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Birds, boats and bottles: poll symbols in Bollywood

Birds, boats and bottles: poll symbols in Bollywood
Birds, boats and bottles: poll symbols in Bollywood

 


In a scene from Gulzars Mere Apne (1971), a group of unemployed youths are tasked with canvassing a local politician during an upcoming election. He provides astonishing guarantees to these young men, hoping that they will provide him with sufficient support. Let the five birds in my cage die, he told them, referring to his poll symbol, a caged bird. An appropriate symbol, jokes the leader of the group, alluding to the noble promises that political candidates make to attract the public. The politician laughs and, in false modesty, calls his political life a servitude from which he cannot escape. a bird in a cage.

This is one of the rare cases in Hindi cinema where a filmmaker refers to an election symbol. In our films, election symbols have generally appeared as background props, even in those with political themes and characters. They are used arbitrarily without any connection or impact on the story. Flora, fauna and birds are most commonly deployed: a banyan tree in Hu Tu Tu (1999), a rose in Satta (2003) and Shorgul (2016), sugar cane and a peacock in Fukrey 3 (2023) just to name a few. In other cases, they are inanimate objects: a remote control (Gulaab Gang, 2014), a boat (Jallaad, 1995) and even a bottle of alcohol (Mard, 1998). Symbols and slogans of real political parties are also common background images, which often conflict with fictional images. Moreover, when they fail to use real ones, films inspired by political events (Bombay, 1995; Satyagraha, 2013) and characters (Thalaivii, 2021) attempt to use party symbols in the usual way. as creative as possible to make them appear similar.

On occasions when these election emblems are deliberately used on screen, they have served as effective metaphors. In Aandhi (1975), another important work of Gulzar with a political context, the introduction of the heroine as a demanding and uncompromising leader is done with her electoral symbol: a bird in flight. Her political opponent considers her a helicopter candidate and uses a lantern to symbolize her austerity. Similarly, a rising sun signifies the growing stature of a popular young leader in Raajneeti (2010).

Sometimes these symbols are integrated into the story for reasons of relevance. In Ishaqzaade (2012), an intense electoral battle is vital to the central love story of the descendants of two rival political families of different faiths. The heroine leads a spirited campaign for her father, the incumbent president. Highlighting the technological advances brought by her father to their constituency, she underlines the relevance of her electoral symbol: a computer. The hero canvasses for his political heavyweight grandfather whose emblem is a cell phone. In Dasvi (2022), a cunning and semi-literate politician forced to pursue studies, discovers his transformative power and the true meaning of public service. His new holiday symbol, a pencil, is dedicated to this new learning. The irony is not lost on anyone that Gangs of Wasseypurs (2012), a ruthlessly exploitative coal mafia boss, enters politics with a miner's pickaxe as a symbol to appear relevant.

Manmohan Desais' egalitarian carrier hero Coolie (1983) uses his fabulous feathered friend Allah Rakha (a falcon) as his polling symbol. Facing him is a shrewd industrialist (played by Kader Khan) who does not hesitate to use unscrupulous means to win an election. His flaming torch accompanied by an inspiring slogan Gareebi ka andhera hataao, mashaal pe mohar lagaao to his blue-collar voters are just empty words.

Remarkably, in other Khan films also dealing with politics, party symbols have always had an interesting significance. As he is often the author of the dialogue, Khan's characteristic wit and humor shine through. The most famous is Inquilaab (1984), where a political party consisting of crooks, dishonest politicians and rich businessmen is ironically named Gareebon Ki Party with a poor family as its symbol.

In other cases, these symbols have become a tool for sociopolitical commentary. The corrupt and selfish side of politics is explored in the Rajesh Khanna-directed satire Aaj Ka MLA Ram Avtar (1984). As several ideologically disparate political parties come together to form Akhil Bhartiya Bahurupi Sangath, their supremo Ram Avtar proposes a trident (trident) as their party logo. Aside from their religious significance, the three parts would represent the fundamental questions of bread, clothes and house, he suggests astutely. The scene is a nod to the famous party meeting scene from Kissaa Kursee Kaa (1978) Amrit Nahata, a cult parody of the Emergency era that drew the ire of Congress leader and then prime minister the Indira Gandhis son, Sanjay, who infamously destroyed copies of the film. Here, a group of power-hungry people launch a new political group, the Kaali Party. Satirizing Indira's famous slogan and Sanjay's controversial popular car manufacturing project, they choose Garibi Hatao as their slogan and a small car as their symbol.

The political signs of Dibakar Banerjees Shanghai (2012) subtly complement his commentary. A dynamic, development-oriented party of chief ministers has joined forces with a nationalist camp to establish a special economic zone (SEZ) that threatens to displace marginalized local populations. A frenzied election rally presents a disturbing picture of the power of capitalist forces and political self-interest. The symbolic dissonance between the growth-oriented CMs party, represented by a sapling, and its chauvinistic coalition partners Mukka Nishaan (one punch), highlights the opportunistic nature of the game. In contrast, Mani Ratnams Yuva (2004), heavily focused on youth participation in electoral politics and set in Calcutta, a city renowned for its political consciousness, s Refrain from using titles or symbols.

Capturing the minute details of the conduct of free and fair elections in a remote village in insurgency-hit central India, Amit Masurkars Newton (2017) offers the most deeply incisive and empathetic view of India's electoral process and Readership. In one telling scene, a uniformed officer condescendingly explains the EVM to petrified and perplexed villagers who are unaware of the voting procedure and have never seen any of the candidates before. They were simply brought together so that the vote would appear to be a success. The machine is a toy containing a bunch of symbols, he tells them. Gajar hai, moto hai, jahaaz hai, jaanwar hai, phool hai, lota hai, NOTA hai, jo pasand hai, press the button. A sad awareness of the potential of democracy and the extent to which it remains distant and foreign to the most vulnerable.

Published May 24, 2024, 11:02 p.m. EAST

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