Maoist are arguably one of the most violent internal terrorist groups operating in India, who kill security personnel and ordinary citizen’s rampantly in a bid to realize their utopian dream, inspired by the life and ideals of one of most ruthless political mass-murderes of all times, Mao Zedong. But more dangerously, these Maoists have strong sympathizers who have invaded our academic, and media spaces, who provide intellectual whitewashing to support such violent crimes against the Nation and its people. In this book, Urban Naxals, Vivek Aghnihotri film director and activist, narrates his journey of self discovery while making and marketing of his film “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”. The movie deals with the controversial subject of academic sheltering of Maoism & Naxalism. Here we present for our readers the excellent Foreword of the book penned by Makarand Paranjape. The book can be bought here.
Foreword for Urban Naxal by Makarand R. Paranjape
I don’t believe in Forewords. A book should stand on its own, speak for itself. But this book is an exception. A “Bloody Fascist Brahmin” penned it, who was stopped from screening his film, Buddha in a Traffic Jam, at Jadavpur University. His car was gheraoed and damaged. He himself was injured. An angry mob of Leftist students and activists bayed for his blood. Why such hatred? Why so much intolerance? What was Vivek Agnihotri saying or showing in his film which was so dangerous or destabilising? Why was he such a blatantly marked target of “intellectual terrorism?” Vivek is right when he says, “In India, people fight with all their might to kill an idea.” First they nearly stopped him from making his film. Then they tried to prevent him from screening it. When he took his exquisite and excruciating creation literally to the streets and to the campuses, showing it directly to target audiences, again he was heckled and blocked. I thought to myself, whether we love or hate the film, we cannot allow this in India. Luckily, in my university, JNU, another Leftist bastion, the film had a rousing, almost delirious reception. When I saw it, I was moved, disturbed, provoked. It was one of the most original and unusual movies I had encountered in a long time. A political thriller, with great acting, music, and a theme of national importance. I loved it. Instantly, I became one of the “hundred owners” of the film. What is it, I asked myself, which makes both this book, and the film whose making it recounts, exceptional? The answer is simple and obvious. This book is a triple triumph. It not only tells the story of how this extraordinary film got to be made, but also how its auteur, Vivek Agnihotri, healed his broken spirit, snatching victory from the very brink of disaster, despair, and depression. “This film is making me reinvent myself,” he realizes during the shooting, “Every day. Every moment.” In addition, it is a profound reflection on the condition of India, especially on the Maoist insurgency that is gnawing at the innards of our democratic polity.
We all fail in our lives. But few of us actually recover to tell the story. Vivek is one of them.
In fact, as he confesses, Vivek “had failed four times. Like a manglik girl.” In a cut-throat industry, where you’re only as good as the money your last film makes, what is the future of a director who wants to tell the truth? This is every creative artist’s dilemma. There is, besides, “a mindset in Bollywood that doesn’t let Indic ideas flourish.” When Vivek decides to speak out against the Bollywood campaign against Narendra Modi in 2014, he finds that he has overnight become a pariah in his fraternity: “I was discriminated against by almost all my Bollywood friends, whom I used to hang around with because, like them, I also believed in a certain ideology but found it fake and alienated from reality, and elitist.”
Trying to make Buddha in a Traffic Jam only makes it worse. But Vivek succeeds in breaking the Bollywood’s dominant code. How does he do that? He discovers that “Within each of us, there is a seeker who is hungry for knowledge and wisdom. After working in the film industry for over six years, this is the first time I can feel this seeker.” Right in the midst of the near-impossible ordeal of trying to make an off-beat, politically incorrect feature film on a ridiculously low budget of 2 crores in an industry where a single star for a single movie may demand and get upwards of 50 crores, Vivek has an epiphany. “Can I, as a filmmaker,” he asks himself, “tell the truth?” Then he answers the question with utter and unequivocal conviction: “My answer is clear. Yes.”
It is a tremendous realisation; Vivek has found his purpose. As he strives to articulate it, he understands: People seek the truth. In media. In art. In cinema. Since nobody tells the truth, and it is acceptable, we succumb to the apparent emotional needs of an audience like feeling happy or feeling sad; the truth remains the least priority for the artists of Bollywood. It is this truth of a filmmaker and human being that this book chronicles for the world. A truth that we Indians must pay special heed to. For what is India, what is Sanatana Dharma, itself if not for truth? Satyameva Jayate Naanritam. This Rg Vedic injunction and prophecy could well be the theme of the book. But in addition to the record of making a film, which is also the tale of his own reawakening, this book also tells the story of India. The story of India which, in a sense, is our own story – the story of each one of us. This is the story we all live through. As Vivek puts it, “Everyone in India has a story for their failures, stagnation or decay.” We know, as Vivek reminds us, that our country is so “full of problems.” Imagine what would happen “If we solve even a fraction of our problems.” We would, he says, “become a solution-rich country.” A book like this inspires us to be “problem solvers, instead of being buck-passers.”
Urban Naxal is packed with analyses, reflections, and solutions. It is a thinking woman’s and man’s book. It is also brimming with compassion, consideration, and passionate concern for our poor, “suffering, conflicted, mediocre India.” How to turn our society from its addiction to mediocrity to a land of hope and possibilities? This is also one of the themes of the book. As Vivek puts it, “After poverty, inefficiency is the second biggest curse of Indian society.” In addition, there is corruption. Unrelenting. Endemic. As Suresh, one of his produces puts it pensively, “Forget Naxal areas, even in cities it’s not easy. It’s very difficult to do business in India. We have become an extortionist country.” From being broke, “Financially. Emotionally. Mentally,” from the point “where most people give up,” Vivek overcomes impossible odds to make his film. In doing so, he learns about the real India. Not the India that we see from the safe mode of our comfortable, bourgeois city-bred securities, but the gut-wrenching reality of our complicated, poverty-stricken, but still so uplifting India: I thought I knew India but last night I realized I had been window-shopping. Last night I felt I was back to where I belonged. An India where success doesn’t lie in money. It lies in surviving. The complex India. The difficult India. The corrupt India. The honest India. The oppressed India. The feudal India. A regressive India. A progressive India. It’s poor. It’s filthy. It’s hard working. It smells of struggle, of co-existence, of sweat. Its diversity, its disparity, the chaos, the conflict. The aspirational India, the ignored India, the defeated India… The real India.
It is this defeated and real India that actually saves Vivek. He realises that when we recover the simplicity, beauty, and sincerity of our inner beings, the whole universe conspires, as it were, to help, support, and guide us: “My faith in goodness is reinforced. I learn that if the intent is right, the universe creates a new logic. A new reality.”
Again and again, the common people from urban taxi operators to adivasis in distant Dantewada come to his rescue. So do a variety of film industry workers and professionals. His wife, the exceptionally talented Pallavi also does a major role in the film as does his niece. The former also sings the defining theme song, Faiz’s revolutionary anthem, “Chand roz aur mirī jaan faqat chand hī roz.” Students and faculty of the Indian Business School produce and inspire the movie. A big boost comes when Anupam Kher agrees to act in one of the lead roles, that of the B-school Professor and Dean, who recruits and brainwashes students, playing on their guilt, plying their idealism, to turn them into urban naxals. Vivek not only didn’t have the money to pay Kher’s regular fees, he couldn’t even afford the actor’s normal 5-star accommodation or meals. But Kher, graciously rises to the occasion. He tells Vikek after listening to the script, “I think you have found the purpose. You have found your song. Mark my words, this film will change your life. Thanks for casting me and all the best.” What is more, he lives in the ISB hostel like all the others, even eating the normal mess food. When it comes to the on-location shoot from a professor’s campus residence, Kher is completely in his element, taking over and owning both the role and space. Then, right in the middle of the making of the movie, Kher says to Vivek, “In every director’s life comes a point when he finds his sur (tune), his song. This film is your song. I can feel it.” As readers and viewers we cannot but agree with Kher. Vivek has rediscovered his metier, his true calling. The book is the story of such a miracle. That is what makes it inspiring.
But the book and film analyse a special, specific subject, as indicated in the title, Urban Naxal. What is this? Simply put it is the nexus between India’s “Red Corridor,” our “poorest and ironically the most militarized zone … the nerve centre of the Naxal movement” and its urban cultural and intellectual support base. Who are the Urban Naxals? They are, in Vivek’s own words, intellectuals who “present this beastly and gruesome reality in a sanitized, romantic, and palatable packaging for which the media and its urban audiences have a weakness.” They offer the legitimating and camouflaging ecosystem for what is an open, if internal, insurgency against the democratically elected government of the Republic of India. Spread across several states and districts of India, this war has claimed many thousand lives, both of Indian security personnel as of Maoist insurgents. Vivek’s book is full of facts, figures, questions, and ideas about this menace to India’s sovereignty and integrity.
But we must never forget that both the book and the film are not expert reports or documentaries. They are original, creative works, literary and cinematic. India-haters, of whatever political or ideological stripe, have one dream. It is to capture power and install their own government in India. They hope to harness their disgruntled, some would say disenfranchised, constituents, “the Adivasi, Dalits, Muslims, and other ‘forgotten people’, united under one common red flag,” to “demolish the State.” Vivek warns us against this real and present danger. According to him, Naxals are waging a conflict in which “the lines between war and politics, combatants, and civilians” gets blurred. Right in our midst, in our social circles and living rooms are people who support such dangerous and armed terrorists. Vivek believes that he has a story that “needs to be told.” It is the story of “the invisible enemy” in our midst, perhaps more dangerous than a known and identified terrorist. It is this invisible enemy who is the Urban Naxal. Whether we agree with him or not, Vivek’s story is not only worth telling, but
worth attending to. What is more, he tells it unusually. In a film which reads like a book, with ten chapters. This, as Vivek and his whole team know only too well, is quite unlike a regular film: “It’s born in a B-school, with the initiative of students. A movie in a book form is an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea and very appropriate for a student’s film.”
But why is it called Buddha in a Traffic Jam? That is because right in the middle of its making, Vivek is once more in a deep pit: “Again, I had no money. No work. No hope.” When he discovers the way to get out of the crisis and actually finish the week he feels like “a Buddha, in a traffic jam.” A traffic jam is the worst possible situation to be if you want to get to some place on time. But if you discover your Buddhahood right in the middle of the impasse, it’s a miraculous way of beating all the odds of life. That is Vivek’s story, the story of India, of Urban Naxals. It is the story of how his film was made, how his book got written. That is why I decided to support this “Bloody Fascist Brahmin.”
That is why I decided to break my rule to write this Foreword.