By Karthik Shankar:
It’s got a potent concept that could fuel an entire series of films, yet what we end up with is utterly melodramatic and jingoistic dreck. Jai Hind, a short film starring Manoj Bajpai and Raveena Tandon delves into the ultimate ‘what if’ by reaching into our nation’s checkered past.
The two Bollywood thespians might fool you into thinking this is another quality film like Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya. Yet, Jai Hind harkens back to the melodramas of the 70s. We have devout husbands, long-suffering wives and villains so cartoonish, all they are missing are mustaches to twirl.
The movie starts with a husband and wife having a cutesy conversation on their motorbike, discussing what they want to eat for dinner. It’s a standard scene but there are glimmers of promise based on the actors’ naturalism. All this literally comes to a standstill when a car crashes into them. A man gets out and in the movie’s subtlest moment shouts out, “Bloody Indians.”
Manoj Bajpai’s head is bleeding and Raveena Tandon is badly injured. What follows is quintessential Bollywood melodrama. Bajpai runs with Tandon in his arms into a hotel and sets her on a table. The patrons, poorly acted by white extras, react in a manner that is meant to register as disgust. Someone in a vaguely Spanish accent (because for us desis all phoren accents are the same) yells, “Take him out. He doesn’t belong here.” They push him to the floor. The Indian hotel staff then steps in.
The rest is essentially a series of slow motion shots of Manoj Bajpai getting clobbered by the staff. This is also the point of no return since the usually reliable Bajpai gives in to absurd histrionics and flails his arms like a mad man while having his face pushed into what looks like delicious pasta. Meanwhile the still injured Tandon lies on a table, weeping at this cruelty. Bajpai and Tandon are then unceremoniously dumped on the road without any medical help. A hotel guard with a British Raj era costume replete with magnificent mustache stares at them with a stony expression. Beside him a sign reads “Dogs and Indians not allowed.”
Now, there’s no denying that even something this theatrical can have its charms, especially since it has the ability to etch real-life parallels in a way that feels fresh or unique. But what makes Jai Hind completely lose any semblance of social commentary it could have possessed, is when the narrator utters the words “Shayad kuch aisa hi hota agar hamara desh azaad na hota.” (Maybe something like this would have happened if our country didn’t win its freedom). That’s a ridiculous statement to say the least, because these kinds of events do happen in modern-day India. They may not emerge out of a class system systemised by a foreign government but doesn’t this kind of class setup exist in our society where not everyone has reaped the rewards of development? There have been numerous instances in which the oppression of the class-divide has been recorded. Who can forget the time when McDonalds threw out a poor street kid in Pune so as to not offend its patrons?
The final stretch of the film is also contentious to say the least. The scenes reverse to a time when the accident didn’t happen and the words “Kitne khush naseeb hain hum ki hamara janm ek azad desh mein hua hai.” (It’s our good fortune that we live in a free country). Because, our current democracy does not let callous drivers get away with killing pedestrians or other motorists with a lower social or economic stature. You only have to ask Salman Khan.
What’s even more baffling about Jai Hind is that this is a social media campaign by OYO Rooms, a technology driven network of hotels. It’s ironic that this campaign has emanated from a firm that has rooms starting at Rs 999, out of reach for most of our country.
The short film plays right into our prime national sport of victimhood. We silently suffer with our sacrosanct manhood while authoritarian forces pummel the life out of you. We ignore the fact that we play the aggressor and oppressor on several occasions. And there’s nothing more that we love than a beautiful woman, tears streaming down her cheeks that rekindles our saviour spirit and anoints us as the protector of her life and virtues.
We need films like ‘Jai Hind’ to remind us about the difference between patriotism and jingoism. The latter uses love of country to shut down any conversations that are critical of any aspect of our society. That’s what the film does in a nutshell by pretending as if all our problems vanished when the British left.