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‘Hun Hunshi Hunshilal’: An Almost Perfect Satire On Fascism

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A still from ‘Hun Hunshi Hunshilal’. Courtesy to scroll.in

It is widely acknowledged that cinema is a powerful medium of reflection. However, Indian cinema, for years, has largely been a medium of instant entertainment and make-believe romances. Nonetheless, we have had our fair share of filmmakers who have dared to go past the conventionalities to create something unique and timelessly relevant.

One such filmmaker is Sanjiv Shah who created a masterpiece in Indian avant-garde cinema, that too in a regional language of Gujarati, called “Hun Hunshi Hunshilal“. Never heard of it, right? The film, listed in the archives of the British Film Institute (which is no small feat for a regional language film), was recently re-released on YouTube in restored quality with English subtitles where I watched it with much amusement and gratefulness. The film will stay on YouTube until 20th October.

 

Well, the first attraction of the film ought to be the young Dilip Joshi, aka Taarak Mehta, who is now a household name in the subcontinent. He is joined by some other great actors, including late Mohan Gokhale and Renuka Shahane, who have together succeeded in portraying a narrative that is both amusing and deep at the same time.

The film is about a land named “Khojpuri” that could literally be any country in the world right now, given the resonance of the themes explored. Khojpuri is governed (or ruled) by a man named Bhadrabhoop (Mohan Gokhale), who has acquired the title of a king and is foolishly autocratic in his mannerism (doesn’t that remind you of somebody else?).

He is so absurdist in his sense of power that anything that displeases him is banned in his “kingdom”, be it dreaming, the color red, or flying kites. However, one major repulsion of Bhadrabhoop and his followers (aka “bhakts”) is towards mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are the enemy of the state, the so-called “anti-nationals”. They bite people and incite them to commit anti-national acts like protests and dissent.

Hence, Bhadrabhoop establishes a research institute called “Queen’s lab” (a reference to the colonial sentiments of domination and control) where Hunshilal (Dilip Joshi) lands a job as a junior scientist. The sole purpose of the lab is to make a remedy for the menacing mosquitoes in which Hunshilal finally succeeds and is given a laurel from the king himself.

However, being true to the Indian cinematic tradition, Hunshilal falls in love with his colleague Parveen (Renuka Shahane) which leads to a major upheaval in his life. Sparing spoilers, Hunshilal finally emerges as a changed man, sympathetic towards the very creatures he sought to eliminate, namely mosquitoes.

Actor Dilip Joshi in a still from the film.

In fact, bitten by a mosquito in his dream, Hunshilal dissents against the king’s establishment and is eventually arrested in the middle of a bazaar and taken into custody. What follows is a series of weird torture techniques and operations on Hunshilal while the king is enjoying a wrestling match where he is shot at by a kid. But the king didn’t die. He re-emerges in an older avatar dictating a monologue that reiterates the continuity of his (or somebody else’s) autocracy and oppression of the masses.

“We can see clearly that now there will be neither sunset nor darkness, neither fire nor revolt, now here only the dawn shall preside.”

Bhadrabhoop, like any other dictator in history, is a man of powerful rhetoric with shallow ideals. As Parveen tells Hunshilal, “that which happened before, that which is happening now, and that which will happen again”, the Sisyphean nature of the fight against oppression and injustice in the politics of our world is made evident. Nonetheless, the film also asks the viewers to dream. Does dreaming help the people of Khojpuri? Maybe not, but it certainly makes Bhadrabhoop a little less powerful.

“A dream, and in that dream, a story”, thus runs the chorus of a song that is played multiple times in the film, giving it a rhythmic, narrative power. Another powerful song in the film is sung by Raghubir Yadav when Hunshilal finds himself hovering over the city in his dreams – “Hawa hai, hawa hai, yeh duniya hawa hai…” (Illusion, illusion, this world is an illusion…). This compels one to think that the film is not only political but is intrinsically philosophical in nature, reinforcing the ancient Indian idea of  “maya” as the sure-shot escape from a world of meanness and suffering.

Hun Hunshi Hunshilal is a film that must be watched in today’s day and age.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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