Director: Madhur Bhandarkar
Cast: Kriti Kulhari, Neil Nitin Mukesh, Anupam Kher, Tota Roy Chowdhury, Sheeba Chaddha, Ankur Vikal and Zakir Hussain
With the kind of publicity and controversies it attracted, almost everyone knows the basic premise of Madhur Bhandarkar’s film. Indu Sarkar, that hits theatres on Friday, is a political drama set against the backdrop of the Emergency.
Indu Sarkar opens with the announcement of the Emergency blaring from radio sets and glaring on front pages of newspapers. It then takes us to a fictitious village in Delhi-Haryana border area, Mubipura, where people are gearing up for a wedding. Suddenly, cops reach the place looking for men to be sterilized. When the men try to hide, the cops hunt them down and drag them even as a 70-year-old and a 13-year-old male ask policemen to consider the futility of including them in the government-ordered drive.
Indu Sarkar soon moves to the central character, Indu (Kriti) – an orphan who wants to become a poet but is told she must only dream to become a good wife and make a family. Following the advice, she marries Navin Sarkar (Tota Roy Chowdhury) who dreams of money, power and fame, while Indu’s dream is only to be a good wife. For almost half of the fiIm, Indu Sarkar remains the story of a docile, humble and meek orphan who surrenders to every whims and fancies of her husband even as she fights her own stammering and a lack of confidence.
How this rather “homely” woman stumbles upon victims of a police raid in a slum, decides to fight for them and eventually becomes one of the most powerful voices of dissent during the Emergency, form the rest of the narrative.
While the film was publicised as a film “on Emergency”, it actually oscillates between a political drama and a typical Bollywood film about a couple. Unfortunately, the transition between the two narratives is neither smooth nor convincing.
One of the saddest moments in the movie comes when Indu, after she has left her husband’s house for the sake of a couple of lost orphan kids, decides to sign the divorce papers Navin sends. When asked why she agreed for the divorce, she says, “Saath reh kar acchi biwi nahi ban payi, ho sakta hai alag ho kar sukh de paun. (I could not be a good wife, maybe I can give him some comfort by staying away).” As if, all the protest and fight for freedom from a dictatorial government was nothing but a tool to pacify the husband.
The background score of Indu Sarkar is too loud and misplaced. At times when a rather emotional moment is approaching, what you hear is the loud melodramatic sound usually used in Bollywood suspense dramas.
Despite having gathered a group of critically appreciated actors, Madhur Bhandarkar fails to make the best use of them. Neil Nitin Mukesh is one of the most wasted talents in the movie. He has given some of his best performances as a mean, high-on-power person but his act as “chief” in Indu Sarkar appears too superficial. Anupam Kher and Kriti Kulhari take the lead in acting department and stay true to their characters for most of the part. The supporting casts including Sheeba Chaddha, Ankur Vikal and Zakir Hussain, among others appear genuine in their roles.
However, the over-dramatic tone of the film kills their performances and leaves us with dialogues like “Ek goli ne mere jawan, 6 foot ke bete ko 6 inch ki tasveer bana diya.”
Trying to find logic in Indu Sarkar often becomes a task. For example, why does Indu keep roaming around in a rickshaw/auto in the Turkman Gate area every time she needs to witness an eye-opener about the Emergency when she is otherwise driven around in her husband’s car? Or, for that matter, why do the protesters (led by Anupam Kher as ‘Nanaji’) keep naming each other when they meet inside a cinema hall to avoid getting caught by the cops? Isn’t the entire purpose of disguise defeated if they use the real names? What is the reason, do you ask? Well, Bollywood is the only word that comes to our mind.
For those interested in the politics of films, there are two ways to look at Madhur Bhandarkar’s Indu Sarkar.
One is to look it as a propaganda film against the Congress party, aims at showcasing the atrocities inflicted upon various communities during the Emergency. There is a subtle, yet, extremely clear attempt to highlight Muslims forming a major portion of the victims. We have Neil Nitin Mukesh channelling Sanjay Gandhi as the prime minister’s son who is only referred to as the “chief” while the PM is referred to as “mummyji”. The unofficial ban on Kishore Kumar from radio and television after he refused to sing for Sanjay Gandhi also gets a mention in the film.
On the other hand, you can see Indu Sarkar as a double-edged sword. While it depicts the Emergency and the Gandhi family as the perpetrators of cruelty and injustice inflicted upon the masses, the film actually shows the misuse of power. If Madhur Bhandarkar wanted to patronise the ruling party, the irony of his own film is lost on him. The irony of Indu Sarkar is that it is so indulgent in highlighting the importance of free speech and democracy that you could change a few names, few other situations and it could well have been a film about the crisis India is facing today: People with allegiances to the ruling party exploiting the masses and even politicians at their own will.
So, in the sheer hope that Madhur actually aimed for the latter political purpose, two stars for Indu Sarkar.