Clambering on Shoulders
My favourite title, and it's a hard choice from among several classics, is Andheri Raat Mein Diya Tere Haath Mein. If you're not chuckling, you don't know Hindi. The play is on the word diya, which can mean both "lamp" and "gave it to you." That is, this film title can mean both "On a dark night there's a lamp in your hand" and "On a dark night I gave it to you in your hand." And of course, the late Dada Kondke knew which of those two he wanted to plant in your mind.
Kondke was an immensely popular, successful film-maker. He is something of a legend in Maharashtra, but certainly in the rest of the country too. Millions went to his films and laughed at the ribald jokes, the naughty word play. Given all that, who would suggest that Dada Kondke was a menace to our culture? Nobody ever has. Which is exactly as it should be. Far from threatening Indian culture, Kondke's films are a living expression of it.
This is the point to make and think about, whenever we hear people rising up to apparently defend Indian culture. In particular, when Pramod Muthalik and his Sri Ram Sene attack women emerging from a Mangalore pub, when they assault lovers celebrating Valentine's Day, when they announce that they will put their (the lovers') images up for public consumption on a website -- when they do these things and wrap them in the cloak of a defence of Indian culture, the right response is to say to Muthalik and friends: please don't presume to defend something you know nothing about.
For here's a truth about culture: It is not some remote ideal that's set in stone, forever immutable, forever virtuous. Culture is what's happening all around us today. It's joyous, dismaying, uplifting. It defies every definition, every straitjacket. It is Indian warmth and hospitality as much as it is Indian suspicion of the "outsider". It's sublime, it's vulgar, it's ordinary, it throbs.
If Indian culture encompasses films by Dada Kondke as much as those by Ram Gopal Verma and Zoya Akhtar -- and who would disagree? -- it certainly has space for women who go to bars. Space also, in fact, for those who dispatch pink chaddis by courier.
All of which is precisely why it is so vibrant, so alive. All of which is why it's capturing the world's imagination as you read this.
Pramod Muthalik has no monopoly on what makes up Indian culture, and certainly no right to "defend" some twisted idea of it. His threats, assaults and antics amount only to what Alexander Cockburn wrote in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky episode a decade ago: "What we're seeing here is one of the most disgusting of all spectacles: Puritans wringing their hands while clambering on one another's shoulders to peep in the bedroom window."
So understand this, Shri Muthalik, as you roam about looking for more young women to hammer: The only attack on Indian culture evident in Mangalore is yours.