Written by Amrit Gangar
Recently when I spoke to a young graduate student about a woman named Misa Bharati, he immediately exclaimed, Wow! What a beautiful name, Misa! However, this brilliant student had to be made aware of the meaning of the name Misa in capital letters MISA (Maintenance of the Homeland Security Law) imposed during the emergency in order to suppress and brutally suppress political dissent, the soul of any democracy. healthy. This internal emergency, imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, lasted for 21 long months.
Ironically, in 1975, the year of the emergency, the United States abolished the terrible HUAC, the House’s Non-American Activities Committee on Homeland Security. The HUAC had blacklisted many Hollywood celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, on the grounds that they were Communist sympathizers. What the oldest democracy abolished, the largest was adopted. For Bollywood, 1975 was a pivotal year in many ways: Gulzars Aandhi who had obvious references to
Ms. Gandhi and emergency; Shyam Benegals Charandas Chor adapting a play of the same name by Habib Tanvir, in which the central character of Charandas is performed to be honest rather than criminal; Significantly, it was also the year of Anand Patwardhans’ documentary film Kranti ki Tarangein (Waves of Revolution).
Patwardhan actually documented the 1974-75 uprising of the people of Bihar under Jayaprakash Narayan. He finished it secretly in 1975 with the few resources he had, and organized screenings clandestinely. If you look at his work, Patwardhan is a cohesive and quintessential voice of non-violent resistance to all manner of oppressive injustice. It is this constant concern that makes the voice of resistance more enduring. And yet, all the cumulative voices of dissent against the repressive and undemocratic laws of a ruling party become precious and paramount. They form the collective consciousness of a nation.
Khwaja Ahmad (KA) Abbas was another staunch resistance fighter. He fought the institution of censorship, a weapon available to the state. Amrit Nahatas’ much-cited anti-emergency film Kissa Kursi Ka (The Story of a Chair) has been mutilated into non-existence in these frightening times. Shabana Azmi, who had played the role of Janata there, has been a constant voice of dissent in Bollywood, now firmly carried by the younger and vocal Nandita Das, Swara Bhasker and of course several others across India.
Utpal Dutt, who also starred in the film Nahatas, was another articulate and enduring voice against political oppression and had the courage to produce three powerful Bengali plays Barricade, Duswapaner Nagari (City of Nightmares) and Ebaar Rajar Pala (Enter the King) which were all banned by the government emergency taxation.
World-famous director Satyajit Ray also criticized the urgency. Like almost all directors of the time, Ray was called in by central government officials to ask him to make films supporting the emergency. Most of the directors did, but Ray refused, saying he was a terrible propagandist. Compare it with today’s scenario! As Ray said, his Jana Aranya (The Middle Man), made in 1976, incorporated a somewhat grim caricature of Ms. Gandhi drawn on a wall. Hirak Rajar Deshe (The Kingdom of Diamonds), directed later, satirized urgency and despotism. In an interview, Ray unequivocally condemned fascist ideology.
But one woman whose story of resistance and suffering remains the most extraordinary and exemplary is Snehalata Reddy. Known for her work in Kannada as well as for Telugu cinema and theater, she was the victim of brutality and unfair machinations of the emergency. She was first arrested under the Defense of India Rules (DIR) and then under MISA, and held without trial for eight months at Bangalore Central Prison, where she was subjected to torture and trauma that led when he died. His journal A Prison Diary remains a precious document.
The story tells how even a modern parliamentary democracy (be it the oldest or the largest) can become susceptible to dictatorial despotism. It also records how movie stars and morning idols surrender to legitimize official acts under pressure, panic, or benefit. In the age of technology, the world is exposed to all the actions and losses of those in power. The world is also watching with awe how a few rare individual intrepid voices in Bollywood and elsewhere have refused to bend over backwards to the powers that be.
Even in 1975-76, morning idols like Dev Anand showed the courage to oppose the then government’s diktat by not campaigning for the emergency on Doordarshan. He was prepared to face the consequences, and he did. There was still a sense of fearless camaraderie in Bollywood, and he was supported by his brothers Chetan and Goldie Vijay as well as other eminencies such as Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shatrughan Sinha, Danny Dengzongpa and others. As we know, Dev Anand formed the National Party to fight the emergency.
Amrit Gangar is a Mumbai-based film theorist, curator and historian
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