When actor Neetu Chandra saw Alia Bhatt playing a Bihari in the Udta Punjab trailer, she wrote an open letter, as is the norm these days. She was upset about the exaggerated portrayal of Biharis in Hindi cinema. Phrases like “Bihar’s glorious past” made their justifiable entries in the note, as did the obligatory references to Nalanda University and the origins of Buddhism and Jainism. It was sweet, despite the mid-life angst playing peekaboo. Guess Neetu never did see the brown and burnt Ms. Bhatt speaking in what-she-thought-was-Bhojpuri in the film. Because then, just an open letter would not have sufficed! :)
But we are digressing already.
The point being made was fairly spot-on. The state’s portrayal in mainstream media and popular culture always has been rather insensitive, loud and callous. Bihar is unsophisticated, corrupt, rustic, lawless, criminalised and anarchistic, joyously indifferent to anything refined and cultured. Bihar is unruly political goons getting their eyes stuffed with acid in Gangajal. Bihar is years of rivalry between Faisal Khan and Ramadhir Singh, with bloodbaths and gaali galauj galore. Bihar is Pepsi Peeke Laagelu Sexy and other such raunchy Bhojpuri songs on YouTube. Bihar is the blatantly ridiculous buffoonery of Laloo Yadav, and his unscrupulous political machinations, over the last two decades. Bihar is a cunning opportunist singing paeans to Azaadi one day and sharing stage with shady politicians the other. Bihar is that viral photograph showcasing unashamed mass cheating in Hajipur.
AND Bihar is Ruby Rai.
Don’t think anybody would be able to write any distressed open letters complaining against the state’s unsympathetic portrayal in the last few cases. As a bona fide born-and-brought-up-in-Bihar Bihari, I would love to pen a few passionate notes defending the land I grew up in. I would want to dissociate myself from this deviousness and douchebaggery. But I would not. Because I know that the state IS all that and more. The lawlessness and the lawmakers waltz together. They are real. They exist. And they are here to stay.
But then again, the same state produces the best brains that make it to the Civil Services, year on year, clearing what must be the toughest examination process in the whole wide world. The best colleges in the country across streams, including the IITs and IIMs, are filled with Biharis. Super 30 is a produce of Bihar. As are the mega achievers in very many fields around us. They are real. They exist. And they are here to stay.
And yet, Bihar is Ruby Rai.
But rightly so. Very much warranting that depiction. I will not blame the wisely manicured societal commentators for making the likes of Ruby Rai, Laloo Yadav or the next buffoon that the state will produce as Bihar’s prime protagonists. They make great copy, yes, but they are NOT figments of somebody’s imagination. Their existence is authentic. Which is exactly why they deserve to be discussed, dissected and disseminated. That mumbling, bumbling, tumbling girl was exactly how Ruby Rai was. Dumb. And dumber. Densely looking into the camera with this dazed, dopey look, making a fool of herself. She may be a minor, and stupid, but she clearly knew what she had done, or not done. Her parents did, too. We can blame the system as much as we want, but she merited the public shaming. While I feel sorry for her, it was important for issues like these to become national news. For the sake of Bihar.
Because things in Bihar are more deep-rooted than one can ever imagine. The scam is not new. Let me do a quick flashback to the Patna of 1990. I was in class 10th. CBSE had introduced the Open School exams for candidates who had to take a break from studies. My school happened to be the centre for the same. It was good to see girls coming to our all-boys’ unit to attend those special classes. Thank you, CBSE. When the Open School exam results were put up on the notice board, we wanted to know how our girls had fared. (Yeah, they had become our girls by then, only they didn’t know that.) There was one particular candidate who had scored 20, 20, 20, 19 and 19 in the five papers, getting 98 out of 500. Her name sounded familiar. Her father was, and still is, a mega politician from Bihar. She had scored less than 20%. This spoke volumes about her aptitude, intellect and acumen. Very soon, the Bihar board results were out. The girl had passed with flying colours!
She is now in public space, taking forward all the good work done by her father.
And that’s my point. Bihar is a sad reflection of its rulers, and not just the political class. While a complete socio-political-cultural analysis of the state is outside the scope of this note, the fact of the matter is that the powers-that-be have mauled and molested it since independence without any fear of any consequences. And are continuing to do so, making Bihar into what it is. The flaw isn’t with the education system or any other systems of Bihar. It is with the people who are meant to be responsible for implementing those systems.
Some, like Ruby and her parents, give in and become a part of those people. For their ilk, cheating isn’t the easy way out. It is the only way out. How would Ruby know what Political Science is, if her teachers, and their teachers, are also the products of the same set up! Test them, and even they would fail the Board examination, confusing Political Science with Home Science. “Tulsidas Ji, Pranaam”, was the only line she famously wrote in the essay on the poet-saint Tulsidas in her re-exam. My belief is that her tutors may also not be able to go beyond this.
The rest don’t give in. They quietly struggle, work hard, become engineers, doctors and civil servants, some even write long treatises on what is wrong with the state of affairs in Bihar. And while Bihar never leaves them, they do leave Bihar. The brain-drain is a sad, continuous reality for the state. From my batch itself, barring the classmates who had family businesses in Patna or who got government jobs in nationalised banks and insurance companies, most of us are out of the state. I am talking about people who owe their identities, thought processes and individualities to Bihar, and proudly so. Only, we are not in Bihar. Neither would we want to be there. Because the ones that go back – especially the ones who get churned out from the IAS factories – quietly become those people. Agreeing with, and sometimes even spearheading, the sorry state of affairs.
The exposé of Ruby Rai, therefore, is a good thing. More than probing the cheap tactics used to get her to top the Board exams, I would want to question this rather ballsy bravado that led them to get the girl face the cameras and journalists, and actually believe that they would get away scot free. THAT must die. I repeat, my heart bleeds for the scars she must be getting, but then, all that she had to do was study some. Read. Work hard. That’s what most kids her age do. Even in Bihar. She was the privileged one. Her parents had the monies. She could have asked them to get her the best tutors, the best teaching tools, the best education. Instead, “Maine to Papa se kaha tha pass karwa deejiye, unhonen toh top hi karva diya” is the route she took.
She needs to pay for it.
So that things are not taken for granted any more. So that the likes of Bachcha Rai, the Principal of the Vishun Rai College, and Lalkeshwar Singh, the former Chairman of Bihar State Education Board, get arrested. So that the outrage forces the administrative class to take preventive and corrective action. Across spaces. I hope there are many more of her that get exposed. It will be a very very good thing for Bihar.
Yes, Ruby Rai is all that is wrong with Bihar. But Ruby Rai may just become all that will be right with Bihar.
Ruby Rai Ji, Pranaam!
– This article was first published on arre.co.in. The girl was just granted bail after a five week stay at a juvenile home. The case continues. As does Bihar. –
(Revisiting this review, since Papa is back in the news. See you soon in jail.)
The last time somebody was referred to as Papa The Great in a movie was Kishan Kumar, paradropped on the innocent audiences in the eponymous movie released in the year 2000. Kishan Kumar was the resident rajah of graceless grunge, a producerputra (he was the younger brother, if we are to get technical) inflicted on us in at least five movies between 1993 and 2000. From Aaja Meri Jaan to Bewafa Sanam and from Kasam Teri Kasam to Papa The Great, KK was on the mission impossible, gunning for the unachievable. But he kept trying. Diligently, self assuredly, continuously. Despite a face that only his mother would have found palatable, and acting skills that even his mother would not have found palatable. Papa The Great was one final assault from the Karolbagh Kumars, till brother Gulshan became wiser and moved on to the non-Kishan things in life. But the movie, and everything about it, remains an unforgettable piece of awkward awesomeness. Exactly what gives Kishan Kumar a hallowed place in the history of Hindi Cinema.
Poetic, therefore, that fifteen years later, the contender to topple and gobble the peachy coarseness of Kishan Kumar is another Papa The Great. Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan. The Messenger. The Artist Formerly Known as the Messenger of God.
And this Papa does not fly solo. He comes all guns blazing, with stadiums full of people chanting his name and carnivals dedicated to his bonbon affability. As he portrays the middle India messiah, the middle class master blaster. Hell, I was the only person at the theatre when I watched the movie, yet I was dancing in the aisles! That’s what Pitaji does to you. Before you realise it, you become one with him, mildly suffocating though this sounds considering the kilos surrounding him. He builds your confidence, one fat cell at a time, layering one adipose tissue over another, and soon enough, you start believing that you can conquer the entire world. Like Papa.
All that you need to win the world over is extreme self belief. I don’t know what this Satguru does in real life, but if I were to just go by his film persona, he left me totally charged, yes sir. That you can look like a complex cross-pollination-product combining Hagrid, Govinda, Barbie and Austin Powers and mesmerise millions with that persona is reason enough for me to believe that I can score and more with whoever I want to. That you can wear red-colored slacks purchased from Sarojini Nagar Market and yet make enough money to buy red colored helicopters, is motivational for the multitudes including me. That you can be a dreadful singer and an awful dancer, and still change clothes ten times in a music video and have three laadli betis, including a firangi, as your heroines, brings spring in my step, with both my left feet raring to go. Don’t think any of the Khans can do this to me or any of their viewers. We get out of that dark cinema to our dull and dreary lives, knowing very well that Raj, Rahul and Prem are best placed on that screen. MSG gives us hope, confidence and faith.
The film also underlines that it is okay to be lowbrow. Why, it takes pride in it! The villain Chillam Khurana is a throwback to the over-acting Jogindar of yore, Gaurav Gera digs his nose and throws booger-balls at the bald head of the villain, a prostitute mouths lines like “Hum chalti phirti gaaliyan hain” and there are supposedly funny dialogues in form of “Main gas chhodunga” and “Because Guru ji is god and you are dog”. Crummy computer graphics meet Punjabi Baroque sensibilities, and the resultant set of dolphins and lotus pods in a swimming pool, to give just one example, are delightfully cringe-inducing. The blind set of followers in the film is what the film wants to achieve in real life, and it does an awesome job of it. By continuing to salute the embarrassing ensemble that it is! You stop feeling sorry about your own sorry self when you leave the theatre.
At the same time, Pitaji immortalizes the spirit of the new India where it is okay to work hard and party harder, flaunting what one has worked hard to achieve. He keeps calling himself ek adna sa fakeer. And yet, every single part of his rotund frame, and every single frame featuring every single part of his rotund frame, has bling on it. Everything around him is a by-product of shiny disco balls. His jhadoo, bicycle, motorbikes, cars, thrones, carpets, swimming pool and even the hot air balloon from which he makes one of his entries, AND his hair follicles, all shimmer and sparkle. Unashamedly. The sets seem loud, ostentatious and trippy, almost as if they have been designed by a poor man’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali on bad quality ganja. But this blatant display of his glaring wealth is very matter of fact. With a singular underlying message. Don’t denounce the world, but love and celebrate it. And that sometimes it is okay to cross-dress.
Thank you, Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji Insaan. Thank you from taking over from where Kishan Kumar left us. Thank you, Papa The Great. Thank you for the lowbrow magnificence. Thank you for the gauche pomposity. Thank you for the boisterous flamboyance. And thank you for reaffirming my faith in high art. :)
(This article first appeared on firstpost.com)