The American writer, journalist and general curmudgeon H L Mencken once defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” After watching a recent pro-Modi propaganda music video made by Pahlaj Nihalani, who also happens to be the Chairperson of the Central Board of Film Certification of India, I confess to feeling a similar bout of sadism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be enjoying Nihalani’s nationalist agitprop.
One would assume that almost every aspect of the video would militate against this eventuality. To begin with, it was, in essence, a political advertisement screened during the interval of a movie proper – the latest Salman Khan-starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo – in India’s commercial movie theatres. Apart from the loud, garish aesthetics of the music video itself, we see the misleading use of several images and footage, which were neither related to Modi nor to India. What self-respecting human being, one thought, would ever take the video seriously?
To the already converted, the music video supplies not-so-subtle reinforcement. For those vulnerable to the temptations of nationalist triumphalism but still undecided about Modi, one fears it gives the necessary nudge to the right. One sees Modi meeting Obama, then Putin, followed by visuals of an aircraft carrier, women operating charkhas, the Taj Mahal, rows of solar panels, a space station, Gandhi (a direct line between Bapu and Modi is established), among other breathless assortment of images that in themselves appear unobjectionable – all of this while five overly enthusiastic men repeat the refrain “Mera desh hain mahan, mera desh hain jawaan; My country is great, my country is young”. Of course, quite a few of these images have nothing to do with India, such as the International Space Station, flyovers in Dubai, Tour de France, a US Navy fighter jet, etc. But these misdirections hardly matter, especially in the present political climate where facts tend to become the first casualty. To the question of whether a crowd that came to watch Salman Khan would appreciate the six minutes taken up by the music video, one finds a depressing answer: a crowd whose substantial section revels in Khan’s hypermasculine antics is not likely to be completely inured to a carefully crafted hypermasculine paean to Modi Kaka. And one has to remember that all this is being done in the big screen, its effects amplified by the numbing audio-visual cacophony of cliches. Plus consider the chorus of the music video, which is – one has to face the facts – somewhat catchy.
Yet for those who had to suffer this ordeal at the cinemas, and who are neither in the pro-Modi camp nor likely to be converted, one should first offer sympathy: for they would not only have to watch this video, but also endure 164 minutes of Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, which, I have been told, doesn’t offer much respite either. One thing can however be said: if they do manage to get themselves in Kathmandu for the Film Southasia ’15 documentary festival this week (which will feature both Mr Modi and Salman Khan in much different contexts), some of the damage done by the exposure to the propaganda video might just be undone.
~ Shubhanga Pandey is an assistant editor at Himal Southasian.