A timely book about a timeless movie
by Vivek Agnihotri.
(Urban Naxals: The Making of “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”)
Dr. Sukumar Canada.
Vivek Agnihotri is a well-known filmmaker who has recently published a fine book on his trials and tribulations in making the movie “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”. Agnihotri has been called many names by the media - a sanghi, an elitist, a Brahmin, a conservative, a leftist, a thinker, an artist, and more, but never a coward, a Maoist, a Naxal or an urban Naxal for that matter. A Harvard-educated professional with a knack for excellent oration and argument, he has directed some interesting Bollywood movies—Chocolate, Jism, Hate Story, Goal, to name a few. He admits that some of his movies are artistic, some are commercial to the core, and that he ‘lifted’ some themes from ‘phoren philms’. Apparently, almost all Bollywood movies are funded and produced by big studios only after seeing the DVDs of the films’ foreign originals first. He did this to keep his bills paid.
His movie “Buddha in a Traffic Jam” and the book based on it argue with the clarity of a rare revelation that there are deliberate and calculated movements happening in universities and media houses to destroy the idea of India as a diverse cultural and intellectual treasure-house. The India, that was a guru to the world in the glorious past. This is led by the “urban naxals”—recruiters for the destructive forces following the communist and Maoist philosophies. They are very influential in attracting young minds to their movements with their positions of authority as professors of major institutions and editors of major media houses. Their ‘scholarly’ and ‘authoritative’ ability to convince these youngsters with a narrow narrative of ‘azadi’ has been contagious and very influential in independent India, without question - until recently. They talk about freedom of expression but rarely allow an alternative narrative to be heard or discussed anywhere on their campuses and media. Recently there have been major skirmishes on campuses at JNU, Jadavpur University, IITM, and even in Kerala. In Thrissur, Kerala, when the students who support the recently passed CAA wanted to express their opinions in an organized conference, the student union led by the left parties started a fight and didn’t allow them to hold the meeting. However, they claim to be fighting for the freedom of expression in society. As long as it is aligned with their narrative, they will allow an idea to be expressed, but if not, they won’t. In all of these cases, the leftists use brute force to stop any dialogue, as they are afraid of losing their foothold to the truth. Interestingly, these ‘leaders’ are rarely seen participating directly in any of the street fights. All the physical labor of the revolutionary work is left to the followers, the poor misguided young folks, who are fodder for the batons and bullets.
Vivek Agnihotri faced the same dilemma when he wanted to show “Buddha in a Traffic Jam”. The movie exposed the intellectual mafia’s calculated moves to create a revolutionary mindset in the unsuspecting youngsters—making them think that they are doing a great service to the downtrodden Adivasis and tribal people by inciting violence against authority and generally any development around them. In order to achieve this, they create a narrative that is anti-tradition, anti-Brahmanical, anti-Hindu and essentially anti-India. The youngsters are under the impression that they are fighting against the establishment, and that too for a good cause. While the leaders of the left organizations send their children to expensive, peaceful private schools and colleges in India and abroad, they want their followers to do the dirty work—fighting on the street calling out for azadi without knowing what type of freedom they are seeking, or from whom. In several major universities, Agnihotri had strong opposition to screening his movie and his team faced threats to their life from leftist students and faculty. Interestingly, he found that there is a lot of inbreeding happening in elite educational institutions, where the professors get to place some of their pet disciples in their own universities to follow their footsteps. Their aim is to ensure that there is a perennial supply of poor people out there for them to ‘serve’. They want a continued state of poverty and hardship for the tribal people and Adivasis, and for that, all developmental initiatives must be stopped at any cost. In order to achieve their goals, these urban naxals would engage in fictitious warfare against society using literature, art, and films. That’s why in Bollywood, as well as in South Indian movies, there is a common narrative about Naxals and Maoists as the saviors of the downtrodden. There may have been a time when that narrative had some value, but the proponents of that idea never allowed themselves to grow up or allow any other narrative to exist. It was in this context Vivek ended up making this movie initiated by the management students of ISB (Indian School of Business), Hyderabad.
The book makes a great read and helps the reader understand how the theme for a movie with a purpose and an idea to convey gets germinated and finds fruition on screen at the end. The writer-director had many a testing time to write and finalize his script and to cast the roles. As the movie is political in nature and it is against an existing popular paradigm, well entrenched in the psyche of the intellectual elites of the country, he faced a lot of difficulties in getting the right people to act on it—however, he managed it with a fine cast who knew what was required of them. He didn’t have enough money to cover the budget, but he managed to complete the project by employing some ‘desi jugaad’. He finally released the film, which would get several awards and make decent money in the box office, and he was invited to film festivals and film schools around the world. The book is a well-written account of incidents directly experienced by him, along with his thoughts as he endured them.
He questions the left-leaning intellectuals on their own fallacious understanding of freedom of expression and exposes them as Urban Naxals. He also gets a few ‘Buddha moments’ in doing so. What would be the status of India—the status of the minorities in India—if its people limit their visions to a limited one portrayed by the majority only, just as these people seem to do with their own standardized leftist idea? The idea of India is valid, elegant, and noteworthy to the world, only if its diversity is celebrated in India and by all Indians. The urban naxals are of the opinion that the diversity concept is fine, only if the ideals, culture, and ethos of the majority Hindus are not part of it. They forget to consider the fact that the concept of diversity as a philosophy is core to the Hindu way of life. It recognizes the existence and flourishing of all kinds of belief systems and even non-belief systems, and that there are no blasphemous ideas to be kept away from life. It is not based on a ‘one book, one leader/messenger’ based approach. It has many teachings from many Gurus and there is a library of authentic books to choose from. Once this ‘open’ way of life is alienated from the youngsters, they will be forced to confine their mindset to some limited foreign ideas and philosophies, essentially not the following diversity at all. That’s what urban naxals want, and lately, the youth of the country have started waking up. They want the Hindu philosophy to flourish in India as the guardian to keep the diversity alive and well. No other major philosophy in the world encourages and celebrates diversity as their core strength.
Urban Naxals want to create a constant sense of fear in the youth so that their private agenda can succeed. They need a perennial supply of bright youngsters for that purpose—although their own children are usually protected from this onslaught of intellectual and physical terrorism. Most of the leaders have their children running multinational firms or running their own businesses. They are often based in the United States, and go to the US for their medical treatments. Interestingly, the Indian National Congress, the ruling party of the past, didn’t bother to fight the cultural invasion by the left and closed their eyes to intellectual terrorism that was going on at campuses, in the media, and in intellectual circles. Their cadre was not into intellectual pursuits anyway. That’s why in places like JNU, you will find a lot of well established older urban naxals - they will never make into the legislature by winning an election though. Even now they continue to control the cultural icons of the country—the Sahithya Academy, Universities, Film Institutes, etc. Luckily there is a strong merit-based admission system in place for IITs and IIMs and the youngsters going to these institutions are not bothered with these ‘intellectuals’, and as a result, they make it big in India and abroad. It is the vast majority—the students who are going to universities without proper vision—who get attracted to these urban naxals. Still some IITs—like the IIT-M’s (Chennai) humanities departments—recruit and keep a homogeneous (read: left-leaning) faculty and student body who subscribe to the same narrow narratives of Maoist and naxal ideology. It is then no surprise that most of those at IIT-M come from the state of Kerala, the last foothold of communism in the country. The faculty members select a set of students of their choice without proper admission tests such as the JEE or GATE, which are otherwise essential to get admission into the prestigious engineering programs at IITs.
The book is a thought-provoking account that warns that the idea of India (or any complex society for that matter) could be sabotaged by the urban naxals. It is always a brilliant and inexpensive way to learn lessons from others’ mistakes. Think of Syria and other countries that fell from their glory due to a mentality that can be only described as ‘urban Naxalism”.
The movie is based on the writer’s own experiences working with intellectuals and academicians who would go to extremes of violence in order to serve their agenda. ‘Serving the poor’ is just a smoke curtain behind which they work and prosper at whatever cost the society bears. The professor, the face of an urban naxal, in the movie (very convincingly played by Sri. Anupam Kher), proclaims in his MBA classes repeatedly that “corruption is good” as a stimulus to the economy. Whenever his ideas are questioned by a bright student, he makes it a point to bring the youngster into his folds inciting him wonderful Maoist ideas to change the world through revolution. The youngster gets hooked as he is under the impression that all this work is to uplift the downtrodden tribal people. This has been happening for the last 70 plus years and finally, a youngster (well portrayed by Arunoday Singh) finds a creative and productive way to lift the lives of tribals in Baster through a true development for their area without bloodshed. Then the ‘organization’ goes crazy mad against him for sabotaging their ‘plan’ which was hitherto remained unquestioned. However, in the movie, the issue gets settled, albeit in a bizarre manner.
Vivek’ Agnihotri’s movie is a fine intellectual-ideological dialogue rarely seen in Bollywood movies. Although shot with a shoestring budget, the movie has come out as a powerful rebuttal to the prevalent left-leaning intolerant philosophy as practiced in India. The associated book is a wonderful account of the intellectual pursuit he undertook in making the movie and transforming himself in the process.
(“Naxal” refers to a revolutionary movement started in Naxalbari, West Bengal, India, in 1967 in which rich landlords were subjected to public ‘trials’ and executed by the left revolutionary forces in retaliation to the mistreatment of workers by those landlords. They are also referred to as the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist).
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