The “Singhamisation” of police!

If the alleged gang rape and subsequent murder of a young girl in Hathras, UP was not terrible enough, the post death handling of the situation by the UP Police was even more horrendous. It is still bewildering, that someone suggested or ordered a midnight funeral for a murdered victim by the police instead of handing over the body to the parents! 

If that was in Hathras, UP, can anyone forget what happened in Sathankulam in Tamil Nadu, few months ago? In a bizarre case, a father and son duo were beaten to death under custody in Sathankulam police station. For what? For apparently violating lockdown rules!

Last year, in Hyderabad, the police killed the suspects involved in rape and killing of a vet in an early morning encounter which seemed like a scene lifted straight out of a Rohit Shetty (Hindi) or a Hari (Tamil/Telugu) film!

Add to this, the Sushant Singh Rajput case which was hogging media headlines till recently where the police of one state has been in logger heads with another.

Welcome to Singhamisation of Indian police. What is common in all these and more is the crying need for police reforms in India, a long neglected issue by any government of the day.

In our country, the commentariat often talks of the demand for reforms of all types – Economic reforms, labour reforms, judicial reforms, education reforms and so on. But seldom do we get to see the demand of police reforms in the same intensity. And I have always wondered why. As per a data point, roughly 9% of GDP is lost every year on account of poor law and order!  And if you remember, GST as a tax reform was introduced because it was believed that it will improve the GDP by up to 3%! And here we are talking about three times that!

In India, maintenance of law and order hangs in between the clichés of “Law and Order is a State subject” and “Law will take its own course”!  Law and Order which is one of the deliverables of the police is a state subject. States are run not just by ruling party at the centre. Few states are under the main opposition party, few by smaller opposition parties and many are ruled by regional parties. This situation exists at any given point in time. So, every party worth its salt has a stake in maintaining law and order and therefore interest in keeping the police under its thumbs.

I really don’t know when the last time a government seriously intended to initiate police reforms in the country. Even the Supreme Court directive of implementing the Prakash Singh recommendations in Prakash Singh Vs Union of India case in 2006 I believe has not been heeded to. The fact is no Indian state has fully complied with the recommendations. In irony we can say that police reforms is one subject in which all political parties are on the same page!

I believe that the cornerstone of any police reform needs to be “Independence” and “no Interference”. Unfortunately, the institution of police has been used by the ruling class as an instrument of exercising power and control. So much so that in any government the Home Minister, under whom law and order and therefore the police comes, becomes the De facto No. 2. Not the finance minister or the minister holding any other economic portfolio.  The big question is, will any party coming to power would ever give up on keeping the police under their thumb? If our armed forces can be reasonably independent though reporting to a civilian government, why not the police?

The next key focus in police reforms I believe, must be around recruitment, training and compensation. We must not forget that people in the police force have not been dropped from heaven. They are all from the same society as we are. And they read the same WhatsApp forwards as we do. So their world view is shaped and influenced in the same manner as ordinary people. And hence they have their own biases. We saw how this kind of biases come in the way of effective policing even in a developed and mature society like America.  I am talking about the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis when a police man was kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes even when Floyd was pleading for his life. The key is proper recruitment and training where one’s personal biases do not come in the way while discharging public duty.

Though policing is a highly stressful and high pressure job in India, the police are inadequately compensated. And that’s a major reason for not being able to attract bright people to join the force.  Adequate and attractive compensation will also reduce the menace of corruption that exists even at low levels. So, the combination of reformed recruitment, proper training and attractive remuneration will go a long way in the police discharging their duties in a more professional way.

Coming back to Singhamisation of police, whether films depict life or life follows films is an unending debate. The reality could be a mix of both. If you see Indian films, there was a time long ago, when they usually featured bumbling cops who will reach the scene at the end when everything was over. Then there was a phase where cops were usually of the corrupt variety who will be siding the villains.  Presently it is the Singham era, where cops are this macho super heroes and “Naan Police illa, porukki” types. They deliver justice in their own way and if that means taking law in their own hands, so be it.

And this is what we see in real life as well which is what I call the Singhamisation of the police. Incidentally, the common man in the street who is just interested in timely delivery of justice and not necessarily in the method, loves this. But the point is, if we have to prevent another Hathras or a Sathankulam, police reforms is the need of the hour and not Singhamisation.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing a bunch of IPS probationers recently, told them not to be influenced by films like Singham. After having initiated bold reforms in agriculture and labour, the time has come for Modi to take up police reforms as well. Then he doesn’t have to worry about Singhamisation of police!

Chennai Express heralding a new arrival ???

I haven’t watched the latest blockbuster Chennai Express yet. But from all reports, it is certain that it is “right on track” to set a few collection records.  SRK can now relax and breathe easy after his last few tame “derailed” outings as per his standards. Though Rohit Shetty’s pudding this time is not a rehash of a South movie (that’s what I believe), it has all the trappings of a typical masala potboiler of Tamil or Telugu.  Watching the trailer was enough to get to this supposition. This means that here’s another movie joining the now getting longer list of Ghajini, Dabang, Singham, and Rowdy Rathore, … which are basically pregnant with “Southisms” but have impressed the Bollywood movie goers by far.  Another point to note is that these have been big grossers not just in B and C Centers (Small Towns and Villages in Film Trade lingo) but also in A Centers like Mumbai, Pune, Delhi,…

That brings us to the main question I want to raise through this blog outing, which is – “Is the Angry Young Man” of yore getting back with a vengeance in Bollywood?

Salim-Javed (Salim Khan-Javed Akhtar) the famed writer duo of Bollywood is credited with the creation of the original “Angry Young Man” in Indian cinema thro Amitabh Bachchan in the 70’s. This was when the films in which they penned the screen play like Zanjeer, Deewar and Sholay,… were super-duper hits and had Amitabh playing the protagonist taking on the system and not necessarily playing by the rules.  This led to many observers conjecturing that the “Angry Young Man” (let’s call it AYM) was a reflection of those times. The youths of that time were getting restless with the joblessness and issues like that and were preparing to take the system head on unlike in the past. Incidentally I must add here that in one of the recent interviews (Walk the Talk with Shekhar Gupta), Javed Akhtar candidly admitted that they had no clue that they were mirroring the society or such thing like that with their main lead characterisation and that they were frankly amused by the various theories that emerged out regarding those movies and the characters. Watch that interview here if you like.

Since it is not uncommon for movies to just follow a trailblazer, scores of films ensued with the AYM theme in Hindi with other actors as well. And not surprisingly this trend crossed state boundaries and soon we started seeing the “Angry Young Man” in Tamil (Rajnikant), Telugu (Chiranjeevi) and “even” in Malayalam (Mohanlal) (I say “even” since generally Malayalam cinema is associated with serious literary influence and low budgets) And like any trend which gets flogged to death, the AYM story also got beaten to death and soon faded out in Hindi. Another point is, by this time Amitabh Bachchan though may be angry was certainly not young!  One hears from the knowledgeable that the period (80’s) when the Angry Young Man was on his way out, was a black-out dark period for Hindi films when originality hit a rock-bottom in Bollywood. And the AYM times eventually made way for the romantic Yashraj era in the mid 90’s and with that the quintessential “I am Rahul (IAR) era with SRK bbbbbegan!!!

But this was not the case in South. The AYM never really cooled his heels. The mantle of AYM got passed on from one star to another but the theme itself never failed to reverberate with the masses. For example in Tamil movies from Rajnikant to Vijaykanth to Vijay the AYM flame continues to burn to this date. Same in Telugu.(Chiranjeevi to now his son Ram Charan Teja starring in the Zanjeer remake by the way). In Hindi the wannabe “Angry Young Man” – Sunny Deol couldn’t keep the temper alive though.

In the last few years, as I wrote in my earlier blog The “Punch”ing of Bollywood,( you can read here) a reversal of trend is seen happening. That is of South film makers, technicians and accordingly South styled films making a punching impact in Bollywood.   My point was that increasingly we could see the South way of film making in Hindi films characterised by “Punch” Dialogues (“Ek baar maine jo commitment kar di, phir main apni bhi nahin sunta”), Loud villains (Prakash Raj), Louder sickle wielding henchmen (Ghajini), lead character with a moustache (Rowdy Rathore/Singham/Dabang), unbelievable but breathtaking action sequences(Rowdy Rathore,Ghajini), Garment flapping choreography (made popular by Prabhu Deva – Just closely watch his choreography and you will notice that the dancer will flap one garment or other for sure),…,…  But one main thing I missed in that hypothesis was the presence of our “Angry Young Man” in the centre of it all.  And it is no wonder that the Southern film makers have carried along with them the long-standing successful theme out there and brought the “Angry Young Man” back to life in Hindi films!!!   

When these guys come to Bollywood and become successful, can you leave the natives behind? So you have our own Rohit Shetty who has emerged as the new champion of the AYM in Hindi cinema post Singham. As I confessed in the beginning, I haven’t watched Chennai Express yet.  But I feel that in the lover boy Rahul who is seen as prancing around that good-looking Meenamma there hides an AYM though aged 40 in SRK!!!

One of the main differences in the AYM of the past and today is that apart from being brawny our “AYM-Ver. 2.0” is brainy as well.  Hence outwitting the villain happens not just by muscle power but combined with brain power (Wanted, Singham)!!!  Oh yes, there are now a few Angry Young Men to count on and not just one! (All in their 40’s 😦 ) And increasingly my hunch is that the films with the “AYM” theme will keep setting the box office on fire.  The re-emergence of AYM again in Bollywood may be resonating with the socio political climate of our times I guess. The youth is again getting increasingly frustrated of what is happening in the country – Lawlessness, Corruption, Terrorism,…   and indeed with their helplessness to make any material intervention. The AYM themed movies give an opportunity to the youth and actually all of us to fantasize on what you want to do but unable to.  So ladies and gentlemen, in this era of increasing youth anxiety about their future and their country’s, brace yourself for a flood of movies with anger smeared all over them.  Not surprising in a world where even children are fixated with “Angry Birds”!!!

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Tail piece: In a couple of weeks from now the original “Angry Young Man” will again the hit the screens though as Angry Old Man in Satyagraha!!!  Wishing him and the film good luck!!!

And I hear that Rohit Shetty has been given Honorary lifetime membership of “South Indian Film Directors Association” 🙂 🙂

Now for the twist : It is a fact that AYM is back in Bollywood. However it may be stretching one’s imagination by far if it is attributed to Chennai Express!! But that was the intended pun 🙂 like the film’s PR team was doing in the run up to the film plugging every possible story bit (Eg – Lungi becoming a fashion trend,..,…) to promote Chennai Express !!!