“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I have NO clue what that means or who Ludwig Wittgenstein was, but this sure makes my discourse esoteric and academic right at the outset! Almost like all the Bombay Velvet reviews. The only difference is that I actually am here to discuss academics today. Specifically, the appointment of Gajendra Chahuan (or Chouhan or Chauan depending on which stage of his numerically challenged life you are talking about) as the Chairman of Film and Television Institute of India.
There have been protests galore against the selection of Mr. Chauhan, the erstwhile Dharmaraja Yudhishthir from BR Chopra’s eponymous TV series Mahabharata, and the entire world seems to have colluded to collide with the coronation of Gajendra. They say that the legacy of the hallowed premises of FTII has to be respected and that he doesn’t have the vision or knowledge of cinema. That he has no experience in the field of academics. That he is the Caesar of C-grade cinema, with the C standing for very many things. That he is a bad actor and a stooge of the ruling political party. That he is an obtuse idiot, a bumbling moron and a blockheaded dimwit. Okay, the last bit was me taking poetic liberty, but, yeah, similar sentiments.
Well. I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him!
According to IMDB, Gajendra Chauhan started his career way back in 1985 with Main Chup Nahin Rahoongi. So 2015 marks his 30th year in Hindi Cinema. That’s a really really long time for a nasal-twanged-single-expressioned-monotoned-jumna-paar-drawl to survive in this very competitive industry. And that, by itself, should be the reason enough for all of us to embrace him with open arms. But let this not be the only reason to be dazed and dazzled by our man. For somebody whose body of work includes watching bodies at work in Vasna, Khuli Khidki, Reshma, Samri and Rupa Rani Ramkali, Chauhan deserves our prostration, obedience and submission, in anywhich order. Find me another actor who can abduct, molest and defile with just his eyes and a lubed mass of thick hair. And the naysayers can die.
Chauhan says he has been in the field of art for 34 years. That is just him being his regular modest and humble self. On the contrary, it is art that has been in the field of Chauhan for 34 years. From Awara Zindagi to Janam Se Pehle, from Jawani Jaaneman to Pathreela Rasta and from Gumnam Hai Koi to A Sublime Love Story: Barsaat, he has taken the service of every single dead cell generated by him to construct and deconstruct his histrionics. Sample the scene from Bhayaanak Panjaa (1997) in which he is being exorcised. It is sublime pantomime. And I just wanted that to rhyme. The technique of conveying emotions and feelings by the mere physicality of the actions is not something every thespian can master. But one look at Gajendra’s frenzied movement can make you immediately realise the years of hamheadeness that must have gone in perfecting that fall. Legendary.
The swagger comes naturally to the Chairman sir. And it is not just because he played Inspector Patil in Himmatvar (1996) or Mukesh Mathur in Vishwavidhata (1997) or Virendra Chaudhary in Arjun Devaa (2001) or Naresh Chand in Issi Life Mein…! (2010). These were, of course, author backed roles where he got the opportunity to stretch his awesome campiness to the fullest for those ten minutes that he was on screen. But the style and the charisma of the man is inherent to his schmaltzy Tank-Road-Jeans-Market self.
To those questioning his acting abilities, I just have one answer two answers. Jungle Love (1986) and Rupa Rani Ramkali (2001). Ah, those consciously constipated expressions where death becomes him. That fierce fervour, those extreme emotions, the deadly deluge. And the arbitrary alliterations.
Haters gonna hate his religious baggage thanks to the Mahabharat connect, but Chauhan never actually has tried overtly exploiting his Pitashri-Matoshri affiliations. Apart from the yet to be released Barbareek aur Mahabharat and Jai Maa Vaishnodevi (1994), mouthing Ayushman bhavah at party meetings and selling some random concoction on teleshopping networks, that is. Of course, the performer in him has been more satisfied with challenging roles like playing Rahul’s father in International Khiladi (1999), Pinky’s dad in Billa no. 786 (2000) and the car salesman in Baghban (2003). And the Ganesh fest dancer in Parwana (2003). Of course.
And so what if he knows people in the reigning political party! Mr. Chairman has worked hard to be where he is right now. The tonsils are getting their due. And deservedly so.
Eventually, the annals of time would judge Gajendra Chauhan on his performance as the FTII Chairman, protesters and wiseguys be damned. If not him, they would find another extremely talented Chauhan, suited perfectly for the job. So yeah. I just hope the hammer is restricted only to his acting skills while I gloat over my punnery.
“What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence”, said Ludwig Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. I still have NO clue what that means or who Ludwig Wittgenstein was, but he was right. Exactly why you must forget about them protests already. Think of this as a long movie, treat this as a willing suspension of disbelief, and all would be good. Also, please slip in the word ‘pedantic’ somewhere in here to close the intellectual loop. Thank you.
PS: And now, thank me. Here.
(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)