rights activist, the leader is told that ‘aisa yuddh confidence ka khel hota hai, do leaderon ke atmavishwaas ka’ (Such a war is a game of confidence played between two leaders). It is no surprise that for middle classes who perceive politics through glorified personality cults, leaders and their personal characters seem to weigh over the actual character of the movements as determined by its rank and file and its support base. Films such as Raavan take it to extreme heights, where the figure of Beera (Abhishek Bachchan) becomes a substitute for a movement itself. Such illusions are no strangers even to the self-proclaimed sympathisers of the movement. A book by a well-known reporter on the history of the Maoist movement could have very well been titled ‘Biographical Sketches of Leadership’. Those referred to as heroes of the movement in middle class circles are often only the leaders be it Kondapalli Seetaramaiah, Saket Rajan or Varghese. While the deaths of revolutionary leaders receive large obituaries, those of the soldiers end up as statistics.

Regardless of whether the movement itself took an active initiative in promoting such a ‘cult of hero’, the middle class sympathisers and non-sympathisers alike have a great role in sustaining such cults. While it may be argued that such cults often create sympathies, even if superficial, among sections of society that may not have a direct stake in the revolutionary movement, such a discourse is not only limited but also counterproductive. To illustrate in terms of an example from Cinema, in the film Red Alert, the Maoist foot soldier (Sunil Shetty) after siding with the Police, gives them information which leads to the death of all his fellow soldiers. However, when sent on a mission to shoot the head of the movement (Vinod Khanna, a former BJP MP from Gursdaspur) realizes that the educated well-intentioned man deserves another chance. We are then taken to the future, where the ‘reformed Naxalite’ admiringly watches the ex-leader on television who, in his new avatar as a corporate leader, is preaching the virtues of corporate farming models. Regardless of the absurdity of the plot, the limitations of such sympathies become only glaringly obvious when the intellectual quality of the leadership is projected as a redeemable feature of such movements and worthy of appropriation. Rank and file and their aspirations are as dispensable in such imaginations of the movement as logic is for a Bombay film.

If this desire for appropriation of leadership comes across as a brazen idea, one might well remember another Bombay film called Chamku where a Naxal (Bobby Deol) is rescued from the local police of the hinterlands by the Intelligence Bureau which then deploys him to fight ‘foreign terrorism’. This change is seen only as a natural promotion by the IB officer who admiringly mentions his role as a ‘political activist’ fighting landlordism.

Women and the movement

In Jangalnama by Satnam, when a woman rebel is asked how she would like to be remembered, she replies back, “as someone who fought patriarchy”. Whether the Maoist movement has any actual potential in fighting patriarchal organisation of society or developed any concrete strategies in this regard is definitely debatable. What seems undeniable is that like with many other revolutionary movements in the story of Indian revolution, the movement has drawn and at least partially succeeded in creating spaces for women (especially Adivasi and Dalit) who seek to overturn the patriarchal character of society and who see no inherent contradiction between the objectives of overthrowing patriarchy and overthrowing class rule. The extent to which patriarchy is actually present within the organisational structures of the Maoist movement and which prevents such aspirations from assuming centrality in terms of stated agenda, is no easy question to answer, thought it would be hard to believe that the movement is beyond patriarchy. However, when films based on the movement try to depict women in the Maoist movement, they often unintentionally end up serving as a testimony for the prevalence of patriarchy in the society in which these films and movements are embedded.

Chakravyuh with its consistency in casting NSD actors as revolutionaries (in contrast with the model turned actors playing the police) casts Anjali Patil playing Juhi, an area commander from Jharkhand. Like the rest of the film conferring the qualities of being humane, independent and ‘strong’ might make it seem like a sympathetic portrayal of women commanders in the rebel movement. However, the underlying patriarchy in the society which lurks beyond the surface rears its ugly head in a scene where the area commander engaged in a running race with the male soldiers falls down after initially speeding ahead. It almost seems as if the director wants to give us a lesson in sociobiology by hinting at the idea that “women are trying their best, despite natural shortcomings”. The consequent rape of the woman commander and her rescue by Kabir (Abhay Deol) only adds to the notion of women being the ‘weaker sex’, even if she is an armed rebel.

Women otherwise mostly make their presence felt on the screen either as foot soldiers filling the screen space or hapless and gullible Adivasis. No other woman rebel is represented on screen in a position to be considered worthy of a few dialogues.

The female intelligence officer (played by the model turned actress – Eesha Gupta) is not spared the patriarchy either. She is relegated to playing Arjun Rampal’s wife who during her non-work hours has to seductively pose in negligee to make up for the lack of glamour quotient. In a manner reminiscent of the women in Prakash Jha’s previous films, personal concerns seem to drive the intelligence officer more than any semblance of political conviction. In such times, lending the character with even misplaced political convictions might have seemed a little less regressive.

The subplot of the greedy commander (Murali Sharma), his Adivasi ‘mistress’ and the ‘item girl’ (Sameera Reddy), only makes one question the kind of society we live in. What kind of society makes it possible to create a seemingly progressive film resort to catering to the vilest of male instincts rationalized as ‘market constraints’ to sell itself?

The makers of history

If people and people alone are the makers of history, then how are these people depicted in the stories of revolution that circulate in circles which have patience for stories in the first place? Unfortunately neither the stories that often do the round of activist circles, nor the depiction by the big media houses or cinema seem to have space for ‘people’. Chakravyuh does not fail in representing such tendencies. First and foremost, the Adivasis are merely labelled as Adivasis – without any reference to their specific tribes such as Bhils or Gonds. The ‘Adivasis’, when not a part of the armed struggle, are depicted as poor, hapless and even gullible with the term masoom Adivasi (innocent tribal) frequently thrown around by both sides. The Adivasis first enter the frame during the SP’s round to a village to earn their confidence. On spotting a police jeep, they attempt to flee away only to retract back when they see the SP applying first aid to a physically handicapped tribal. When the SP proceeds to give a speech, the camera focuses on an Adivasi woman with an expression befitting an earnest listener. Adivasis are shown as equally earnest listeners, when the Zonal Commander is giving a speech.

Elsewhere they are restricted to playing the hapless victims under the paternalistic care of Maoists and at times forming their informer network and support bases. Those in the rebel army are reduced to numbers in the assembly. Even for a scene, the director does not make the mistake of lending the foot soldiers a voice. Neither a sense of remorse nor sympathy is depicted at the loss of their lives, often at the cost of saving the lives of their leaders or for kidnappings. One might feel tempted to consider such depictions as indicative of the actual nature of relationship between the non-Adivasi leadership and Adivasis who form the backbone of the movement. But if the persistence of Adivasi support to this movement (atleast in Bastar) is any indication, such a relationship is complicated enough to be unable to fathom from a distance to any satisfaction.

When absence of voices does not suffice, orientalism does its bit to pitch in to the regressive quotient. The women are clad in exotic looking headgear; the men are depicted with spears in hand and the rebel army members in long hair and beards. Since no depiction of any tribe across the world is complete without glimpses of ‘tribal culture’ in form of festival dances, we are subject to visuals of Adivasi men and women clad in sparkling white and red costumes dancing around in circles along with the armed soldiers.

Balancing Act

The character of a violent hero fighting against the system (as vague as the term gets) is no stranger to Bombay cinema. This violent hero has assumed various forms over the years. At times he is a dacoit, at times an unemployed disgruntled youth, at times an idealist police officer who discovers the virtue of bending the rules, and at times an Underworld don. However when it concerns issues bearing resemblance to real life and painted as controversial, Cinema either toes the establishment line by villainising those against the ‘system’ or ends up playing a balancing act through techniques such as pitting the violent anti-system heroic character against an equally heroic pro-system character. At times the lead actor could start off as a rebel and then mend his ways. The need for such balancing acts could partly stem from the fear of losing a censor certificate and partly from the fear of alienating either sections of financiers or audiences.

In the case of Chakravyuh, it had to contend with additional pressure from the censor board and corporate houses to give it a semblance of balance. Prakash Jha is no stranger to this balancing act, having done it in Aarakshan where after the mandatory chore of depicting two sides of the coin, the film seeks a solution in Gandhian models of trusteeship. In Chakravyuh, he attempts to play the balancing act by constantly flipping between scenes critical of Maoist movement to scenes which seek to humanise the movement. The SP applying ointment is posited against a speech by Zonal commander in the village. The ruthless killing of the informer is balanced with a tribal acting as Maoist informers. The evil police officer’s character is countered with a corrupt lecherous area commander. This leaves sufficient ambiguity to allow room for all possible interpretations without completely disappointing anyone.

The narrative of ‘anticipation’

Staying true to the script of Namak Haram, the film ends with Abhay Deol slain at the hands of police dying in the arms of SP. We are then told that this act of sacrifice strengthened the struggle of Govind (the intellectual) and Rajan (Zonal commander), and this struggle has soon spread to over 200 districts of India. We are furnished statistics on inequality, borrowing from the Arjun Sengupta report about 75% living on less than Rs. 20 per day and 100 odd families controlling the nation. And finally warning us of dangers of such inequality, which if not controlled could lead to a civil war.

While all other facts are vaguely correct (except for the fact that Arjun Sengupta’s report needs to be readjusted for 2012 prices), the truth about a movement spreading like wild fire across the poorest regions remains exaggerated enough to the point of being blatantly untrue. Even the most optimist supporters of this movement would acknowledge that in its stronghold it wields influence on around 40% of the area. It has nearly been wiped off most parts of Andhra Pradesh. As claimed by Yogendra Yadav in a public talk, there are not more than 10 districts in the country in which one finds the 6 PM deadline in action. Neither do revolutionary movements which strive to establish socialism, ever spread overnight like a ‘wildfire’. They depend too acutely on means of production, relations of production and the subsequent strategies employed. In a country like India with no uniformity in either means or relations of production, any movement or organisation that has developed in a specific socioeconomic context would find it difficult to instantly spread without adapting its strategies accordingly. Marxist movements world over have not been able to devise strategies to deal with capitalism, let alone the Maoist movement in India, which has been at its best tackling semi feudalism.

While it is understandable that the most romantic of supporters would want to fuel their illusions with such lies, or that home ministry might want to use it as a ruse to strengthen its offensive, why are sections which have no direct stake in this conflict willing to believe and propagate such myths, apart from the charming simplicity of these myths?

It could well be the case that the widespread consumption of this myth could have no logical basis to it and seeks to warn the bourgeois conscience in times of growing inequality. However, this myth is no newcomer to Indian politics either. For instance, Rahul Pandita states in book ‘Hello Bastar’ that Indira Gandhi during her election campaign in 1977 warned the country of a revolution if land reform did not take off. K.R. Narayanan in a speech that dates back to 1979 said “One thing is certain: unless an effective method is devised to deal with such situations, Indian society and nation will move into a dangerous phase of revolutionary action and violence, much against the will and policies of everyone concerned.” Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, in an interview to the Hard News during the middle of the last decade asked “The way people are being displaced, who can stop the arrival of Maoism?”

Such a story of the possible onset of a revolution in the event of failure of reforms has long been the mainstay of large sections of society, to the point that they have become integral to functioning of ‘parliamentary democracies’. At times they enable the State to assume greater authority in the guise of crushing seditious tendencies, but at the same time they operate as warning signals against excesses of the State, failure of its welfare functions and the anarchy of markets. But at the same time, one has definitely not seen any drastic improvements in ‘welfare mechanisms’ of the Indian state and all evidence in fact points to the contrary. So perhaps these contradictions can only be partially answered by recourse to the specifics.

In recent times Operation Green Hunt, after the initial rhetoric of being modeled on Sri Lankan military operations against LTTE, assumed the form of low intensity conflict with an extension of administrative functions of the state through various schemes in ‘Left wing Extremism affected states’. Chattisgarh and Orissa have some of the best implemented Public Distribution Schemes. Needless to add that neither has this led to the end of militarisation or the intent of land acquisition for mining. Even the question of displacement which seems large scale in terms of precedence, is statistically insignificant at a given point of time in terms of the numbers that dictate the electoral outcomes. While we have a handful of schemes peddled in the name of welfare, the threat of withdrawal of state from the already dysfunctional healthcare looms large. The language of subsidy withdrawal gets replaced by targeted subsidies without any promise of universal welfare. At the same time we see a strengthening of surveillance infrastructure to contain any further rebellion, an assault on human rights activists and focus on rural sanitation.

After the recent hike of price of essentials and withdrawal of LPG subsidieswhich has hit the middle class hard, this class seems to be rediscovering the virtues of atleast limited state intervention for itself. Even the semi-nationalist undertones of the increasingly popular rhetoric of ‘selling away of national resources’ blends in with the nationalism of this class while doing justice to its anguish against corruption. These sentiments find their reflection in the recent statements of the Anna Hazare group against the resource grab as well as in India Against Corruption’s unstated promise of return to old style socialist politics with a Gandhian flavour. Many who share such sentiments might also be found speaking of Narendra Modi in glorious terms or blaming all ills of society on reservations denying any hope of systemic change from this section.

Such are of course the contradictions of these times and the contradictions among the ruling classeswhich lead to the political stalemates of the sort we witness now. Prakash Jha’s Chakravyuh unintentionally ends up serving as a fitting testimony to these contradictions

(Thanks to Bharath Hebbal, Anoop Kumar, Soundarya Iyer, Gopika Nangia, Manish Gautam, Aashish Gupta, Vivek V Narayan, Gayatri Nair,Rahul Menon and Dipankar Kaundilya for suggestions and discussions).

References
[1] How Bollywood makes money, Rediff (http://www.rediff.com/money/2006/may/27spec1.htm)
[2] Box Office in India explained, Boxofficeindia.com (http://www.boxofficeindia.com/showProd.php?itemCat=315&catName=UmVhZCBNb3Jl)

2 Comments »

2 Responses to “The Maoist movement: Chakravyuhs of our times”

  1. Gunjan Arya Says:
    January 12th, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    This a wonderful and much needed analysis on the economics of Indian Cinema. Being the most important medium in entertainment and expression in popular culture, the political economy of the Indian Cinema needs to be studied in depth, while putting it against the changes in class relations in urban and rural India, as well changes in the technology and mode of production and distribution of cinema. The primary interest of such a study in the current context – given the technological changes that has enabled reduced cost of production – can be to analyse the possibility of building up a people’s cinema movement and the challenges. At the same time the nature of the so called “independent cinema” much applauded by the ruling elite and the corporate media, the economics of its production and distribution, and the possibility of its contradiction with a genuine people’s cinema movement, also needs to be discussed in detail.

    Thanks a lot to Sanhati for posting this. If anyone wants to discuss further on this, please e-mail me on arya.gunjan@gmail.com

  2. B S Raju Says:
    January 15th, 2013 at 10:32 am

    Thank You Prathamesh for this educative essay on the cinema producers trying to make money on naxal/maoist themes across this country. We have a lot of such stuff of cinemas for a long time since the days of earst-while Telangana Armed Struggle.

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