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Oblique angle to life via 'Madras Cafe'

SuchitraLata |

Updated: August 22, 2013, 4:20 PM IST
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Oblique angle to life via 'Madras Cafe'
John Abraham, also the producer of the film, has requested the Tamil Nadu populace to support his film.

New Delhi: A fragile sense of identity which latches on to any major group, be it in terms of geography, race, religion, race, gender or language, is always in jeopardy of falling apart at the slightest sign of insecurity and seeks reassurance. A passing racist comment, or a well-researched article in the press or a story told in a film, anything can spark it off. Take this further and you have manipulators who can use this fragmented sense of identity for their own profit, usually political!

Then, in the largest democracy in the world, no one can speak out, tell a story, write fiction, make a film or even more dangerously, speak the TRUTH. Because that invaluable, rare commodity is itself seemingly fractured. Everyone's truth is different and we are always at loggerheads and have lengthy debates on all sorts of media while our own personal Facebook and Twitter accounts abound with everyone taking whatever stand suits them- intellectual, populist, ignorant, savvy, clever, witty- and we are left with more words and less tolerance than before, as there is even less consensus, and so all the more opponents to take on.

Take the instance of Madras Cafe, directed by Shoojit Sircar, starring John Abraham as a RAW agent in post IPKF Sri Lanka. The Tamil activists in Tamil Nadu are up in arms; they believe the film portrays the LTTE wrongly as terrorists. The LTTE is an armed liberation outfit, with alleged connections to our DMK leaders. The strong dramatic emotion dubbed 'Tamil sentiment' usually means, intolerance of criticism of Tamil activists, within and across the border.

John Abraham, also the producer of the film, has requested the Tamil Nadu populace to please support his film. The filmmakers could be wrong, the activitists could be wrong, the Indian Government, God forbid such blasphemy, could also be wrong, our understanding of the term 'nation' could be wrong and the LTTE could be wrong as well.

In art, one tries to understand life. And the understanding varies. One may argue that main stream commercial cinema is not art. Fine! You take a story, get actors, hire camera crews and find a producer to render your piece of human understanding, commercial or art or because you believe in something else. You ask others to watch it, read it and critique it so you can grow. By listening to another voice, surely one's own view can change, or grow or mature. If it's not your opinion, it's still fine. Gandhi was always talking to people,he was even willing to talk to Godse!

To quote Gandhi, "Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth." So there is A Truth, but for us to find it, acknowledge it and stand by it, requires courage we don't possess. Are we ready to understand how the IPKF landed up in Sri Lanka, or who ignited the whole Tamil separatist movement inSri Lanka, what is true, Tamils being ill treated in Sri Lanka or a faction taking up arms in a power struggle, or a nation desperate not to be divided? Since we cannot get at the truth directly, we must hide behind bullying tactics of taking offence at everything, or continue to talk (make films, write stories, take pictures etc.) and engage in art as an oblique means of arriving at the truth.

If we were to leave out the truth as too big a matter, and just worry about art and culture as human enterprise, pure in the love of creativity and human exploration, we can perhaps grow into the democracy we are supposed to be. When our identity is no longer threatened by everything and we can appreciate a good film, story or music without colouring it with ourselves, we can open up a little.

What is tolerance? According to Dictionary.com it is,

1. A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whoseopinions, practices,race, religion, nationality, etc., differ fromone's own; freedom from bigotry.

2. Interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc.,foreign to one's own; a liberal, un-dogmatic viewpoint.

So tolerance is an active, on-going effort, requiring you to box up your prejudices and try being in other's shoes. Difficult, well, that's why the word effort and that too on-going. Tolerance is the glue which will hold us together, allowing for some amount of meaningful dialogue, growth and space. We are an overpopulated country, but we can have space in our minds for everyone, every thought, language, race, creed, caste, religion, gender where we don't hurtle against obstacles within our mind.

Publicity and hype apart, we need to remember that we are being played by manipulators who would love to count us as one amongst their number. Whichever be that side, we are only facing another set of managers who have something to gain in terms of power. Armed liberation is against what Gandhi wanted for anybody, and he was shot dead. Yet, if we portray armed liberators at work it's a sensitive issue. And sensitivity is again linked to fragmented identity.

If we are that sensitive, then non-violence is good for us! Non-violence in thought would actively require tolerance. Can we give Gandhi some of our attention and not fold up our lungis and start fighting over statehood, country-hood and everything else? Can we stop being childish, wanting heroes and villains put up readymade in front of us and instead stop to think? Mass led people want black and white targets, which translates into so much more intolerance and no means of walking in peace. Let's watch the film and critique it in a healthy spirit. The Sri Lankan Tamil issue is anyway not going to change radically with the release of the film tomorrow!

First Published: August 22, 2013, 4:20 PM IST
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